By Barbara J. Miner
Although foreign policy is getting scant attention in this year’s presidential election, the world remains acutely attentive to the U.S. role in world affairs.
A potent reminder came this weekend via Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, long-standing defender of human rights, and the 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Explaining why he pulled out of a seminar that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to attend, Tutu minced no words. “The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history,” he wrote in the Observer.
Tutu then called for George W. Bush and Blair to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He noted that some 115,000 people have died in the Iraq war, and that the conflict has destabilized the region and “driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand — with the specter of Syria and Iran before us.”
The South African prelate, who first came to world attention during the anti-apartheid movement, also pointedly referred to what he deems the hypocrisy in who faces prosecution at The Hague. The world’s first such court, the International Criminal Court at the Hague opened in 2002 to try crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“On what grounds," Tutu asked, "do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers' circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr. Bush's chief supporter, Mr. Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?”
Referring to Bush’s and Blair’s false claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Tutu asked a question that disturbingly resonates with commentaries on the recent Republican Party convention:
“If leaders may lie,” Tutu asked, “then who should tell the truth?”
The United States: World’s Top Weapons Merchant
Tutu’s reminder of the importance of foreign developments came a week after little-noticed news about the U.S. role in the proliferation of military weapons, especially in developing countries.
A congressional report found that U.S. weapons sales abroad tripled last year, reaching a record high of $66.3 billion and accounting for 78 percent of the global arms market. Russia ran a distant second, accounting for only 5.6 percent of sales. Information on the sales was released in a report Aug. 24 by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The report detailed what it called an “extraordinary increase,” with U.S. sales tripling from the year before.
Most of the sales were to developing countries, especially in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman secured weapons agreements with the United States at record levels. Sales ranged from high-end items — Apache and Black hawk helicopters, advanced anti-missile shields, tanks, missiles and F-16 fighter aircraft — to self-propelled assault guns, rocket launchers and artillery.
The report specifically noted that its record-breaking figures take into account only sales and agreements between the U.S. government and foreign government. It does not include U.S. commercially licensed arms arrangements, which would significant increase the numbers.
“Data maintained on U.S. commercial sales, agreements and deliveries are incomplete, and are not collected or revised on an ongoing basis …,” the report said. “By excluding U.S. commercial licensed arms deliveries data, the U.S. arms delivery totals will be understated.”
Arms sales is not the only area where the United States rules the world. We are also the world’s top military power — with no close rival in sight.
Overall, the U.S. accounted for just under half (41 percent) of the world’s military spending in 2011. The No. 2 military spender, China, accounted for 8.2 percent, with Russia a distant third at 4.1 percent.
U.S. dominance of global military spending mirrors domestic realities; the United has more small firearms than any other country in the world.
The U.S public — excluding the U.S. military or law enforcement — holds at least one out of every three guns in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Overall, there is nearly one gun per person in the United States.
Why no discussion?
Clearly, weapons both large and small are integral to our American culture, our federal spending, and our global agreements. But if the Republican convention is any indication, don’t expect significant discussion of such issues during the upcoming presidential election.
The Republican Party may be the party of hawks and NRA aficionados. But the Democratic Party has been shamefully silent on these issues. Meanwhile, Washington policymakers let stand, unexamined, our country’s dominant role in the proliferation of weapons of mass and individual destruction, both here and abroad.
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This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.