Courtesy Reuters


THE United States' practice of selling or giving large quantities of military equipment to foreign countries gives rise to a series of policy problems which, though often simple to identify, are not easy to resolve. Over the past two years, in an effort to exercise more control over the transfer of arms, Congress has added several restrictive clauses to the Foreign Assistance Act, which authorizes military aid, and a new Foreign Military Sales Act, which controls sales. Although tighter control may have a marked effect upon the overall nature and size of military aid and sales programs, the basic issues at stake inevitably escape the somewhat cumbersome and general language of legislation. In essence, the problems are ones of judgment in particular and highly differentiated cases.

Much of the underlying criticism that surrounds these programs is based upon several consistent themes: that arms sales and aid have become a bad investment and have contributed to the already dismal number of conflicts in the non-industrialized areas of the world; that there is a basic inconsistency in the logic of a foreign policy that professes to be concerned with arms limitations and the reduction of defense expenditure throughout the world and yet has resulted in the United States becoming the world's largest arms supplier; that the argument that arms transfers buy the United States political influence is seriously mistaken, as Pakistan, Greece, Iran and several Latin American countries have shown; and, most important, that arms aid can herald the beginnings of a major military commitment by the United States to the defense of other countries, such as Viet Nam, Laos or Thailand.

Other critics, though not prepared to agree with such sweeping generalizations, have raised questions concerning programs in certain areas, and have called for more open discussion of the various policy trade- offs. Should the United States make an open-ended commitment to supply combat aircraft, tanks and surface-to-air-missiles to Israel? If so, how many and what types

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