[Many Washington politicians have said “if the U.S. government doesn’t sell arms to foreign governments, someone else will”. That idea] assumes that the U.S. government can:
1. identify a problem
2. construct a solution
3. implement said solution.
This type of thinking ignores that it is impossible for interventions like weapons sales to do only one thing. When acting in a complex system like the global political arena, it is impossible to know ex ante how interfering in one part of the system will impact other parts, either today or in the future.
The case for using U.S. weapons as means of diplomacy has other problems. In addition to fallacious linear thinking, the U.S. government faces significant principal-agent problems when offering arms to foreign governments. After weapons are sent abroad, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to monitor their use or transfer. The “principal,” in this case the U.S. government, may be unable to control the “agent,” or foreign actors….
The Saudi government, for example, has found it particularly appealing to supply weapons to the Syrian government (note that this is before and during the current U.S. strikes in Syria). Israeli soldiers have sold a variety of weapons to Palestinian groups and other nations hostile to the U.S. for decades. In 1997, Israeli Nahum Manbar was sentenced to 16 years in prison for selling chemical weapons and sensitive information to Iran. That same year, the U.S. supplied Israel with over $47 million in weapons. And Egypt? The same year the U.S. agreed to sell more than $2.1 billion to the Egyptian government, the U.S. State Department issued sanctions again Egypt for selling missile parts to North Korea.
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