Accounting for US Arms Sales Abroad

The Opinion page article "Arms Dealers Take Taxpayers for a Ride," June 12, implies that the United States defense industry targets poor developing countries as arms markets, and that the Department of Defense is subsidizing this strategy by participating at international air shows.

In fact, about half of US exports of defense products are sold to other industrial countries, and most of the remainder are sold to middle-income industrializing countries with high economic growth rates such as Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia.

From 1985-89, the 100 poorest countries in the world spent about $20 billion a year on arms imports, of which the US accounted for only 12 percent. Most US exports to those countries (e.g., Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Thailand) were financed by US government grant-aid programs. Countries that do purchase defense products from the US are enabled to play a greater role in providing for their own defense. At the same time such purchases help reduce unit costs of weapons to our own military, keep American worke rs and subcontractors employed in critical defense industries, and improve our balance of trade.

As to air shows, the US military has for many years participated in such events around the world in order to "show the flag" - to assure friends and remind potential foes of our presence.

At the request of US ambassadors in France, Dubai, and Singapore, the Department of Defense decided to increase its activity at three major international shows. It used training missions to bring in aircraft, and asked industry for help in meeting additional out-of-pocket expenses. Industry agreed, on the assumption that a strong US presence at major shows served both foreign policy and commercial objectives. Joel L. Johnson, Washington, Vice President, International Aerospace Industries Association

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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