Finally, the Lowest Risk category includes most of the NATO nations, Taiwan, South Korea, and a range of other, mostly smaller nations with stable governments, such as Barbados and Grenada, located in friendly neighborhoods. These countries pose little risk for problems like dispersion, destabilization, or misuse of weapons for oppression. In some cases, however, arms sales could alter regional balances of power in ways that increase tensions and the chance of conflict.
In short, even a relatively simple risk assessment makes it clear that the policy of the United States is to sell weapons to just about any nation that can afford them without much concern for the consequences. Though the United States does limit its most advanced weapons to allies 16 and maintains a ban on the sale of materials related to weapons of mass destruction, 17 the United States has sold just about everything else, in many cases to countries embroiled in interstate and civil conflicts, to countries with horrendous human rights records, and to countries that represent a risk for entangling the United States in unwanted conflicts.
Four major inflection points define the evolution of U. Though the U. As the Cold War heated up, federal investment in the research and development of new systems rose dramatically, as did international demand for American weapons. Competition between the United States and Soviet Union fostered a global boom in arms sales. Throughout the Cold War, the United States used arms sales as a key element of its defense of Western Europe and the broader American strategy of containing the Soviet Union and the spread of communism.
The second inflection point in U. This has gotten us into trouble in the past and could easily do so again. The result of these efforts was the AECA, passed in The act made four major changes to the process by which the United States sold weapons to foreign nations. Second, in order to ensure transparency, the act required the White House to notify Congress of impending sales above a certain dollar value.
Third, the act required the White House to deliver a politico-military risk assessment of each proposed arms sale to ensure that the national security benefits would outweigh any potential negative consequences. Finally, Congress reserved for itself the ability to block White House arms deals by passing a resolution within 30 days of official notification.
As with the War Powers Act and other reforms from the s aimed at curbing presidential power, however, the AECA looks more significant on paper than it has proved to be in practice. Most fundamentally, despite the fact that the Constitution clearly identifies Congress as the lead branch of government with respect to the regulation of foreign commerce, Congress did not give itself a significant enough role in arms sales policy.
Rather than structure the process to require active congressional approval of each major deal or to require annual congressional review and approval of ongoing deals, Congress instead abdicated its authority almost entirely. Another explanation, however, is that Congress has little motivation to play an active role in the arms sales process. In fact, the incentives facing Congress mostly point members toward greater support for arms sales.
Indonesian national security — Evan A. Laksmana
But even for the opposing party, supporting major arms deals is good politics because it helps them look supportive not only of U. All states and many congressional districts are home to the defense industry; in many districts the defense industry is the dominant corporate presence. The defense industry lobby, moreover, is extremely active and well connected in Washington, D. But because of the practical and political obstacles involved, Congress has made few efforts to do so and has not passed a resolution blocking an arms deal since the AECA became law.
Thanks in part to this congressional apathy, the risk assessment requirement has generally not restrained the United States from selling weapons even to countries that should not receive them. On paper, the AECA dictates a reasonable bar for the risk assessment. Administrations have also highlighted the importance of avoiding arms sales that would lead to negative outcomes. The track record of U. Without the need to worry about congressional oversight, executive branch risk assessments serve more as routine paperwork than serious attempts to weigh the positive and negative consequences of an arms deal.
The upshot is that for decades the United States has transferred weapons into situations where it was relatively easy to forecast that the risk of negative consequences was high. In most cases, however, short-term motivations outweighed consideration of longer-term possibilities. The end of the Cold War signaled another important shift in U. During the Cold War, the United States sold weapons to a relatively close-knit circle of allies and aligned nations.
Prospects for snapping up market share of the global arms industry and reaping profits powered U. President Bill Clinton was the first president to incorporate economic justifications into official policy. In response to the attacks, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations oversaw a boom in arms sales, providing foreign governments with unprecedented access to the American arsenal. Predictably, the urgency of the counterterrorism mission meant that the risk assessment process, never stringent, was weakened further. During its first year, the Trump administration continued this trend, with an added emphasis on economic opportunities and even less regard for the human rights records of American clients.
NATO-Russia dialogue and the future of the NATO-Russia Council
Few tools have been used in pursuit of so many foreign policy objectives as arms sales. The United States has used arms sales, as well as the threat of denying arms, in efforts to influence human rights policies, to help end conflicts, to gain access to military bases, and to encourage fair elections. Despite their many uses, arms sales impact foreign affairs through two basic mechanisms. The first involves using arms sales to shift the balance of power and capabilities between the recipient and its neighbors, thereby helping allies win wars or deter adversaries, promote local and regional stability, or buttress friendly governments against insurgencies and other internal challenges.
By selling advanced weaponry to Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, the United States hoped to balance rising Chinese power and promote regional stability. Although the specific objectives differ, at root the causal mechanism is the same: using arms sales to shift the balance of power in a direction more favorable to American interests. The second mechanism involves using arms sales to generate leverage over the conduct of other nations. This engagement helps build bilateral ties and creates strong incentives for recipient countries to maintain good relations with the United States.
American influence is thought to be most potent in cases where the United States provides a nation with a large share of its military capabilities. In the wake of U. If the Americans decide we should not be selling arms to other countries as well — Israel will have no choice but to comply. After the Cold War, the United States also sought to tie arms transfers to human rights and democratization efforts in client states. Arms sales remain attractive to presidents for three main reasons. First, arms sales are less risky than sending American troops, providing explicit security guarantees to other nations, or initiating direct military intervention, even long distance.
Taiwan is an example of this sort of arms-for-troops substitution. This tactic has been a central element of the American war on terror, with sales and outright transfers of weapons to Afghanistan and Iraq to support the fight against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS, as well as to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen. Presidents who would otherwise abstain from supporting a nation if it entailed sending American troops can sell arms to that country without the political fallout that sending America troops abroad would incur.
Second, arms sales are an extremely flexible tool of statecraft. In contrast to the blunt nature of military intervention, or the long-term commitment and convoluted politics that treaties involve, arms sales can take any form from small to large and can take place on a one-time or ongoing basis; they can be ramped up or down and started or stopped relatively quickly, depending on the circumstances.
Selling arms to one nation, moreover, does not prohibit the United States from selling arms to any other nation. And thanks to their capacity and prestige, American weapons serve as useful bargaining chips in all sorts of negotiations between the United States and recipient nations. Finally, arms sales represent a very low-cost and low-friction policy tool for the White House. As a result, the president can strike an arms deal unilaterally and at any time. Moreover, since most political leaders view arms sales as an economic benefit to the United States, the president tends to receive far more encouragement than pushback on the vast majority of arms deals.
Inevitably, the fact that arms sales are low cost and easy to implement means that presidents reach for them frequently, even if they are not necessarily the best tool for the job. Under the right circumstances, we agree that arms sales can be a useful tool of foreign policy. More often, however, we argue that the benefits of U.
Though presidents like them because they are relatively easy to use, in most cases arms sales are not the best way to achieve U. The strategic case for radically reducing arms sales rests on four related arguments. First, arms sales do little to enhance American security. Second, the nonsecurity benefits are far more limited and uncertain than arms sales advocates acknowledge. Third, the negative and unwanted consequences of arms sales are more common and more dangerous than most realize. Finally, the United States would enjoy significant diplomatic benefits from halting arms sales.
At the strategic level, the United States inhabits such an extremely favorable security environment in the post—Cold War world that most arms sales do little or nothing to improve its security. Thanks to its geography, friendly and weak neighbors, large and dynamic economy, and secure nuclear arsenal, the United States faces very few significant threats.
China, despite its rapid rise, cannot and has no reason to challenge the sovereignty or territorial integrity of the United States. Arms sales — to allies or others — are unnecessary to deter major, direct threats to U. Nor does the threat of transnational terrorism justify most arms sales. Most fundamentally, the actual threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism to Americans is extraordinarily low.
There is simply very little risk reduction to be gained from any strategy. The idea that the United States should be willing to accept the significant negative effects of arms sales for minimal counterterrorism gains is seriously misguided.
Moreover, even if one believed that the benefits would outweigh the potential costs, arms sales still have almost no value as a tool in the war on terror for several reasons. First, the bulk of arms sales and those we considered in our risk assessment involve major conventional weapons, which are ill suited to combatting terrorism. Many U. Insurgencies that hold territory, like the Islamic State, are one thing, but most terrorist groups do not advertise their location, nor do they assemble in large groups. Second, there is little evidence from the past 16 years that direct military intervention is the right way to combat terrorism.
Despite regime change, thousands of air strikes, and efforts to upgrade the military capabilities of friendly governments, the United States has not only failed to destroy the threat of Islamist-inspired terrorism, it has also spawned chaos, greater resentment, and a sharp increase in the level of terrorism afflicting the nations involved.
Although selling weapons to the governments of Nigeria or Morocco or Tunisia might help them combat violent resistance in their countries, terrorist groups in those countries have never targeted the United States. As a result, such arms deals cannot be justified by arguing that they advance the goals of the United States in its own war on terror in any serious way. Finally, arms sales are completely useless to combat the largest terrorist threat to the U. And in fact only two foiled attempts since then — the underwear bomber and the printer-bomb plot — can be ascribed to al Qaeda.
Different circumstances would produce a different analysis. Although today there is little reason for the United States to worry about the Russian threat to Europe, during the Cold War foreign policy experts agreed that preventing the Soviet Union from dominating the European continent was critical to American security.
This strategy greatly enhanced the fighting capability of NATO, thereby bolstering deterrence and ensuring European security. Today, happily, the United States faces no such threats. This is already a much weaker position than the conventional wisdom acknowledges. Attempts to manage the balance of power and generate influence around the world are heavily contingent on a number of factors, most of which lie outside American control. Upon closer review, most of the benefits of arms sales are less certain and less compelling than advocates claim.
The hidden assumption underlying the balance of power strategy is that the United States will be able to predict accurately what the impact of its arms sales will be. If the goal is deterrence, for example, the assumption is that an arms sale will be sufficient to deter the adversary without spawning an arms race. If the goal is to promote stability, the assumption is that an arms sale will in fact reduce tensions and inhibit conflict rather than inflame tensions and help initiate conflict. As it turns out, these are often poor assumptions. Although arms sales certainly enhance the military capability of the recipient nation, the fundamental problem is that arms sales often initiate a long chain of responses that the United States generally cannot control.
The United States, after all, is not the only country with interests in regional balances, especially where the survival and security of local actors is at stake. The United States is neither the only major power with a keen interest in critical regions like Asia and the Middle East, nor the only source of weapons and other forms of assistance. Nor can it dictate the perceptions, interests, or actions of the other nations involved in a given region. For example, though a nation receiving arms from the United States may enjoy enhanced defensive capabilities, it is also likely to enjoy enhanced offensive capabilities.
Though the Saudis explain their arms purchases as necessary for defense against Iranian pressure, Saudi Arabia has also spent the past two years embroiled in a military intervention in Yemen. Likewise, arms sales can heighten regional security dilemmas. Neighbors of nations buying major conventional weapons will also worry about what this enhanced military capability will mean.
This raises the chances that they too will seek to arm themselves further, or take other steps to shift the balance of power back in their favor, or, in the extreme case, to launch a preventive war before they are attacked. Given these dynamics, the consequences of arms sales to manage regional balances of power are far less predictable and often much less positive than advocates assume.
This unpredictability characterizes even straightforward-seeming efforts to manage the balance of power. The most basic claim of arms sales advocates is that U. The best available evidence, however, suggests a more complicated reality. In a study of arms sales from to , major-power arms sales to existing allies had no effect on the chance that the recipient would be the target of a military attack. Worse, recipients of U. Nor is there much evidence that arms sales can help the United States promote peace and regional stability by calibrating the local balance of power.
On this score, in fact, the evidence suggests that the default assumption should be the opposite. Most scholarly work concludes that arms sales exacerbate instability and increase the likelihood of conflict. There is also good reason to believe that several factors are making the promotion of regional stability through arms sales more difficult.
The shrinking U. In sum, the academic and historical evidence indicates that although the United States can use arms sales to enhance the military capabilities of other nations and thereby shift the local and regional balance of power, its ability to dictate specific outcomes through such efforts is severely limited. Arms for Not That Much Influence. Successful foreign policy involves encouraging other nations to behave in ways that benefit the United States.
As noted, the United States has often attempted to use arms sales to generate the sort of leverage or influence necessary to do this. History reveals, however, that the benefits of the arms for influence strategy are limited for two main reasons. First, the range of cases in which arms sales can produce useful leverage is much narrower than is often imagined. Most obviously, arms sales are unnecessary in situations where the other country already agrees or complies with the American position or can be encouraged to do so without such incentives.
This category includes most U. Just as clearly, the arms for influence strategy is a nonstarter when the other state will never agree to comply with American demands. This category includes a small group of obvious cases such as Russia, China, Iran, and other potential adversaries to which the United States does not sell weapons anyway , but it also includes a much larger group of cases in which the other state opposes what the United States wants, or in which complying with U.
In addition, there are some cases in which the United States itself would view arms sales as an inappropriate tool. The Leahy Law, for example, bars the United States from providing security assistance to any specific foreign military unit deemed responsible for past human rights abuses. Indeed, in such cases it is often unclear whether there is anyone to negotiate with in the first place, and governments are at best on shaky ground.
At present the United States bars 17 such nations from purchasing American arms. As long as these nations are embargoed, arms sales will remain an irrelevant option for exerting influence. Lest this category be dismissed because it includes mostly smaller and less strategically significant countries from the American perspective, it should be noted that each of these countries has a vote in the United Nations and other international organizations and that many of them suffer from civil conflicts and terrorism, making them potential targets of interest for American policymakers looking for international influence.
By definition, then, the arms-for-influence strategy is limited to cases in which a currently noncompliant country might be willing to change its policies at least for the right price or to avoid punishment. The second problem with the arms for influence strategy is that international pressure in general, whether in the form of economic sanctions, arms sales and embargoes, or military and foreign aid promises and threats, typically has a very limited impact on state behavior. Though again, on paper, the logic of both coercion and buying compliance looks straightforward, research shows that leaders make decisions on the basis of factors other than just the national balance sheet.
In particular, leaders tend to respond far more to concerns about national security and their own regime security than they do to external pressure. Arms sales, whether used as carrots or sticks, are in effect a fairly weak version of economic sanctions, which research has shown have limited effects, even when approved by the United Nations, and tend to spawn a host of unintended consequences. As such, the expectations for their utility should be even more limited.
With limited exceptions, increasing levels of U. Perhaps the most explicit evidence of the difficulty the United States has had exerting this kind of leverage came during the Reagan administration. Robert Kasten Jr. An analysis of the results, however, found no linkage between changes in American support and UN voting patterns by recipient states.
The U. Nor have arms sales provided the United States with enough leverage over the years to prevent client states such as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and Morocco from invading their neighbors. Nor have arms sales helped restrain the human rights abuses of clients like Chile or Libya, or various Middle Eastern client states.
Although the United States has used the promise of arms sales or the threat of denying arms successfully from time to time, the failures outnumber the victories. The most rigorous study conducted to tease out the conditions under which arms for influence efforts are successful is a study by John Sislin. Thirty of the cases Sislin coded as successful were instances of the United States using arms to buy access to military bases 20 cases or to raw materials 5 cases or to encourage countries to buy more American weapons 5 cases.
Finally, the conditions for successful leverage seeking appear to be deteriorating. With the leveling out of the global distribution of power, both economic and military, the ability of the United States to exert influence has waned, regardless of the specific tool being used. Second, as noted above, the U. Though arms sales are of marginal value to national security and the pursuit of national interests, their negative consequences are varied and often severe.
Effects on the United States. Though the goal of arms sales is to promote American security and U. The first of these — blowback — occurs when a former ally turns into an adversary and uses the weapons against the United States. The second — entanglement — is a process whereby an arms sales relationship draws the United States into a greater level of unwanted intervention.
The fact that the United States has sold weapons to almost every nation on earth, combined with frequent military intervention, means that blowback is an inescapable outcome of U. American troops and their allies have faced American-made weapons in almost every military engagement since the end of the Cold War, including in Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria.
And even where the United States has not yet engaged in combat, American arms sales have bolstered the military capabilities of adversaries once counted as friendly. Blowback can occur in at least three ways. First, a previously friendly regime becomes unfriendly. For example, the United States sold billions of dollars in weapons to the Shah of Iran during the s in the hopes that Iran would provide a stabilizing influence on the Middle East.
The sales included everything from fighter jets for air campaigns to surface-to-air missiles to shoot down enemy fighters. Panama, the recipient of decades of American military assistance, as well as host to a major military base and 9, U. And the commitment of resources to peacekeeping had actually declined. The shift to a new foreign minister, John Manley, in late , meant the timing was right to take a fresh look. The foreign affairs policy planning team at the time believed that the goal should be to achieve a better balance between the pursuit of interests and values, and between the use of bilateral and multilateral instruments.
As an explicit proposal, it meant admitting that managing practical relations with the U. As a counter-balance, it also meant prioritizing other key bilateral, instead of mainly multilateral, relations in foreign policy. This included bilateral relationships with other G7 partners, the U. The proposal to place Canada-U. After all, as St. The terrorist attacks of Sept. The low-key foreign policy update suddenly became an urgent action item. Proposals for strengthening Canada-U. Canada assumed the chair of the G8 process in and, at the U.
Subsequent rifts in the Liberal caucus, which led to Paul Martin taking the prime ministerial role in December , along with changes in foreign ministers, shifted the still ongoing foreign policy review to the back burner after that. It took several more years to draft, consult and, finally in , publish the official documents. A Global Fund for Peace and Security was established as a key deliverable.
But by then, the world and Canada had moved on. The new Stephen Harper government, which took office in February , promptly shelved and ignored the review. As for the current situation, Canada faces a similar timing problem for a foreign policy review, three years into the Trudeau government and less than one year from the next federal election. The renegotiation of NAFTA has been completed and, if ratified, has arguably already affected Canadian interests beyond any other policy initiative that might be conjured up. The government certainly has the valid option of sticking with its current policies and waiting to see how events unfold.
Yet it is open to the criticism that its foreign policy directions have not been subjected to broad public debate or a more comprehensive search for areas of improvement. Ideas left on the table after the last review include the creation of a special agency for trade policy along the lines of the U.
For that level of ambition, a foreign policy review would be useful. But it would only be truly productive if everything were on the table for Canadians to consider and debate, including the discontinuities outlined previously, as well as the fundamental connections between domestic and foreign policies. If such a review resulted in a conscious choice of even closer co-operation with the U. This meeting was generally seen as a preliminary step to restarting broad discussions on how to reform the WTO.
Source: The Canadian Press. However, a review might also reveal that Canadians wish to reduce dependence on the U. The Trudeau government created a new Minister of Trade Diversification portfolio in July , already seeming to signal its intention to move Canada away from its current level of trade dependency. However, such a move will require more than a change in ministerial title.
It will require pulling off the delicate trick of preserving as much benefit as possible from the relationship with the U. First, the caveat implicitly requiring U. More fundamentally, increased trade with China would bring a different set of problems, especially around security, human rights and democratic governance. In any case, China will be less amenable to increased trade with Canada until the Huawei issue is resolved. But any concerted move in that direction would require a deep review of the policies necessary to achieve it, along with broad buy-in from the Canadian public and provinces.
Foreign policy reviews are intensive exercises.
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Whether it will endure into the future, no one can predict. In the meantime, global geopolitics are changing profoundly, as well. In the end, the Canadian government can choose between two main options: it can follow its current path and only adjust foreign policy as necessary, while waiting out the Trump administration and hoping for more favourable successors, or it can try to set Canada on a new path.
The first option has the benefits of being cheaper and less time consuming than a full policy review. It also preserves flexibility, though at the cost of ceding initiative. The second option would require greater cost and effort, but there would be merit in looking for new ways to reset Canada-U. This might mean options for even closer co-operation on border efficiency and security, as well as on continental defence, including a joint space force and ballistic missile defence.
Following the bruising NAFTA renegotiations, looking for ways to reduce our dependence would also be justifiable, not least because of the signal it would send bilaterally. Of course, the Brexit experience offers a cautionary tale; Canada cannot defy its geographic destiny. Reducing economic dependence on the U. In sum, Canada has arrived at an inflection point.
Change is being thrust upon the country and Canadians should have a voice in how their government is handling it. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow. Stacey, Canada and the Age of Conflict vols. Denis and G. Knopf, Bothwell and J. Trade Wars , Toronto, Ont. Easterbrook and M. Watkins eds. Dunn and T. Energy Information Administration , Sept. Zilio, T. Cardoso, and M. Davenport and D.
Scannell, D. Shortell, and V. Testimony of John O. May 23, Nakashima, K. Demirjian, and P. Randolph Mank is a three-time former Canadian ambassador and business executive, who led the policy planning team from during the last Canadian foreign policy review.
The Institute aims to demonstrate to Canadians the importance of comprehensive foreign, defence and trade policies which both express our values and represent our interests. The Institute was created to bridge the gap between what Canadians need to know about Canadian international activities and what they do know. Historically Canadians have tended to look abroad out of a search for markets because Canada depends heavily on foreign trade. In the modern post-Cold War world, however, global security and stability have become the bedrocks of global commerce and the free movement of people, goods and ideas across international boundaries.
Canada has striven to open the world since the s and was a driving factor behind the adoption of the main structures which underpin globalization such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and emerging free trade networks connecting dozens of international economies. In all its activities the Institute is a charitable, non-partisan, non-advocacy organization that provides a platform for a variety of viewpoints. It is supported financially by the contributions of individuals, foundations, and corporations.
Conclusions or opinions expressed in Institute publications and programs are those of the author s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Institute staff, fellows, directors, advisors or any individuals or organizations that provide financial support to, or collaborate with, the Institute. Optional email code. The Canadian election and the future of foreign policy. Kelly Sundberg , Global News , October 18, Addressing global challenges When are foreign policy reviews conducted? What foreign policy options might be considered?
Source: Providence The notion of a more integrated North America still met with great resistance in the s. Be the first to comment. Sign in with. Remember me. Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
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