Since the Bush administration invaded Iraq, they have insisted that in doing so, they are spreading democracy. The administration has grandly pledged to “end tyranny in our world.” And President Bush advised the nation only a few months ago that “democracy is on the march.” But a report just released by the World Policy Institute casts doubt on these assertions. And it calls into question the favorite declaration by the Bush administration: namely, that America is safer today than it was before the invasion of Iraq.
The World Policy Institute’s report analyzed U.S. weapons sales from September 11, 2001 through 2003, the last year in which full information on weapons sales are available. The Bush administration says that weapons exports are necessary in order to gain and maintain access to military facilities around the world, and to reward coalition forces who have participated in our military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this new report indicates that weapons have been sold to countries who are engaged in their own military conflicts, and who are flagrant human rights abusers. As a consequence, weapons sales frequently serve to bolster unstable, anti-democratic governments at the expense of both American and international security.
In 2003, the Bush administration transferred weapons to 18 of the 25 nations engaged in active conflicts. Thirteen of the 25 nations who received weapons were classified by the U.S. State Department as “undemocratic” governments. These 13 governments received over $2.7 billion in U.S. weapons. And 20 of those 25 nations were defined by the State Department as having poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse.
The U.S. Foreign Military Financing Program, the largest of the government’s military aid programs, increased by 68% between 2001 and 2003. It grew from $3.5 billion to approximately $6 billion. This was largely due to the September 11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, the largest increase in weapons sales went to governments who were either actively or passively assisting the American military.
The report concludes by noting that the gravest danger stemming from U.S. weapons sales is the impact on the image, credibility and security of America. Funneling arms to repressive and undemocratic governments, while at the same time championing democracy, causes the credulity of America to be questioned. Providing weapons to nations with poor human rights records often helps to enhance their power and causes further abuses. And as has occurred before, weapons given to a “friendly” government can end up in the hands of future enemies, as happened in Iraq and Panama in the 1980s, and is presently the case with the remnants of the former Taliban in Afghanistan.
One of the chief beneficiaries of the Bush administration’s expansion of weapons sales has been the former Russian province of Uzbekistan. Before 2001, this nation received almost no military aid. But as a consequence of the invasion of Afghanistan, that quickly changed. Uzbekistan offered the U.S. military the use of an airbase near the Afghan border. Over 1,000 U.S. troops were transferred to the airbase, and military assistance began to be directed to Uzbekistan.
In 2003, the Bush administration delivered $8.6 million in military aid to Uzbekistan, which was more than had been given in the previous six years combined. In 2005, $10.9 million in aid was granted, and $4 million has been requested for 2006. And as for arms sales, between 2001 and 2003 the administration sold Uzbekistan $37 million in weapons. However, the Bush administration knew full well that Uzbekistan had a brutal record of oppression.
The U.S. State Department issued a report on Uzbekistan in 2003, estimating that over 5,000 people were in “prison for political or religious reasons” which included “human rights activists.” The report also noted, “The police and the National Security Service committed numerous serious human rights abuses” and have “tortured, beat, and harassed persons.” The report concluded, “Members of the security forces responsible for documented abuses were rarely punished.”
Further evidence of brutal oppression occurred last month in the Uzbekistan city of Andijon. On May 13, Uzbekistan military forces reportedly killed 173 people, in what the Uzbek government characterized as an attempted revolt by Muslim extremists. However, human rights organizations, opposition parties, and survivors and relatives of those killed reported that it was not a revolt, but a pro-democracy rally, and that as many as 400 people may have been killed. Numerous reports surfaced indicating that the Uzbekistan military fired machine guns into crowds attending the rally. One can’t help but wonder if those guns were the very ones sold to them by the Bush administration.
An independent photojournalist working for The New York Times also reported that an ambulance which attempted to provide aid following the assault was fired upon by Uzbek troops, resulting in the deaths of the driver, a physician, and a nurse. As a result of this violent crackdown, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Sununu traveled to Uzbekistan last month to meet with survivors, and have called for an independent, international investigation. The senators acknowledged that given Uzbekistan’s history of repression and human rights abuses, the assault was hardly surprising.
The Bush administration’s goal of promoting global democracy is admirable. As is their objective to end tyranny and terrorism. But none of these goals can be accomplished by an expansion of weapons sales. Democracy will never flourish from the barrel of a gun. As is evident by recent events in Uzbekistan, supplying weapons to countries known to be oppressive and abusive, regardless of the extent to which they have helped the U.S. in the war on terrorism, is irresponsible.
Gene C. Gerard teaches American history at a small college in suburban Dallas, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americana at War. His previous articles have appeared in Dissident Voice, Political Affairs Magazine, The Free Press, Intervention Magazine, The Modern Tribune, and The Palestine Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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