Michael Klare, American Arms Supermarket (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1984).

American Arms Supermarket presents a wealth of facts and figures about the history of US arms sales programs to other countries. According to Klare, arms transfers have become “the hard currency of foreign affairs”; they are “a major instrument of US foreign policy, eclipsing such traditional instruments as military grants and economic assistance.” In his first three chapters, Klare documents the sharp increase in arms sales to Third World countries over the last 20 years, especially to the Middle East. Between 1960 and 1980, the number of countries buying arms from the United States doubled to 115. Weapons transfers had already increased under Jimmy Carter despite his promise to use them only as “exceptional” foreign policy implements. Ronald Reagan has done away with almost all restraints on arms sales.

Klare rejects Washington’s claim that arms transfers to Third World countries necessarily contribute to US security and strengthen US influence. In Iran, the Shah was deposed in part because he spent billions on the latest US weapons technology while disregarding human needs. Israel, “the most frequent user of American weapons,” has employed them in ways that “may appear to conform with Israeli definitions of national security [but] conflict with most established notions of self-defense, including those incorporated into US arms export regulations.”

Two chapters, perhaps the strongest in the book, deal with weapons transfers to the Middle East. In addition to suggesting a case-by-case examination of the usefulness of US arms transfers, Klare recommends that policy makers think about “national security” in broader terms. The increased lethality of weapons sold to Third World countries makes “any conflict between two well-equipped adversaries an automatic threat to all neighboring countries,” undermining global security and posing “a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

With its extensive bibliography, index, footnotes and tables, American Arms Supermarket is a valuable reference work for people who want to learn more about the workings of US military and foreign policy. One recommendation, though: Klare ought to adopt a less lecturing tone. And one quibble: After explaining how US arms sales have kept dictators in power and aided repressive governments, it comes as somewhat of a shock when Klare blandly states that “since the foundation of this republic, the principal goal of US foreign policy has been the creation of a just and peaceful world order wherein disputes are settled through negotiations rather than armed conflict.”

How to cite this article:

"Klare, American Arms Supermarket," Middle East Report 140 (May/June 1986).

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