By Tom Gjelten, NPR website, March 9, 2011
The U.S. has long been the chief weapons supplier to Middle East governments. Arms sales have been justified by a belief that it is in the U.S. interest for allied governments in the region to have well-trained and well-equipped militaries.
The risk that countries receiving American arms might someday turn them against the United States is somewhat mitigated by their continued dependence on U.S. firms for spare parts.
"When we sell key components to other countries, we have a strict end-use monitoring program," says Kimmitt, now executive vice president at Advanced Technology Systems Co., a defense contractor. "If a country turns against us, we can turn off the spigot."
The U.S. dominance in the global arms market is due in part to the reputation of American military manufacturers. It's one area where U.S. companies consistently beat their competitors.
Defense contractors, however, now have to worry about reduced demand for their products, if the United States pulls back on arms transfers to the Middle East or if Middle Eastern governments choose to spend less money on U.S. weaponry and more on social programs, in order to calm their restive populations.
"There's a lot of bubbling under the surface [and] a lot of demands from citizens in the region," says David Hamod, president of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, reached by telephone in Oman. Hamod is looking for signs that governments in the region may be considering a change in their budgetary priorities.
"Our companies are interested in knowing what's happening on the ground, and they will be looking for a full report on my return to the States," Hamod says. "But to the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been a long-term impact yet on the defense needs of countries in the region."
The U.S. history, tradition and anything for profit approach to the sale of arms, around the world, is, quite naturally, coming under fire.
It is those very weapons purchased from the U.S. and from other countries, that are being used against the rebels in Libya and in other countries. And, military analysts note, when the tide turns, there is a slowing in arms trading. However, the spigot needs to be turned off, in the interests of humanity, and the potential for peace, not only if and when a country turns "against us".