Updated: August 2007
During 2006, the Pentagon notified Congress of an estimated nearly $37 billion in proposed, government-to-government, conventional arms transfer agreements with 25 countries and the 26-member NATO alliance.
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, Japan, 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, Japan, and New Zealand) to block a sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, though it has never stopped a sale once formally notified.
The proposed 2006 arms sales total was more than three times the $12.3 billion sum proposed in 2005. Whereas only three countries requested more than one billion dollars in U.S. arms sales in 2005, nine countries requested sales exceeding that mark in 2006: Australia, Canada, Iraq, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
Amid continuing turmoil in Iraq and growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, almost 70% of the proposed sales were sought by countries in the Middle East. Iraq itself entered the ranks of top clients with $2.25 billion in possible purchases. The post-Saddam regime’s first proposed FMS purchase (C-130 aircraft engines worth $132 million) occurred in 2005.
A traditional U.S. arms purchaser, Saudi Arabia requested the highest sum ($11.3 billion) in possible buys, including the largest single arms request of $5.8 billion to modernize its national guard. That proposed purchase included mostly logistical equipment, such as long-range radio systems and night vision goggles. Pakistan, the runner-up for the most expensive arms sales request tally, sought $6 billion in arms in 2006, a dramatic rise from its previous year total of $282 million. The significant increase coincides with a budding U.S.-India relationship, which includes New Delhi’s consideration of U.S. combat aircraft for a pending purchase of 126 combat aircraft. The United States hails Pakistan, a neighbor of Afghanistan, as a critical ally in the declared “global war on terror.”
As in past years, a significant portion of the proposed deals were requests for upgrades, modifications, and support for previously purchased aircraft, armed vehicles, and missile systems. In contrast, new missiles were not as popular among purchasers in 2006 as in previous years, but several countries sought to procure aircraft.
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, Japan, and New Zealand). There are no official compilations of commercial agreement data and it is often incomplete and less precise than data on government-to-government transactions (Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1998-2005, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service, p. 20). 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 Office 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.
-Researched by Abby Doll
Sources: Congressional Research Service, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and Department of State.