From the Department of Hypocrisy…
Some powerful lawmakers are cheering news that several African nations recently blocked a large shipment of Chinese weapons to embattled Zimbabwe, where chaos has reigned since a contested national election was held late last month. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement today calling the maneuver "a principled stand" safeguarding the people of Zimbabwe against their government.
If these weapons had reached their destination, they could well have delivered the deaths of many civilians caught in a brutal government campaign to suppress opposition.
One wonders, though, why the same enthusiastic criticism doesn’t usually accompany our own role in arming dubious regimes in the developing world. After all, the United States has topped the globe in arms sales to developing nations for three of the last four years for which the data are available, according to a 2007 report from the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan branch of the Library of Congress.
Among the nations we arm heavily are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — not exactly renowned for their dedication to human rights. Recall Pakistan’s recent crackdown on the opposition lawyers, for example. If arming Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe with Chinese mortars is such an offense, then what about providing Pakistan’s own Pervez Musharraf with F-16 fighter jets?
As The New York Times reported when the CRS report was released last fall:
The study makes clear also that the United States has signed weapons-sales agreements with nations whose records on democracy and human rights are subject to official criticism.
The announcement of major new arms agreements with Pakistan [in 2006] renewed debate over whether the Bush administration was elevating its counterterrorism priorities above its pledge to spread democracy around the world.
And a (pdf) dryly notes:
The rise of Pakistan to its new status as a major arms purchaser from the United States is particularly noteworthy given the difficulties the United States has had with Pakistan since the 1970s over its successful effort to produce nuclear weapons. The total value of Pakistan’s 2006 arms purchases from the United States nearly matches the total value of all Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program purchases by Pakistan from the United States for the period from FY1950-FY2001 (more than $3.6 billion in current dollars).
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, remains a plutocracy of the highest order, where human rights abuses rage while the sheiks go shopping. Not exactly the place you’d think to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars of new weapon technologies — except that we just did.
A hundred House members from both parties condemned that transaction, but their intervention proved fruitless. Perhaps if there were several African nations sitting closer by they could have blocked the delivery.