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Sale of Fighter Jets Harms US Credibility

By Tanya L. DomiTanya L. Domi is an arms-transfer analyst at the Council For a Liveable World Education Fund in Washington. / October 20, 1992



PRESIDENT Bush's announcement, and Gov. Bill Clinton's approval, of the sale of 160 F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan and 72 F-15s to Saudi Arabia indicate that a sound policy on the spread of advanced weapons is less important than election-year politics. Because Congress adjourned without taking action to block them, both sales are now a foregone conclusion.

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The F-16 sale reverses a policy established by President Reagan in 1982 of limiting the sale of United States arms to Taiwan. Under the US-China Joint Communique dated Aug. 17, 1982, the US agreed not "to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, [so] that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in quantitative or qualitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years." The F-16 sale clearly violates this agreement. Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleberger explained the

change in policy by stating that "the communique clearly envisioned that US arms sales to Taiwan would continue, and the communique is a statement of US policy on the subject of arms sales to Taiwan, not a law."

After the announcement, China indicated it would boycott the next round of the United Nations "Big-Five" (United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain) talks to limit arms sales to the Middle East. Clearly, the administration's F-16 and F-15 sales provide no incentive to China to limit the sales of its own weaponry. The result, many analysts predict, will be a flood of arms into Asia and the Middle East. Taiwan has already made a deal with the French to purchase 60 Mirage jets. China seeks to modern ize its aircraft by purchasing at least 24 Russian-made Su-27 fighter jets. Reports indicate that China has purchased a Ukranian aircraft carrier to expand its navy. China is also reported to be buying advanced Russian missile technology. The F-16 sale to Taiwan completely undercuts US credibility in reducing the arms race overseas.

The proposed sale of 72 F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia is one of the largest such deals ever with a developing nation. For the first time, the US will ship this highly sophisticated aircraft to one of the most volatile regions of the world. The F-15E Strike Eagle, the model expected to go to Saudi Arabia, is one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world, with the capability to fly more than 3,000 nautical miles, easily putting it within striking distance of Israel, Egypt, and Turkey.

Most senators and representatives oppose the F-15 sale. Last year, three-quarters of the Senate signed a letter circulated by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio condemning the sale. On April 9, Rep. Mel Levine (D) of California, with 235 other members of the House, sent a letter to President Bush urging him not to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) of Minnesota introduced a joint resolution on Oct. 2 requesting a delay of the F-15 sale until March 1, 1993. But no action was taken before adjournment. While the State Department maintains that selling arms to "supposedly stable regimes" both demonstrates gratitude to nations that joined the UN action against Iraq and improves relationships, the cases of Iraq and Iran should serve as cautionary notes. The Iraqgate investigation reveals that arms sold to Iraq were used to kill Kurds, Shiites, and possibly US and allied troops during the war. Iran, since the Shah fell, has transferred US equipment to many nations, including air-to-air refueling kits to China.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton have endorsed the F-15 and F-16 fighter sales to insure that US defense production lines will remain open. But the jobs are a false promise. These sales will guarantee jobs for a relatively short period. Cuts in the defense budget will eventually force the lines to shut down. Rather than supporting anachronistic arms sales that threaten the stability of Asia and the Middle East, the US should fund high technology research and development to stimulate new manufacturing jobs.

Opportunities to control the deadly trade in sophisticated conventional arms are fading. The F-16 and F-15 sales will make it more difficult for the US to convince other countries to restrain their own weapons transfers to the developing world.