Outgunned?

A Debate Over the Shifting Global Arms Market

U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter crew chief, Tech. Sgt. Brian West, watches his aircraft approach for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base, 2011. (U.S Air Force, Flickr)

Technology Matters
J. Thomas Moriarty

According to Jonathan Caverley and Ethan Kapstein ("Arms Away," September/October 2012), the United States' domination of the global arms market is disappearing, and as a consequence, Washington is squandering an array of economic and political benefits it has enjoyed as the foremost weapons dealer in the world. They argue that although the U.S. defense industry spent the last decade developing expensive, high-tech systems, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35, foreign customers actually want cheaper, less advanced weapons. For Caverley and Kapstein, simpler is better.

Even if that were true, it would be a secondary concern. First and foremost, U.S. defense firms need to serve their most important client: the Pentagon. The U.S. military should not have to forgo stealth technologies, for instance, which better protect pilots and allow them to attack complex air defense systems, because the rest of the world is supposedly more interested in old airplanes equipped with outdated technology.

Moreover, the United States' declining market share in recent years is not a result of the Pentagon's pursuing cutting-edge technology, as Caverley and Kapstein argue. The landscape of global arms sales is shifting because medium-sized powers, such as India, South Korea, and Turkey, have enjoyed robust economic growth lately and are using that growth to reduce their dependence on Washington for military technology. Dozens of countries have built their own weapons-manufacturing industries in order to create high-paying jobs, generate profits, and address domestic security concerns, despite the fact that cheaper, more reliable systems are already for sale on the international market.

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