The Great American Arms Bazaar: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

The Great American Arms Bazaar: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

The Great American Arms Bazaar: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

Donald Trump’s attempt to rework the commercial-strategic equation spells an opportunity for India

In a joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump made up the name of a non-existent fighter plane, “F-52,” while lauding the F-35 fighter sale in a new defence deal with America’s NATO ally. While the gaffe yielded a heavy round of Twitter humour at the expense of Mr. Trump, what has not been adequately noticed is the significance of weapons sales in his diplomatic pitch throughout. He has been an aggressive salesman for American defence manufacturers during his foreign tours and to visiting heads of foreign countries in his first year in office. Promoting the sale of U.S. arms could soon become a key result area for the country’s embassies around the world, according to a Reuters report earlier this month. Arms supply has been a key tool of U.S. strategy for years. Mr. Trump wants to make arms sale itself a strategy.

The existing policy

Arms transfers by the U.S. happen primarily through Foreign Military Sales, Direct Commercial Sales, and Foreign Military Financing, all controlled by stringent laws, the most important of them being the Arms Export Control Act. The U.S. government sells defence equipment worth about $40 billion every year under Foreign Military Sales. Direct Commercial Sales are worth around $110 billion a year, in which a foreign buyer and the American seller negotiate the deal directly. Foreign Military Financing is done through American grants. Of the roughly $6 billion under that head, $3.7 billion goes to Israel each year. Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan have been other significant recipients of Foreign Military Financing in recent years, followed by 50 countries that receive smaller amounts totalling $1 billion. Arms supplies to foreign countries is critical to the U.S. for at least three reasons: it is a key leverage of global influence, it reduces the cost of procurement for the U.S. military by spreading the cost, and by employing 1.7 million people, the defence industry is a key component in the country’s economy and consequently, its politics. But the sale of weaponry, traditionally, is guided less by commercial considerations rather than strategic ones. The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the Department of State is the lynchpin of this process; the other players are the Department of Defence, the White House and the U.S. Congress. Each proposed sale is vetted on a case-by-case basis and approved “only if found to further U.S. foreign policy and national security interests”, according to the Bureau’s policy. The actual process of a sale could be long-winded, and could take months even after it is approved in principle, an example being the ongoing negotiations to acquire 22 Guardian drones for the Indian Navy from American manufacturer General Atomics. “We are very concerned that our partners have the ability to buy what they seek, within their means,” a U.S. official explained. “So we assess the capability. If someone asks for [the] F-35, we have to ensure that they have the money, the capability to operate it and protect the technology as well as we can. So if we conclude that we cannot sell F-35s, we have at least 10 different types of F-16 fighters that we match with the capability and importance of the partner country.” The process of initial assessment of selling arms to any country involves the State and Defence Departments. There are around 100 military officers attached to the State Department and around the same number of diplomats assigned to the Pentagon, who help in such decisions. It is also sought to ensure that the systems sold to one country do not end up with a third party. The White House, through the National Security Council, plays a key role in this process. Once all of them are on the same page on a particular proposal, Congressional leaders of the House and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations are informally consulted. Once they are on board, the sale is formally notified. Significant sales require a tacit approval by lawmakers.

Changes Mr. Trump wants

Mr. Trump has not hidden his disapproval for the American strategy, which he thinks has been a big failure. His views on defence partnerships are in line with this thinking. He wants to reduce the Foreign Military Financing to the least, except for Israel. He wants American partners to buy more weapons from it, and it is also a move towards reducing trade deficits with key partners such as South Korea and Japan. He is hammering NATO partners to ramp up defence spending and believes that all these partners have taken the U.S. for a ride. He has little patience for linking human rights to arms sales. The fact also is that the actual practice of American arms supplies does not often live up to its professed objectives. The Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine weapons supplies for Syrian rebels reached the Islamic State and al-Qaeda for instance, and Mr. Trump has ordered the discontinuation of the programme. So, overall, the President is pushing for a liberalisation of U.S. arms sales to partner countries, guided less by any grand strategic vision, but by commercial and domestic political calculations. He is seeking to flip the equation between commercial and strategic calculations behind arms sales in favour of the first. The security establishment and Congress will not easily accede to major changes in existing U.S. laws in order to further Mr. Trump’s ideas. However, Mr. Trump holds the last word on defining what U.S. national interests are, and his thinking could turn out be an opportunity for India, one of the largest importers of major arms. India has bought $15 billion worth of defence equipment from the U.S. over the last decade, but Indian requests for arms often get entangled in the U.S. bureaucracy for multiple reasons. The honorific title of ‘major defence partner’ notwithstanding, the traditional American propensity to link sales to operational questions such as interoperability and larger strategic notions dampens possibilities. India’s robust defence partnership with Russia is a major irritant for American officials. If Mr. Trump manages to emphasise the commercial benefits of arms sales, and de-emphasise the strategic angle, it could lead to a change in the dynamics of the India-U.S. defence trade, and bilateral trade in general. India, always wary of military alliances, will be more comfortable with weapons purchases as commercial deals. For America, India could be a reliable, non-proliferating buyer of its arms. The U.S. also has a trade deficitwith India. It was the out-of-the-box thinking of a President that led to the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal. With his unconventional thinking, could Mr. Trump offer F-35s to India?


1) Gaffe
Meaning: An unintentional act or remark causing embarrassment to its originator; a blunder.
Example: “In my first few months at work I made some real gaffes”
Synonyms: Blunder, Mistake
2) Adequately
Meaning: To a satisfactory or acceptable extent.
Example: “The resources required to prepare adequately will be extensive”
3) Aggressive
Meaning: Behaving or done in a determined and forceful way.
Example: “We needed more growth to pursue our aggressive acquisition strategy”
Synonyms: Assertive, Forceful
Antonyms: Submissive, Diffident
4) Embassies
Meaning: The official residence or offices of an ambassador.
Example: “The Chilean embassy in Moscow”
Synonyms: Consulate, Legation,
5) Stringent
Meaning: (Of regulations, requirements, or conditions) strict, precise, and exacting.
Example: “Stringent guidelines on air pollution”
Synonyms: Strict, Firm
Antonyms: Lenient, Flexible
6) Procurement
Meaning: The action of obtaining or procuring something.
Example: “Financial assistance for the procurement of legal advice”
7) Lynchpin
Meaning: A person or thing vital to an enterprise or organization.
Example: “Nurses are the linchpin of the National Health Service”
8) Vetted
Meaning: Make a careful and critical examination of (something).
Example: “Proposals for vetting large takeover bids”
Synonyms: Screen, Assess,
9) Long-winded
Meaning: (Of speech or writing) continuing at tedious length.
Example: “A long-winded question”
Synonyms: Lengthy, Long
Antonyms: Concise, Succinct, Laconic
10) Drones
Meaning: A low continuous noise that does not change its note.
Example: “The drone of an engine”
11) Concerned
Meaning: Worried, troubled, or anxious.
Example: “The villagers are concerned about burglaries”
Synonyms: Worried, Anxious
Antonyms: Unconcerned
12) Diplomats
Meaning: A person who is skilled at dealing with difficult situations in a way that does not offend people.
Example: “The deal is being authored by a Greek diplomat”
13) Tacit
Meaning: Understood or implied without being stated.
Example: “Your silence may be taken to mean tacit agreement”
Synonyms: Implicit, Understood
Antonyms: Explicit, Stated
14) Lawmakers
Meaning: A legislator.
Example: “The game’s official lawmakers are preparing the new legislation”
15) Hammering
Meaning: Attack or criticize forcefully and relentlessly.
Example: “He got hammered for an honest mistake”
Synonyms: Criticize, Censure
Antonyms: Praise
16) Ramp up
Meaning: A large increase in activity or in the level of something:
Example: “They saw a ramp-up in orders”
17) Live up
Meaning: To be as good as something.
Example: “The concert was brilliant – it lived up to all our expectations”
18) Clandestine
Meaning: Kept secret or done secretively, especially because illicit.
Example: “She deserved better than these clandestine meetings”
Synonyms: Secret, Covert
Antonyms: Open, Above board
19) Turn out
Meaning: Prove to be the case.
Example: “The job turned out to be beyond his rather limited abilities”
Synonyms: Transpire, Emerge
20) Entangled
Meaning: Cause to become twisted together with or caught in.
Example: “Fish attempt to swim through the mesh and become entangled”
Synonyms: Intertwine, Entwine
Antonyms: Disentangle, Release
21) Honorific
Meaning: Given as a mark of respect but having few or no duties.
Example: “He was elevated to the honorific status of ‘Dom’”
22) Interoperability
Meaning: The ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.
Example: “Interoperability between devices made by different manufacturers”
23) Dampens
Meaning: Make slightly wet.
Example: “The fine rain dampened her face”
Synonyms: Moisten, Damp
Antonyms: Dry, Drench
24) Emphasise
Meaning: Give special importance or value to (something) in speaking or writing.
Example: “They emphasize the need for daily, one-to-one contact between parent and child”
Synonyms: Highlight, Point up
Antonyms: Understate, Play down
25) Alliances
Meaning: A union or association formed for mutual benefit, especially between countries or organizations.
Example: “A defensive alliance between Australia and New Zealand”
Synonyms: Association, Union
26) Non-proliferating
Meaning: The controlling of the spread and/or amount of something, especially nuclear or chemical weapons.
Example: A non-proliferation treaty.
27) Deficit
Meaning: The amount by which something, especially a sum of money, is too small.
Synonyms: Shortfall, Deficiency
Antonyms: Surplus, Profit
28) Out-of-the-box
Meaning: Used to refer to the immediate usability or functionality of a newly purchased product, typically an electronic device or a piece of software.
Example: “Most laptops come with wireless capability out of the box”
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