New reports: U.S. top arms seller, but struggles to buy back rockets in Iraq

Two new reports provide a study in contrasts when it comes to the United States and the global weapons trade.

A study by the New America Foundation places the United States at the top of the list of the world's leading arms-selling nations in 2007, accounting for more than 45 percent of all global weapons transfers.

The Bush administration signed arms sales agreements with 174 nations and territories worth more than $32 billion last year, including with one or more parties involved in 20 of the world's 27 major conflicts, the report says. The five biggest recipients of U.S. arms were Pakistan, Turkey, Israel, Iraq and Colombia.

More than half of the top 25 purchasers of U.S. weapons were either undemocratic regimes or those with serious human rights records, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, according to the report.

"By propping up repressive regimes and fueling regional arms races, arms transfers often promote the very instability they are meant to reduce," observe the reports authors, Willliam Hartung and Frida Berrigan. "And in too many cases, arms and military technology sent to allies of the moment end up in the hands of U.S. adversaries down the road."

Such is not the case with portable anti-aircraft missiles being recovered in arms cache busts in Iraq, says a new report by the Federation of American Scientists' Missile Watch Project.

By far the largest percentage of these weapons being found are of Soviet design and come from the arsenals of former Warsaw Pact nations, says the report, which found that at least 121 portable anti-aircraft missiles and four launchers have been recovered in arms cache raids since October 2006. To date, there have been no reports of any Western-made shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles being recovered, underscoring the effectiveness of Western military inventory tracking systems.

The United States has set aside $1 million for a program to buyback such weapons to reduce the threat to U.S. and Iraqi military aircraft and commercial aviation. But the large number of such missiles still being found indicates that a substantial amount of these highly dangerous weapons remain available to insurgent groups.

The good news is that there has been a dramatic reduction in attacks on U.S. aircraft with such weapons over the past year.


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