The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Arms Trade/Sales: Grading the Obama Administration's Conventional Arms Control Record

Arms Control NOW

By Jeff Abramson

Today, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Arms Trade/Sales: Dand Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro will be in India to attend one of the world's largest arms shows in order "to increase significantly the volume and technological sophistication of U.S. defense sales to India." At the same time, events in Egypt are sparking a debate about the value of U.S. military assistance. It's a good time to ask how the Obama administration is doing on its approach to arms sales and trade.

Arms Trade/Sales: D

The Obama Arms Bazaar is open and operating at full speed. In 2010, the administration notified Congress of potential foreign military sales (FMS) to 28 countries that together total more then $100 billion. In the dozen-plus years that the Arms Control Association has been producing factsheets on these notifications, this is by far the highest total value.

From 1997 to 2005, FMS notifications varied between $7 and $21 billion, unadjusted for inflation. In the Bush administration's second term, these proposed sales spiked, reaching a record of $75 billion in 2008. Led by the $60+ billion Saudi arms deal, 2010 sets a new record.

While not all deals will ultimately proceed as planned and other measures are available for tracking the arms trade, the Obama administration's willingness to engage in and actively seek expanded arms trade raises serious questions about whether the United States is contributing to destabilizing arms accumulations and fueling arms races. By arming both India and Pakistan simultaneously, providing Israel with the most sophisticated weapons and then selling large quantities of slightly less sophisticated weapons to Arab states, or through other transfers of military and dual use items and technology, U.S. conventional arms trade decisions are suspect.

We now need much closer scrutiny and a national dialogue around ways to advance U.S. goals that does not tie them to the arms trade.


We're grading the Obama administration all week. Yesterday ATT and tomorrow's subject is Export Control Reform.

Grading Guide [revised]

A: Global leader pressing for actions to curb arms races and set or reinforce highest international norms.

B: Working to raise or meet global norms. Breaking with past policies where appropriate.

C: Policies under review and may result in moving to meeting global norms, or may result in undermining them.

D: Falling behind global norms. Actions may exacerbate arms races, illicit proliferation or other threats to national and international peace and human security.

F: Actions undermining global norms and likely contributing to arms races or insecurity.

arms races, illicit proliferation or other threats to national and international security .