US Arms Aide Milosevic

Nearly $1 billion in weapons shipped

By David Abel  |  The Boston Globe  |  7/4/1999

WASHINGTON - Following a pattern of supplying future foes with high-tech weapons, the United States furnished Yugoslavia with nearly $1 billion in arms during the past five decades, according to the Pentagon's Security Cooperation Agency.

After Slobodan Milosevic came to power in 1987, the United States continued the flow of weapons, including fighter aircraft, tanks, and artillery. In all, $96 million in arms and training was provided for the Milosevic government before 1991, when war in the Balkans brought the program to a halt.

The United States, which dominates the world's arms trade, sold or gave away more than $21 billion in weapons to 168 nations in 1997, the last year statistics were available, according to Demilitarization for Democracy, a group in Washington that advocates arms control.

"President Clinton justifies today's record arms exports to dictators as a way to gain influence and encourage reform," said Caleb Rossiter, director of
Demilitarization for Democracy, saying that at least 52 recipients of US arms are nondemocratic nations. "But the billion-dollar military investment in Yugoslavia's dictators was justified in the same way. Kosovar civilians suffered from this policy and US forces were placed at risk."

US officials have long claimed the lucrative arms sales have a purpose beyond profit.
During the Cold War, the prime justification was that by providing arms to countries such as Somalia or Iraq, both of which later used US weapons against American soldiers, the United States ensured their clients would be under US influence instead of that of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, officials argued that recipients of arms from America were more likely to promote US interests and contribute to regional stability.

But since the fall of the Soviet Union, a significantly new justification for continued arms sales has emerged: maintaining the US military's industrial base in a decade of declining defense budgets.

"This is not a black-or-white issue," said Wade Boese, a senior research analyst at the Arms Control Association, a Washington think tank. "Money is definitely a factor, and arms sales provide the United States with influence on the way militaries develop. But the key point is that weapons outlast the regimes they're intended to support."

Examples abound of US arms sales to friendly governments turned unfriendly. In Iran, the United States had helped prop up an autocratic ally during the 1960s and 1970s with the latest F-14 fighters, Hawk missile batteries and modern destroyers. But when the shah's corrupt regime was toppled by Muslim fundamentalists led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the new regime usurped the modern weapons, instantly becoming a powerful enemy of the United States.

Similar examples can be found in many countries, including Panama, Haiti, Liberia and Afghanistan. And in some cases, weapons supplied to countries still close to the United States have been used for purposes the US government later condemned. In Turkey, arms provided by the United States have been used to repress the country's Kurdish minority.

The United States first began supplying Yugoslavia with arms in 1950, after the nation's leader, Josip Broz Tito, refused to join the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. US military exports to Yugoslavia that decade included 15 F-84G Lockheed Thunderstreak fighters, 60 M-47 tanks and hundreds of artillery pieces and antiaircraft guns, valued then at more than $723 million.

Military sales fell off in the next two decades but picked up again after Tito's death in 1980. In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States sold Yugoslavia a mine countermeasure ship and millions of dollars worth of sophisticated electronic equipment. In the 1980s, the US government and US companies sold the Balkan nation $193 million in air-to-surface missiles and air defense radar systems, some of which may have been fired at NATO planes during the 11-week air campaign that ended in June.

"It doesn't help to just slap on an embargo after you provide all these arms," said Anna Rich, a researcher at Washington's Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project.

The best way to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again is by Congress passing a general code of conduct."

A bill was introduced on the floor of the House last month that would prohibit arms sales to nondemocratic governments that fail to protect human rights, engage in armed aggression and do not fully participate in the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

As the bill has so far been drafted, there would be two exceptions: The president could request Congress to exempt a country if it is in the national security interest to provide military support to that nation or if there is an emergency and a vital interest of the United States is threatened.

Many longtime weapons specialists, such as retired Admiral Eugene Carroll, said a code of conduct is long overdue. He said US weapons have been turned against US diers too many times, he said. He also indicated US arms may have been used in war crimes such as those committed by Serbian forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.

"The solution is to quit leading the world in the arms trade," said Carroll, now deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank. "The fewer arms in the world, the better for the United States. There is just less potential for violence."