Updated: January 2013
The value of proposed conventional arms sales agreements doubled from 2011 to 2012. The increase in proposed arms sales was largely due to Qatar's request for $23.6 billion in arms, which was nearly equal to the total amount of arms sales requested in 2011. The $53 billion in agreements requested in 2012 was $20 billion above the ten-year average from 2002 to 2011 ($33.5 billion).
The United States conducts government-to-government transfers through the Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Not all notified sales result in final transactions. Under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, Congress must be notified of proposed sales of “major defense equipment,” as defined on the U.S. Munitions List, that equals or exceeds $14 million; defense articles and services that are not defined as “major defense equipment” which total $50 million or more; and construction or design services amounting to or surpassing $200 million. However, if the proposed sale involves NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, or New Zealand, the notification thresholds are $25 million for major defense equipment, $100 million for other defense articles and services, and $300 million for construction or design services. Once notified, Congress has 30 calendar days (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand) to block a sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, though it has never stopped a sale once formally notified.
Qatar requested the most expensive package of arms sales agreements in 2012, with $23.6 billion requested--a nearly $23 billion increase from 2011. Doha requested two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Fire Units for $6.5 billion and 11 Patriot Configuration-3 Modernized Fire Units for $9.9 billion, totaling over $16 billion for anti-ballistic missile defense systems alone. In addition, Qatar requested over $6 billion in attack helicopters from Washington in 2013, including Black Hawks, MH-60Rs and MH-60Ss, and Apaches.
The Republic of Korea also requested $8.8 billion in arms from the United States in 2012. $7.2 billion of the total consisted of requests for various attack helicopters, such as $1.0 billion for the MH-60R Seahawk, $2.6 billion for the AH-1Z Cobra, and $3.6 billion for the AH-64D Apache. In addition, Seoul also requested four RQ-4 Block 30 (I) unmanned aerial vehicles and several UGM-84L Harpoon missiles.
For the first time cince 2007, the Middle East has been supplanted by another region, this time Asia-Pacific, as the region that requested the highest value of conventional arms from the U.S. in 2012. Three of the top five countries that sought the highest values of U.S. arms exports were located in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea). The Obama administration's "pivot to Asia" is clearly illustrated by U.S. conventional arms sales in 2012 and is a pattern that is likely to continue in the near future as countries in the region attempt to bolster their conventional forces in the face of China's growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Below are the five countries that sought the highest values in U.S. arms exports in 2012 and some of their specific requests.
Republic of Korea
Below are all 26 countries that sought U.S. arms exports in 2012 according to FMS notifications and the total value of their identified requests (in billions of U.S. dollars):
Below are the total values of all notified requests each year from 1997 to 2012 in billions of U.S. dollars as compiled each year, in current dollars (unadjusted for inflation):
-Written by Marcus Taylor
1. The Department of State is also required to report to Congress any commercial sales it approves of “major defense equipment” that amount to $14 million or more, defense articles and services that equal or exceed $50 million, and any items defined as “significant military equipment.” As in the case of FMS sales, Congress can block the sale with a joint resolution of disapproval within 30 calendar days of notification (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea). There are no official compilations of commercial agreement data comparable to the FMS notifications and what exists is often incomplete and less precise than data on government-to-government transactions (Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2001-2009, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service, September 10, 2010, p. 23). The annual Section 655 report, prepared by the State and Defense Departments for Congress, details commercial licenses approved, but states have four years to act under the licenses. The State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls has final responsibility for license applications for commercial defense trade exports and all issues related to defense trade compliance, enforcement, and reporting.
2. Congress approved the higher notification thresholds for NATO members, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand in legislation passed in September 2002. South Korea was added to this list in 2008, and Israel was added in 2010.
Sources: Congressional Research Service, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and Department of State.