It is no secret that the United States spends lavishly on its military, far more than any other country in the world. The reason U.S. politicians often give for this is that America faces unparalleled threats, largely from rogue non-state terrorist groups waging unconventional, asymmetric warfare against it.
Yet while such groups, almost by definition, tend to obtain their weapons on the black market, America is also the world’s biggest arms exporter and often a supplier of these very same black markets. Despite the resulting diplomatic problems, deaths and embarrassments, though, America’s role in showering weapons on the world’s conflict zones shows no signs of changing any time soon, as recent statements from officials make clear.
The amount of arms sold during Barack Obama’s presidency — more than $278 billion worth — was over twice as many as during that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Nevertheless, under President Donald Trump, the Pentagon is “busier than ever” with foreign customers seeking to buy American weaponry, the Air Force’s deputy undersecretary for international affairs, Heidi Grant, reportedly said last week.
“What I’m seeing is a global demand from our partners in air, space and cyberspace,” Grant said, adding that “people want the U.S. to be the partner of choice.”
Trump himself has been inconsistent at best when it comes to the topic of excessive military spending and selling arms to foreign buyers. Before taking office he criticized America’s two largest defense contractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for the “out of control” costs of their projects, but then proposed billions more in funding for the two companies as part of a $30 billion fiscal 2017 supplemental defense budget. Similarly, after Trump labelled Qatar a “funder of terrorism” in early June, his administration nonetheless approved a $12 billion arms sale to the tiny Persian Gulf state less than a week later.
The recent dismissal of a lawsuit over a drone strike by a federal appeals court, however, may indicate how seriously China can expect the U.S. to take its concerns. The case was brought by Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni national, and revolved around a 2012 drone strike in Yemen that killed his nephew and brother-in-law.
“In dismissing the case, the court cited another case, known as El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Co. v. United States, that found the wisdom of military operations is a political question not a judicial one,” The Hill reports.
“In short, El-Shifa controls the court’s analysis here and compels dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown, author of the decision. “To borrow a closing line, ‘Under the political question doctrine, the foreign target of a military strike cannot challenge in court the wisdom of [that] military action taken by the United States.'”
Yet Brown also appeared frustrated at the degree to which the court’s hands were tied, writing in a concurring opinion on the case that congressional oversight of the military is “a joke” and that “our democracy is broken.”
“We must, however, hope that it is not incurably so,” she continued. “This nation’s reputation for open and measured action is our national birthright; it is a history that ensures our credibility in the international community.” It is entirely unclear, however, who — if not the president, Congress, or the courts — is capable of reining in America’s extravagant military spending and weapons exports.
America began selling unarmed drones — and then, later, under a classified policy, armed ones — to other countries during the Obama administration. Trump, for his part, approved a $2 billion unarmed surveillance drone sale to India last week, and some lawmakers have reportedly been pushing for his approval of armed drone sales to the United Arab Emirates and to Jordan — the same country where local intelligence officials were caught selling CIA-supplied arms on the black market and the government initially defended the actions of a soldier who killed three U.S. Army Green Berets last year.
Brown, in her concurring opinion on the dismissal of Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s lawsuit, also reportedly commented somewhat fatalistically on the subject of the global proliferation of weapons with origins in the U.S., specifically drones. “The spread of drones cannot be stopped, but the U.S. can still influence how they are used in the global community,” she wrote, “including, someday, seeking recourse should our enemies turn these powerful weapons 180 degrees to target our homeland.”