By Wade Boese
In 1999, the Pentagon notified Congress of nearly $20.8 billion in proposed arms sales to 19 countries, only $2 billion less than 1997 and 1998 combined. Significant proposed sales of advanced combat aircraft and the re-emergence of South Korea as a potential buyer amid its growing recovery from the Asian economic crisis contributed to the sharp climb in the value of possible deals. The total value of all possible U.S. arms deals for 1999 remains unknown because few details of U.S. commercial deals with foreign clients are publicly released.
In accordance with the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, Congress must be notified of all potential arms sales through the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales program that equal or exceed $14 million. Congress then has 30 days (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Japan and New Zealand) to review the proposed deals and, if it so chooses, to block a sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. The same rules apply to commercial sales, which are reported to Congress via the State Department.
As in past years, rocket and missile systems were in high demand, accounting for at least $6.4 billion of the notified deals. Unlike recent years, however, a number of countries expressed interest in "big ticket" buys of advanced fighter aircraft. Egypt, Greece, Israel, Norway and South Korea requested up to 194 F-16C/D fighters or fighter kits. Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, which is also recouping from the Asian economic crisis, asked for a total of 57 older-model combat aircraft.
South Korea topped all buyers with weapons requests totaling more than $5.4 billion, including 14 complete Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile systems worth $4.2 billion. Greece, which is considering purchasing 70 F-16C/D fighters, ranked second with some $3.4 billion in proposed deals. Israel rounded out the top three potential customers with nearly $2.7 billion in possible buys, including 50 F-16C/D fighters-adding to a notified purchase of some 60 advanced fighters in 1998.
Regionally, Europe sought the most deals, with seven countries seeking almost $7.8 billion in aircraft and missile systems. The congressional notifications emphasized that the proposed sales would increase the interoperability of NATO and U.S. forces. The enhancement of interoperability with U.S. forces is a standard rationale for military sales to Europe, but it has taken on added significance following NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, which revealed a growing gap between U.S. and European military capabilities.
Ranking second, Asia-Pacific nations, including Australia and New Zealand, totaled nearly $7.5 billion in possible deals, though South Korea requested 70 percent of this sum. The Middle East, which accounted for 60 percent of proposed sales in 1998, fell to third in 1999, with four countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Kuwait) requesting weapons worth $5.2 billion.
Though reported to Congress, not all the proposed deals will result in actual sales. South Korea is considering the Russian S-300 anti-missile system as an alternative to the PAC-3, and Norway will decide on purchasing F-16s or Eurofighter Typhoons later this year. In addition, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, elected in November 1999, has initiated a government review of the proposed buy of 28 F-16A/B fighters.