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SPEECHES AND ARTICLES BY OSCAR ARIAS | 1998-1999 |



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The New York Times, Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress


Stopping America's Most Lethal Export Stopping America's Most Lethal Export
An Op-Ed for The New York Times
by Oscar Arias
Published on June 23, 1999

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Recently, Americans have shown great concern about the reported loss of classified nuclear secrets to the Chinese. But they should be just as outraged that their country gives away many other military secrets voluntarily, in the form of high-tech arms exports. By selling advanced weaponry throughout the world,wealthy military contractors not only weaken national security and squeeze taxpayers at home but also strengthen dictators and worsen human misery abroad.

After the cold war, arms manufacturers realized that their business would be threatened by falling demand. To protect their profits, they have lobbied to maintain high levels of spending in the United States while also promoting unprecedented levels of military exports.

This two-pronged approach serves the manufacturers well: by shipping top-of-the-line arms overseas, they create greater dangers to surmount.They can then argue that continued American supremacy requires the development of even more sophisticated weapons systems -- weapons that translate into lucrative defense contracts. For example, in the early 1990's the Lockheed Corporation advocated the development of "next generation" F-22 fighters with the argument that, as a company brochure put it, "sophisticated fighter airplanes and air defense systems are being sold around the world," weakening American air superiority. But even before a prototype of this advanced aircraft came off the assembly line, company lobbyists were pressuring Federal officials to approve its export.

While the arms industry profits, people throughout the world suffer. Americans are hurt when the defense budget squanders money that could be used to repair schools or to guarantee universal health care. Overseas, American-made arms are often turned against civilians or used to strengthen dictators. Indeed, the true weapons of mass destruction are the jet fighters, tanks, machine guns and other military exports that the United States ships to nondemocratic countries — a record $8.3 billion worth in the 1997 fiscal year, the last year for which figures are available.

I also deplored President Clinton's decision in the summer of 1997 to lift a long-standing ban on the sale of expensive, high-tech weapons to my region, Latin America. This move will certainly impede our efforts to break the vicious cycle of poverty and militarism.

A huge amount of American taxpayer money goes to support this immoral weapons trade. In 1995, the arms industry received $7.6 billion in Federal subsidies. After agricultural price supports, this represents the largest subsidy program for business in the Federal budget.

A first step toward insuring real national security would be to end this corporate welfare. Another would be to set more realistic defense budgets, including allocations for arms acquisitions. The Clinton Administration is now calling for a 50 percent increase in weapons procurement in the next five years, and Congress is demanding ever higher military spending and is loading budgets with pork.

The United States should strongly support an international code of conduct on arms transfers. This initiative, which is being promoted by a commission of 17 Nobel Peace laureates, would insure that weapons are not sold to countries that violate human rights or suppress democracy.

In an attempt to protect American security, members of Congress will soon determine a response to the leaks of nuclear secrets. But they can do more. By adopting tough controls on arms exports, they can advance peace and democracy worldwide.

— Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

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