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Report: Weapons at War - World Policy Institute - Research Project


REPORTS - Weapons at War:
May 1995

For further information:
William D. Hartung,
212-229-5808, ext. 106
or Frida Berrigan,
212-229-5808, ext. 112

A World Policy Institute Issue Brief
by William D. Hartung

This report is part of a continuing series of issue briefs on contemporary security issues that is being published by the World Policy Institute's Program on Collective Security and Preventive Diplomacy. This issue brief was researched and written by William D. Hartung, the Director of the Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. The Institute would like to thank the following foundations whose support made this report possible: the CaReth Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the S.H. Cowell Foundation, the HKH Foundation, the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, the Ruth Mott Fund, the Ploughshares Fund, the Spanel Foundation, Rockefeller Family Associates, and the United States Institute of Peace.

Table of Contents
Executive Summary
I. U.S. Arms Transfers: Promoting Stability or Fueling Conflict?
II. U.S. Weapons At War [Includes profiles of U.S. weapons supplies to Turkey, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, the Philippines, Angola, and Yemen]
III. Arming Potential Adversaries: The Boomerang Effect [Documentation of U.S. supplies of weapons, military technology, and training to Panama, Iraq, Somalia, and Haiti]
IV. Recommendations
Appendix: U.S. Arms Deliveries to Regions of Conflict, 1984-1993 After [Documents U.S. Weapons Exports to 45 out of 50 current conflicts]


Executive Summary
From Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, it has been an article of faith for executive branch policy makers that U.S. weapons exports are only made to responsible allies who use these systems for legitimate defensive purposes. This report puts that thesis to the test by documenting U.S. weapons deliveries to 50 current ethnic and territorial conflicts. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, official U.S. government data on arms transfers provides overwhelming circumstantial evidence that U.S.-supplied weaponry is at the center of many of today's most dangerous and intractable conflicts: - In the past ten years, parties to 45 current conflicts have taken delivery of over $42 billion worth of U.S. weaponry; - Of the significant ethnic and territorial conflicts going on during 1993-94, 90% (45 out of 50) of them involved one or more parties that had received some U.S. weaponry or military technology in the period leading up to the conflict; - In more than half of current conflicts (26 out of 50), the United States has been a significant arms supplier, accounting for at least 5% of the weapons delivered to one party to the dispute over a five year period; - In more than one-third of all current conflicts (18 out of 50), the United States has been a major supplier to one party to the dispute, accounting for over 25% of all weapons imported by that participant in the most recent five year period; - Despite the popular perception that it is U.S. policy to cease deliveries of weapons once a conflict is under way, as of the end of 1993 (the latest year for which full statistics are available) the United States was shipping military goods and services to more than half (26 out of 50) of the areas where there were wars being fought;

In a number of volatile areas the United States has been the primary supplier to governments that are involved in ongoing conflicts. In Turkey (76%), Spain (85%), Israel (99%), Morocco (26%), Egypt (61%), Chad (27%), Somalia (44%), Liberia (40%), Kenya (25%), Pakistan (44%), the Philippines (93%), Indonesia (38%), Guatemala (86%), Haiti (25%), Colombia (28%), Brazil (35%), and Mexico (77%), the United States has been the primary supplier of imported weaponry in the most recent five year period for which full data is available.

Turkey's use of U.S.-supplied fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers in its recent invasion of Northern Iraq highlights the dangers of a policy of uncritical assistance to allies engaged in ethnic or territorial disputes, as does the employment of U.S.-supplied equipment on both sides of the 1995 Peru-Ecuador border war. Since the end of the Cold War, the continuing U.S. policy of promoting weapons exports as a key element of U.S. security strategy and economic policy has accelerated the incidence of the "boomerang effect": the transfer of U.S. weaponry to forces that end up doing battle against U.S. troops. The last four times the United States sent troops into combat in significant numbers -- in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, and Haiti -- they faced adversaries that had received U.S.-origin arms, training, or military production technology in the period leading up to the conflict. This is a clear sign that something is awry in U.S. arms transfer decision making processes.

Last but not least, covert U.S. arms sales have come back to haunt U.S. citizens by inadvertently strengthening terrorist organizations. Two of the men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing received weapons training in Afghanistan under the direction of fundamentalist Islamic forces that were armed and trained by the CIA. The suspects in the recent murders of several U.S. embassy employees in Karachi, Pakistan are also suspected of having ties to the CIA's Afghan arms pipeline. David Whipple, the former had of counterterrorism at the CIA, has indicated that these are not isolated cases: "some of the people who are actual or potential terrorists in this country are former guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan." And an Algerian official has described the existence of a "floating army" of Islamic fundamentalist fighters who were trained with CIA assistance in Afghanistan and are now engaged in organized attempt to overthrow the governments of Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

As President Clinton tries to mobilize world public opinion against Iran, in part for its alleged role in supporting terrorism in the Middle East, it would behoove him to get his own house in order by clamping down on the CIA's covert weapons trafficking operations, which all too often end up hurting innocent people, including U.S. citizens. The recent revelations that a Guatemalan colonel on the CIA payroll is implicated in the murders of Michael DeVine, an American who ran a farm in Guatemala, and Efrain Bamaca Velazquez, a Guatemalan rebel leader who was married to American lawyer and activist Jennifer Harbury, is just the latest example of a covert arms trading culture that is out of control.

The report makes the following specific recommendations for promoting greater accountability in arms transfer decision making (for the full text of the recommendations, see section IV, below):

Recommendation 1: Pass the arms transfer Code of Conduct bill.
In February of 1995, Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) and Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) reintroduced legislation calling for the establishment of a Code of Conduct for U.S. weapons transfers. Under the code, governments that engage in aggression against their neighbors, violate the human rights of their own citizens, come to power through undemocratic means, or refuse to participate in international agreements like the United Nations arms register would not be eligible to receive weaponry from the United States. If the President wanted to make an exception for a specific country on national security grounds, he would have to ask Congress to pass a bill providing an exemption for that nation. The benefits of the Code of Conduct would be twofold. First, it would place considerations about the character of a given arms recipient and how that nation might use U.S. weaponry up front in the arms transfer decision making process, preventing sales to unstable regimes in the process. Second, even in cases where the President sought an exemption, members of Congress would be forced to go on the record for or against, providing a measure of public accountability that rarely occurs under current law.

Recommendation 2: Provide more detailed reporting on U.S. transfers of arms and military technology, and press for other nations to do the same. Up until the Reagan Administration, the State Department issued an annual report under Section 657 of the Foreign Assistance Act that listed most significant items of military equipment delivered from the United States to any foreign country in the prior fiscal year, ranging from rifles and bullets on up to advanced combat aircraft. The section 657 report should be reinstituted as an annual publication, to provide a tool for keeping track of potential abuses of U.S.-supplied weaponry. A full accounting of U.S. arms transfer policy must also include regular, detailed reporting on U.S. transfers of so-called "dual use" equipment -- items such as advanced machine tools and computers, measuring instruments, or unarmed light helicopters and aircraft. If Congress and the public had been aware of the particulars of the nearly $1.5 billion in dual use export licenses that the Commerce Department granted to companies seeking to sell equipment to Iraq during 1985 through 1990, some of the more dangerous items on the list might not have been approved for sale.

Recommendation 3: The Pentagon and the intelligence community should publish regular reports on the use of U.S.-supplied weaponry in ongoing conflicts. All too often, U.S. weapons are supplied on a "fire 'em and forget 'em" basis: the decision to sell is made based on short-term political, strategic, or economic considerations, with little thought given to how these arms might be used a few years down the road. In an attempt to prevent this "boomerang effect" from repeating itself in the future, Representative Cynthia McKinney sponsored a successful amendment to the Fiscal Year 1995 Department of Defense Authorization bill requiring the Pentagon to report annually on how proposed arms transfers might create "increased capabilities" on the part of potential adversaries, and how they might "pose an increased threat" to U.S. forces in some future conflict.

As a further step in the right direction, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency should be required to file annual reports on how U.S.-supplied weaponry is being put to use in current conflicts, either by the original recipients, or as the result of unauthorized transfers to third parties. These reports could serve as a running record of the consequences of past U.S. weapons trading activities, and they would hopefully inject a note of caution into congressional debates over new proposed transfers.

Recommendation 4: Outlaw covert weapons shipments. From Iran/contra to the arming of Iraq to the ongoing proliferation of weapons originally intended for Afghan rebel movements, covert weapons trafficking haw been at the center of a series of unmitigated foreign policy fiascos. As part of the effort to restructure the CIA to better meet the realities of the post-Cold War world, covert arms sales by the CIA and other government departments should be strictly outlawed.

Recommendation 5: The Clinton Administration (or its successor) should vigorously pursue a policy of multilateral arms transfer restraint designed to limit sales of conventional weaponry to regions of conflict or repressive regimes. Contrary to the findings of the Clinton Administration's new conventional arms transfer policy, Presidential Directive 41, limiting the spread of weaponry to regions of conflict should be the paramount priority governing U.S. arms transfer decisions in the post-Cold War era. Economic and defense industrial base concerns should take a back seat to efforts to construct a multilateral arms export control regime that can serve both as a tool for preventing conflicts, and for limiting their duration and severity once they break out. At a time when the United States controls 72% of new arms sales agreements with the developing world, U.S. leadership remains an essential prerequisite for implementing any meaningful multilateral arrangement for limiting the flow of conventional armaments.


I. Introduction: U.S. Arms Transfers -- Promoting Stability or Fueling Conflict?

"[T]here is almost no case since World War II in which arms provided by the United States have been used by the country receiving them for purposes of aggression."
-- Richard Nixon, The Real War, 1980

"[T]here is almost no instance of a country which is primarily dependent upon U.S. weapons using those weapons in an offensive manner."
-- Joel Johnson, Aerospace Industries Association February 1994

"[T]here is strong evidence that countries relying on American weaponry have not started wars with their neighbors . . . To cite the most egregious example, Iraq . . . purchased its weapons primarily from Russia and France."
-- Ethan Kapstein, Foreign Affairs, May/June 1994

"Given the complexities of arms transfer decisions and the multiple U.S. interests involved... decisions will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. These case-by-case reviews will... draw the appropriate balance between legitimate arms sales to support the national security of our friends and allies, and the need for multilateral restraint against the transfer of arms that would enhance the military capabilities of hostile states or that would undermine stability."
-- Fact Sheet on Clinton Administration
Arms Sales Policy Directive, February 17, 1995

The Arms Export Control Act states that U.S. military equipment and services shall be provided to other nations only for purposes of internal security, "legitimate self-defense," participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, or involvement in operations consistent with the U.N. Charter.[1] Based in part on this legislative requirement and in part on their ingrained assumptions regarding U.S. weapons sales, several generations of executive branch officials, policymakers, and independent analysts have taken it as an article of faith that U.S.-supplied weapons are primarily used for defensive purposes. Now that the United States controls nearly three-quarters of all weapons exports to the developing world, the question of whether or not U.S. weapons are used aggressively is of more than merely academic interest.[2]

As of early 1994, there were 50 significant ethnic and territorial conflicts under way in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.[3] By the end of 1993, the number of ongoing wars involving more than one thousand battle-related deaths reached 34, marking the first increase in this grim statistic since the end of the Cold War.[4] By early 1995, progress towards peace in South Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland had been offset by the escalation of conflicts in North Africa (Algeria) and Russia (Chechnya),and the outbreak of a border war between Peru and Ecuador.[5]

With the exception of Russia, China, and a few other nations that produce a wide array of weapons systems for their own use, the majority of participants in today's armed conflicts depend upon imported weaponry.[6] The conventional wisdom among U.S. policymakers is that the weapons that are actually used in the majority of the world's conflicts are supplied by other, less "responsible" suppliers. To the extent that U.S. officials raise questions about arms supplies to regions of conflict, the usual targets of criticism are either Russia or China, which have historically been more willing to supply arms and military technology to "rogue" states like Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Iran.[7] In addition, some observers make pointed references to France's allegedly amoral, mercantile approach to arms sales.[8] In contrast, it has been argued that U.S. arms sales are grounded in carefully considered decisions to bolster the security of trustworthy allies in critical regions.

The notion that the United States is only arming the "good guys" has a long history. In his book The Real War, Richard Nixon, the architect of the current U.S. role as the world's leading weapons trafficking nation, argued that U.S.-supplied weapons have rarely been used in a belligerent manner, but that "Soviet arms are the ones that are constantly used to break the peace."[9] Nixon's blanket claim ignored a series of aggressive actions by major U.S. arms clients during the Nixon/Ford administrations, including Turkey's invasion of Cyprus, Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, Morocco's occupation of the Western Sahara, and General Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror in the wake of his 1973 coup d'etat in Chile.[10]

The Reagan Administration presided over one of the most revealing incidents in the history of U.S. policy towards aggressive uses of U.S. military equipment when it responded to Israel's June 1981 bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. Initially, U.S. weapons deliveries to Israel were suspended until the State Department could determine whether the bombing, which utilized U.S.-supplied F-15 and F-16 aircraft, violated Israel's pledge to use U.S. systems for defensive purposes. After a ten week review, Secretary of State Alexander Haig decided to resume arms shipments to Israel, arguing that "I think one in a subjective way can argue to eternity as to whether or not a military action may be defensive or offensive in character." Rather than making a specific case that Israel's bombing of Osirak was justified as a defensive act, Haig seemed to be saying, in Alice-in-Wonderland style, that a defensive use of weaponry is whatever the U.S. government and its allies say it is.[11] Turkey's 1995 invasion of Northern Iraq, which has been justified by Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller on the grounds that Turkish forces are in "hot pursuit" of Kurdish terrorists, raises similar questions about what constitutes a genuinely defensive deployment of U.S.-supplied weaponry (for further discussion of Turkey's use of U.S. weapons against its Kurdish population, see section II, below).

This "see-no-evil" approach to U.S. weapons trading has survived into the 1990s. The last four times the United States has sent troops into combat they have faced adversaries that received U.S. arms or military technology in the period leading up to the conflict, yet the Clinton Administration's arms transfer policy review stubbornly refused to take into account the very real possibility that U.S.-supplied weapons may be used for purposes contrary to U.S. interests. As if to underscore the business-as-usual tone of the Clinton approach, an official involved in the policy review has indicated that under the Administration's new guidelines, not a single one of the hundreds of major U.S. arms sales of the past fifteen years would have been rejected.[12] The administration's decidedly upbeat perspective on arms sales was summed up early on by Lt. General Teddy Allen, the former Director of the Pentagon's Defense Security Assistance Agency, during testimony to Congress in June 1993: "Many friends and allies depend on U.S. defense equipment, services, and training to deter, and when necessary, defeat, armed aggression."[13] When it finally released the results of its arms export policy review in February of 1995, the Clinton Administration described the five key goals of its policy as follows:

1) To ensure that our military forces can continue to enjoy technological advantages over potential adversaries;

2) To help allies and friends deter or defend themselves against aggression, while promoting interoperability with U.S. forces when combined operations are required;

3) To promote regional stability in areas critical to U.S. interests, while preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their missile delivery systems;

4) To promote peaceful conflict resolution and arms control, human rights, democratization and other U.S. foreign policy objectives;

5) To enhance the ability of the U.S. defense industrial base to meet U.S. defense requirements and maintain long-term military techno- logical superiority at lower costs.[14]

The idea of controlling the spread of U.S. weaponry to ensure that U.S. exports do not sustain ongoing wars, fuel regional arms races, or strengthen potential U.S. adversaries is only obliquely hinted at in the Clinton Administration's priority list; the underlying assumption is that U.S. weapons transfers go to potential "coalition partners" to be used for strictly defensive purposes. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, the possibility that today's partner could be tomorrow's adversary doesn't seem to enter into the administration's thinking.

To further underscore how small a role the potential risks of U.S. weapons exports will play in executive branch decisionmaking, Clinton Administration officials have indicated that the contribution of a given transfer to the defense industrial base will now be an explicit factor in deciding whether to go ahead with the sale. This could mean that the fact that a deal might extend Lockheed's production run for the F-16 fighter or sustain General Dynamics' assembly line for the M-1 tank will carry greater weight than whether these weapons are being provided to unstable regimes.[15]

Not surprisingly, the claim that U.S.-supplied arms are only used defensively has also been made repeatedly by executives and lobbyists in the defense industry. For example, Don Fuqua, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, made the following claim in a November 1994 article entitled "Merchants of Peace": "during more than half a century, no American soldier ever faced any significant American military equipment used by a hostile power."[16] This industry argument has been echoed in academic circles as well, most notably in an article by Ethan Kapstein of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard which appeared in the May/June 1994 issue of Foreign Affairs:

"...there is strong evidence that countries relying on American weaponry have not started wars with their neighbors. Contrast that record with the one compiled by countries that have purchased their weapons from Russia, Western Europe, or Third World suppliers. To cite the most egregious example, Iraq, which attacked Iran in 1980 before turning on Kuwait a decade later, had purchased its weapons primarily from Russia and France.

Why American arms should be used primarily for defensive purposes is an interesting question. The most likely reason is that countries reliant on the United States fear being cut off and forced to look elsewhere if they misbehave."[17]

The question of whether U.S. weapons transfers are as overwhelmingly constructive and stabilizing as this version of the conventional wisdom claims they are deserves closer scrutiny. As the next section will demonstrate, the sheer volume of U.S. arms shipments to areas of conflict calls into question the notion that these transfers have exerted a uniformly positive or predictable influence on local, regional, and international security.


II. U.S. Weapons at War
A comparison of the Pentagon's own data on deliveries of weapons through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Commercial Sales (CS) programs over the past decade with a list of 50 significant wars that were under way during 1993-94 indicates that U.S. weapons exports have played a major role in fueling the ethnic and territorial conflicts that have become one of the most difficult security challenges of the post-Cold War era [18]:
o In the past ten years, parties to 45 current conflicts have taken delivery of over $42 billion worth of U.S. weaponry;

o Of the significant ethnic and territorial conflicts going on during 1993-94, 90% (45 out of 50) of them involved one or more parties that had received some U.S. weaponry or military technology in the period leading up to the conflict;

o In more than half of current conflicts (26 out of 50), the United States has been a significant arms supplier, accounting for at least 5% of the weapons delivered to one party to the dispute over a five year period;

o In more than one-third of all current conflicts (18 out of 50), the United States has been a major supplier to one party to the dispute, accounting for over 25% of all weapons imported by that participant in the most recent five year period;

o Despite the popular perception that it is U.S. policy to cease deliveries of weapons once a conflict is under way, as of the end of 1993 (the latest year for which full statistics are available) the United States was shipping military goods and services to more than half (26 out of 50) of the areas where there were wars being fought;

The data outlined above demonstrate that contrary to the assertions of key policymakers, academic analysts, and industry lobbyists, the United States is sustaining the warfighting capabilities of a substantial number of the parties to the world's current conflicts. In a number of volatile areas the United States has been the primary supplier to governments that are involved in either internal or regional conflicts. In cases where the United States has supplied a majority of a client government's imported weaponry over an extended period of time, it is likely that some U.S. systems will be utilized in future conflicts involving these nations (see Table I, below).

Among the most serious conflicts in which the United States has been the primary weapons supplier are Turkey, Morocco, Somalia, Liberia, Kenya, Zaire, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico. Official U.S. weapons deliveries to Haiti, Guatemala, Liberia, and Zaire were cut off as of the early 1990s, but U.S. deliveries to conflict zones in Turkey, Morocco, Somalia and Kenya have actually increased over the past few years. In the case of Somalia, the increase is explained by the fact that a new government has been installed as a result of a UN peacekeeping mission in that nation. But continuing U.S. deliveries to Morocco, Turkey, and Kenya have no such rationale: in these cases, U.S. arms are shoring up regimes that have been intransigent in their pursuit of military solutions to sensitive ethnic and territorial disputes. Last but not least, in both Haiti and Guatemala, legislative attempts to terminate U.S. military assistance were subverted by the implementation of covert aid programs that were actually larger than the overt programs that were eliminated by Congress (see sections II and III for further discussion).

[See Table I, next page]

Table I:
Areas of Conflict in Which the U.S.
Has Been a Primary Weapons Supplier
(and recipient)
% of Total Arms Imports
Received from the United States:
1987-1991 1991-1993[1]
Southern Europe
Spain 85% 86%
Turkey 76% 80%
Middle East/North Africa
Israel 99% 91%
Morocco 26% 76%
Egypt 61% 89%
Sub-Saharan Africa
Chad 27% 25%
Somalia 44% 100%
Liberia 40% 0 [2]
Kenya 25% 100%
Zaire 17% 0
Pakistan 44% 3%
Philippines 93% 75%
Indonesia 38% 33%
Latin America
Guatemala 86% 0 [3]
Haiti 25% 0 [2]
Colombia 28% 19%
Brazil 35% 40%
Mexico 77% 64%
Source: U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1991-92 and 1993-94 editions, Table III.

Notes to Table I:
1. The overlap in years covered by the two columns (1987-1991 and 1991-1993) is a function of the way the data is reported in the two most recent editions of the World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers report. For a brief description of the nature of the conflicts in each of these nations, see Appendix A, Table I, below.
2. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) reported no arms transfers to Haiti or Liberia from any source during 1991-1993; this does not necessarily mean that there were no transfers of any kind -- it is likely that there was some black market trading in light weaponry that was not detected by the intelligences sources that serve as the basis for ACDA's data.
3. It has recently been revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency continued to make millions of dollars in payments to Guatemalan military and intelligence officials after U.S. military aid was officially cut off in 1991; it has yet to be determined whether some of this money was used to import weaponry.

While data on the total volume of U.S. weapons supplies to areas of conflict is readily available, specific information on how U.S. weaponry is being put to use in today's wars is harder to come by. This is in part because neither the media nor the armed forces have made it their business to identify the specific types of weaponry utilized in a given conflict or to document the origins of these armaments. Even if gathering such data was a priority, the reality of warfare, particularly multi-sided civil conflicts involving light weaponry, would make it difficult to obtain comprehensive information. Nonetheless, accounts in the mainstream and specialty press have uncovered a number of recent examples of how U.S.-supplied weaponry is being put to use on the battlefield, and a number of arms control and human rights researchers have recently begun a concerted effort to gather more information on the patterns of deliveries of light weaponry to ethnic conflicts. The following examples are illustrative of the ways in which U.S. weapons are being utilized in current conflicts: a more comprehensive accounting would require more open reporting of the nature of U.S. weapons transfers to these areas.

Turkey: Turkey received over $6.3 billion worth of military equipment and services from the United States between F.Y. 1984 and F.Y. 1993.[19] The United States supplied 76% of all weapons imported by the Turkish government between 1987 and 1991, a figure which increased to 80% for the period from 1991 to 1993. The majority of U.S. weapons supplies to Turkey have been paid for by U.S. taxpayers as part of an extensive military aid program that has provided over $5 billion in assistance from F.Y. 1986 through F.Y. 1995.[20] Turkey has also received large deliveries of U.S. weaponry for free or at minimal cost as part of the NATO "cascading" program, which involves redistributing surplus weapons rendered redundant by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE).[21] Last but not least, a number of U.S. weapons systems are produced in Turkey under coproduction and licensing agreements with U.S. firms, including Lockheed's F-16 fighter plane and the FMC Corporation's M-113 armored personnel carrier.[22]

There have been reports in the international and Turkish press indicating that U.S.-supplied weaponry has been used extensively by the Turkish government in its war on the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey. A wide range of U.S. systems, including F-16, F-4, F-5, and F-104 fighter aircraft, Cobra and Black Hawk helicopters, cluster bombs, and M-60 tanks and M-113 armored personnel carriers have been used in the conflict, which has claimed over 15,000 lives since 1984.[23]. The Clinton Administration and other supporters of the Turkish government have argued that the PKK is a terrorist organization, not a legitimate political movement. However, regardless of their views on the PKK, most independent observers agree that the politico-military strategy of the Turkish government -- strafing and depopulating entire villages in the southeast -- entails unnecessary suffering and repeated violations of the human rights of civilian noncombatants. Human Rights Watch has reported that as of October 1994, the Turkish government had depopulated as many as 1,400 villages and hamlets and displaced several hundred thousand people in its prosecution of the war against the PKK.[24] Major encounters involving U.S.-supplied weaponry have included May 1993 bombing raids in the Karliova valley that utilized F-4 fighter planes and Cobra helicopters to kill 44 Kurdish fighters and a January 1994 incursion into Iraq to bombard PKK camps with cluster bombs, 500- and 2000-pound bombs dropped from F-16 and F-4 aircraft.

The Turkish government's March 1995 invasion of Northern Iraq marks the latest chapter in its quest for a military solution to the Kurdish question. A Turkish government spokesperson proudly described the cross-border raid by 35,000 troops as "the biggest military operation in the history of the Turkish Republic."[25] Ironically, the Turkish attack targeted the same sector of Iraq in which the United States had been enforcing a "no fly zone" as part of the United Nations-backed Operation Provide Comfort, an effort designed to protect Iraqi Kurds in the area from Saddam Hussein's regime. Because the United States is far and away Turkey's largest supplier of weapons and military aid, Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller cleared the operation with President Clinton by telephone before sending her military forces into Iraq. White House spokesperson Mike McCurry reported that the President accepted Ciller's explanation that the raids were strictly aimed at PKK "terrorist bases" in Northern Iraq, and that Clinton expressed "understanding for Turkey's need to deal decisively" with the rebel group.[26]

In a move that may prompt debate for some time to come, President Clinton and the Pentagon also ordered U.S. military personnel in Northern Iraq to "stand down" from enforcing the no fly zone against Turkish aircraft for the duration of Turkey's intervention. When a reporter asked Pentagon spokesperson Dennis Boxx whether the Pentagon was "uncomfortable" over the fact that a U.S. ally was "beating up on . . . the same people we've been trying to protect from Iraq for a number of years," Boxx argued that Turkey was taking great care to focus its attacks on PKK terrorist strongholds. When he was asked whether U.S. enforcement of the no fly zone would be rendered inoperative for the duration of the Turkish intervention in Northern Iraq, Boxx implied that it would, noting that "it's simply better not to put these people at risk [U.S. military personnel involved in Operation Provide Comfort] until this has been resolved." The chilling implication of Boxx's remark is that the Pentagon actually feared that if U.S. forces had tried to enforce the no fly zone against the Turkish military, Turkish forces would have engaged in an air war against U.S. troops, using U.S.-supplied aircraft. It was almost as if the Pentagon spokesman was acknowledging that Turkey had intimidated the U.S. into allowing its Iraqi incursion to go forward unhindered.[27]

As has been the case in its major anti-Kurdish operations of the recent past, Turkey's offensive in Northern Iraq has relied heavily on U.S.-supplied equipment. Reports in the European press have indicated that Turkey's air war against the PKK (and against a number of Kurdish settlements and refugee camps) in Northern Iraq has been conducted almost entirely with U.S.-designed fighter planes such as the McDonnell Douglas F-4, the Lockheed F-104, and the Lockheed Martin F-16. Other U.S.-supplied aircraft such as the Textron-Bell Cobra helicopter gunship and the United Technologies/Sikorsky Black Hawk troop transport have also been used in support of Turkey's move into Iraq.[28]

U.S. support for the Turkish intervention is based on the assumption that it is a carefully crafted defensive operation aimed at wiping out PKK bases in Iraq, with little or no negative impact on Kurdish civilians. But press reports from the area have raised serious doubts regarding Turkey's claim that it has been mounting a "surgical strike" against terrorists. Turkey's ongoing war against the PKK, both in Northern Iraq and Southeastern Turkey, is looking increasingly like it may become that nation's Vietnam: a draining, divisive, and ultimately unsuccessful effort to defeat a nationalist movement by military means. An April 2nd news analysis piece by John Pomfret of the Washington Post -- appropriately entitled "Turkey's Hunt for the Kurds: the Making of a Quagmire?" -- captured the dilemma faced by Turkish troops in Northern Iraq as they attempted to sort out Kurdish PKK militants from Kurdish civilians (both Turkish and Iraqi) in the area:

" . . . by embracing a military answer to what it considers a terrorist question, Turkey risks bogging its army down in a vicious cycle of incursion and withdrawal, followed by guerilla counterattacks and more incursions again. Such a cycle, Western officials have said, would only empty government coffers overtaxed by an ailing economy and a similar counterinsurgency operation within Turkey."[29]

A western relief worker underscored the futility of Turkey's military strategy when he told Pomfret "you can't wipe out a terrorist operation that operates on two continents by attacking the mountains. It's like killing a fly with a sledgehammer." Turkish soldiers reported a conundrum similar to that faced U.S. forces in Vietnam -- an inability to distinguish friend from foe. One soldier told the Post "we have a big problem because we don't know who is a villager and who the PKK is . . . we can't do a thing."[30]

Unfortunately, contrary to the soldier's report, Turkish troops did plenty of things in Northern Iraq, including a number of documented cases of killings and displacement of Kurdish civilians. There is no way of knowing at this point whether these were isolated incidents or part of a larger pattern of abuse, because at a number of key stages in the conflict Turkish military commanders limited access to the combat zones on the part of both journalists and relief workers.[31] At the end of March, during the second week of the Turkish invasion, residents of the Iraqi village of Beshile reported that their village had been bombed and burned to the ground by Turkish forces. Fevzi Rashid, a 43 year old farmer who witnessed the Turkish attack, described it to a reporter from Reuters news service as follows:

"First the planes bombed our village. Then soldiers came some days later and burned our houses. Yesterday they came again and fired at the village with rockets and mortars."[32]

Turkey's claim to be targeting only PKK terrorists has been further undercut by assertions by the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi Kurdish organization that controls most of the territory impacted by the Turkish invasion, that on the very first day of the invasion "Turkish soldiers . . . arrested hundreds of refugees as suspected followers of the Kurdish Workers' Party."[33]

Although the Clinton Administration firmly held to its position that the Turkish invasion would be limited in duration and narrow in focus, one expected withdrawal date -- Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's April 19th visit to Washington -- came and went with no final timetable for withdrawal in sight. A partial pullback of Turkish troops in late April of 1995 still left at least 10,000 Turkish troops inside Iraq, and there is some dispute even now as to whether all Turkish troops have cleared out of the area (see discussion below). In contrast to the policy of Germany, which has cut off all weapons shipments to Turkey in response to the Iraqi incursion, the Clinton Administration's position on the Kurdish question appears to be "Turkey right or wrong."[34] The U.S. arms industry has officially weighed in on the side of the Turkish government's tactics as well, in the form of a comment by Joel Johnson, chief lobbyist for the Aerospace Industries Association, to the effect that Turkey's military plan was no different from what other global and regional powers have done in similar circumstances:

"It must be acknowledged that the Turks have not invented Rolling Thunder. We used B-52s to solve a guerrilla problem [in Vietnam]. The Russians used very large weapons platforms [in Afghanistan]. And the Israelis get irritated on a reasonably consistent basis and use F-16s in Southern Lebanon. One wishes that it didn't happen. Sitting in the comfort of one's office, one might tell all four countries they're wrong. It's a lot easier to say that here than when you're there and it's your military guys who are getting chewed up."[35]

Setting aside for a moment the obvious moral issues raised by massive bombing raids as a tool of modern warfare, it must be pointed out that Johnson's statement glosses over a key strategic point: in two of the three examples he cites, Vietnam and Afghanistan, the "Rolling Thunder" tactic was employed by great powers that were ultimately defeated militarily and politically by smaller, better motivated nationalist forces. Even staunch allies of the current Turkish regime might find reason to advise Prime Minister Ciller to abandon her country's current military strategy vis-a-vis Kurdish separatist forces.

In response to a growing international outcry against the Turkish government's tactics in its war against the PKK, the Clinton Administration has repeatedly urged Turkey to stop its indiscriminate approach of bombing and depopulating entire villages. Congress has gone beyond rhetoric by withholding 10% of Turkey's U.S. military aid for F.Y. 1995 pending a report on abuses against civilians by the Turkish military. In December 1994, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled U.S. Cluster Bombs for Turkey? which called for a reversal of a plan to provide advanced U.S.-built CBU-87 cluster bombs to Turkey on the grounds that the weapons might be used against civilians. As a result of the pressure generated by the report, the cluster bomb sale has been shelved for the moment.[36]

Despite these efforts to restrict the flow of U.S. arms to Turkey's war against the PKK, the United States remains Turkey's number one weapons supplier, and Turkey's inhumane warfighting tactics continue. As of the first week of May, 1995, Turkish officials claimed to have removed all of their troops from Northern Iraq, but Prime Minister Ciller has stated in no uncertain terms that she retains the right to invade the area again if Turkey detects further PKK activities there.[37] So far, moves to curb Turkey's use of imported weaponry have had no discernible impact on Ciller's approach to the Kurdish problem: she told members of her governing coalition in early April that "we have one thing to say to those who threaten us about using their arms when they should be standing by us -- we will use our right to defend ourselves under any circumstances. You can keep your weapons."[38] Maybe it's time for President Clinton to take Prime Minister Ciller up on her offer.

Afghanistan: Beginning during the late 1970s under the Carter Administration and accelerating during the 1980s under the Reagan Administration, the United States supplied rebel factions in Afghanistan with an estimated $2 billion in covert military assistance.[39] This effort has been widely cited as one of the great success stories of the Reagan Doctrine of arming anticommunist rebels, and there is no question that U.S. weapons supplies contributed to the ability of Afghan guerrilla fighters to drive Soviet forces out of their country. Unfortunately, the longer term consequences of U.S. arms supplies to Afghan forces have been far more problematic. Since Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989, U.S. weapons have helped to sustain a vicious civil war amongst competing rebel organizations inside Afghanistan. In addition, systems supplied to the Afghan factions for purposes of fighting off Soviet forces are now being resold on the international market, turning up in conflicts where they were never intended to be used.

As Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute has noted, "[e]ven before they ousted the Soviet-backed government from power in April 1992 feuding mujahadin guerrilla units spent almost as much time battling each other as they did fighting the communists." Far from setting the stage for a period of peaceful reconstruction and reconciliation, the fighting inside Afghanistan actually intensified after the Soviet-supported regime was overthrown -- 2,000 people were killed in one three week period in August of 1992, and by the spring of 1994 600,000 people had been displaced from the capital city of Kabul. Much of the equipment used on each side of the Afghan civil war comes from stocks supplied to the various rebel factions by the CIA during the 1980s.[40]

The violence sparked by U.S. weapons and training to the Afghan rebel movements extends far beyond Afghanistan. An Algerian government official has described the existence of a "floating army" of Islamic fundamentalist fighters who received weapons and training in Afghanistan starting in the 1980s, and are now mounting terrorist attacks on U.S.-backed governments in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.[41] This international network of armed Islamic fundamentalists that the CIA helped to create has struck in the United States as well: two of the men convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had received weapons and explosives training from CIA-backed rebels in Afghanistan prior to their attack in New York. And these two men may not be the only examples of U.S. covert aid backfiring. According to David Whipple, the former head of counterterrorism at the CIA, "some of the people who are actual or potential terrorists in this country are former guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan." And it now appears that the suspects in the recent murders of several U.S. embassy employees in Karachi, Pakistan are also suspected of having ties to the CIA's Afghan weapons pipeline.[42]

One of the most dangerous lingering side effects of the CIA's Afghan weapons trafficking has been the proliferation of U.S.-built Stinger missiles. The Stinger, a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missi