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THE TITLE of Michael Klare’s book is derived from a remark by Hubert Humphrey, describ ing America as a “kind of arms supermarket into which any customer can walk and pick up whatever he wants.” One wonders, after reading it, if the more apt comparison might not be to a colossal toy store for psychopathic governments, where so-called leaders of the so-called free world can come to satisfy at will their darker psychological urges. The range of armaments, considered only under the book’s scope of “conventional” weaponry, is indeed staggering: Between 1976 and 1983 . . . the United States sold Third World nations a total of 5,800 tanks and self-propelled guns; 4,530 artillery pieces; 13,636 armored personnel carriers and armored cars; 122 surface warships and 3 submarines; 1,558 combat aircraft; 422 helicopters; and 8,394 surface-to-air missiles. As impressive as those totals are, they neglect the enormous parallel traffic arms, paramilitary gear, police weapons,” sold directly to the “internal security” forces in the same client states. Klare later notes some running totals for those high turnover items: . . . U.S. firms sold police forces in the Third World a total of 615,612 gas grenades and 126,622 pistols and revolvers between September 1976 and May 1979, along with 51,906 rifles and submachine guns, 12,605 canisters of chemical Mace, and 56 million rounds of ammunition. Note that this latter catalogue covers less than three years, and, as Klare notes, does not list even for those years the “much larger quantities of such items . . . sold every year to military and paramilitary organizations in these countries.” Perhaps needless to say, the recipients of all this free trade make the average felon buying a handgun in the local pawn shop appear a sterling citizen by comparison: Of the eighty-two countries which acquired at least some U.S. equipment during this period, at least a third including El Salvador, Guatemala, Michael King, who lives in Houston, writes on cultural matters for the Observer. Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, [Somoza’s] Nicaragua, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines, and South Korea have been repeatedly cited by Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations for persistent abuses of basic human rights. AMERICAN ARMS SUPER-MARKET By Michael T. Klare The University of Texas Press, Austin, 1984 American Arms Supermarket is something of a walking encyclopedia of such abominable statistics, and though they make forbidding reading, Klare is to be applauded for doing the exhaustive research and compilation necessary to delineate the actual scope of the arms trade. The accumulation is numbing and overwhelming, and yet it should serve to remind those of us who have become accustomed to worrying over nuclear terror and proliferation that the proliferation of conventional armaments is, in an immediate sense, a much more clear and present danger. Klare cites an estimate from the New York Times that more than ten million people were killed in “conventional” warfare between World War II and 1975; he adds that since that time another ten million have lost their lives. The rate of devastation accelerates. The public concentration on the nuclear arms race has tended to provide a comfortable shadow for the booming market in ordinary armaments. As long as we are not actively peddling plutonium and ICBMs to the Bothas and Sharons of the world, it somehow escapes notice that we are providing, on an ongoing basis, much of the basic military hardware, some of it very advanced, that allows such paragons and their counterparts elsewhere to oppress their people at home and engage in military adventurism abroad. In the whole of his book, Klare barely touches on the question of nuclear weaponry, and yet it is clear he doesn’t need to. The sobering fact is that if, by some long hoped-for miracle, the existence and knowledge of nuclear weapons were suddenly to disappear forever from the earth, we would all still be provided quite nicely with the means to go on killing each other wholesale and the carnage would continue, unabated. It is not simply a matter of nationstates continuing to do what they have done to each other for much of the time since they first sprang up. Klare’s book is timely and foreboding because the arms trade, as he has described it, has in fact exploded in recent years and now dwarfs by many times the munitions trade that was once credited with setting the stage for both World Wars. Since World War II, and more dramatically in the last decade, arms transfers of various sorts have become a major, if not the major, foreign policy tactic, and on a continually expanding scale. “Whereas U.S. military sales rarely exceeded $1 billion per year in the 1950s and 1960s, they averaged $12 billion per year in the late 1970s and reached $21 If, by some miracle, nuclear weapons were to disappear forever from the earth, we would all still be provided quite nicely with the means to kill each other wholesale. billion in 1982. All told, the United States sold $97.6 billion worth of arms program between 1971 and 1980, or approximately eight times the amount for the preceding twenty years.” It is worth remembering here that it is not the United States alone carrying on this colossal mercantilism of death and destruction \(though we have, preUnion, the European nations, and now the increasingly industrialized Third World nations are also dealing in weaponry on an enormous scale, lending a healthy competitive edge to the whole grisly business. The superpowers try to outdo each other in arming and thereby indenturing their client states; the European nations do a little of that while Mercantilism of Death By Michael King THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17