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US Needs Code of Conduct For Conventional-Arms Trade

GEN. Dwight Eisenhower made a compelling statement 40 years ago. He said, ``Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the houses of its children.''

The end of the cold war left our defense and foreign policy in limbo. We no longer look at world crises through the lens of bipolar relations with the Soviet Union - it is not so simple as the United States versus the ``evil empire.'' We are facing wars caused by ethnic tensions and because basic human needs are not being met.

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Against the backdrop of these conflicts, policymakers struggle to define our national interests and set parameters for intervention. We consider the options: Do we act as the world's policeman? Do we retreat into a new isolationism? Do we use force when there is a threat to a fellow democracy, when human rights are abused, or only when there are direct threats to US territory or citizens?

We cannot discount conventional weapons proliferation as a lurking threat. Since the end of World War II there have been 40 million deaths related to fighting in conventional wars. Where does this military hardware come from? Mostly from the developed world. Seventy-five percent of all arms exports are sold by the five nations that are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. But arms are made everywhere. More than 30 developing nations produce conventional weapons.

The largest purchases of conventional weapons are by the most unstable regions of the world. A post-Gulf-war buying spree by Middle Eastern nations is only now winding down after massive purchases of advanced weapons, including Saudi Arabia's purchase of 72 F-15 fighter planes, promoted by then-President Bush as a jobs issue. The usual critics of sales to Arab countries were silenced by Saudi support during the war.

As we increase global scrutiny of conventional arms transfers, the place to seek change is in the US, which has become the major weapons supplier since the unraveling of the Soviet Union. In 1992 it delivered more than 45 percent of all major combat systems worldwide. US weapons trade with the third world increased in 1992 to more than 56 percent.

America is comfortably establishing itself as the world's arms peddler while giving little more than lip service to conventional nonproliferation initiatives.

There is a vacuum of leadership on the issue of arms transfers. Whenever a crisis emerges, there is renewed interest in conventional nonproliferation, but it soon fades as the spotlight turns to the short-sighted commercial question of who gets the jobs and the profits from arms exports.

There needs to be an overhaul of our method of approving or rejecting planned arms sales. We must reject the old excuse that if the US doesn't sell these weapons another nation will. And we should reject the notion that sensitive weapons sales are acceptable methods to achieve short-term foreign policy gains.

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Preventing proliferation of arms depends upon multilateral cooperation. The UN Arms Register, which discloses weapons sales by UN member nations, is a good start. As the world's sole superpower, the US must lead this effort.

Regional agreements are worthy of pursuit because they commit nations to arms-control goals. Insisting on greater scrutiny of bilateral and multilateral loans will reveal noncreditworthy nations that spend excessively on armed forces.

Here at home, the promotion of defense conversion would lessen the interest in commercial sales as fewer American companies manufacture arms.

The opportunities for reducing conventional-weapons transfers are many. The dilemma is knowing where to start. I have proposed to the US Senate that we focus on a bill known as the ``Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers.'' This initiative has been promoted by arms-control organizations in Europe and the US. Its intent is to create a worldwide code of standards by which nations can judge the merits of conventional weapons sales.

The Code of Conduct legislation would permit US arms transfers only to democratic nations that respect human rights and have civilian control over the military. It would also prohibit arms exports to nations engaged in armed conflict or those that refuse to participate in the UN registry.

A recent poll by the National Security News Service indicated that 96 percent of Americans believe the US should not sell weapons to dictators. A major grass-roots effort by international development, human rights, religious, arms control, and other groups is under way.

Every member of Congress has the opportunity to join this effort to stop the indiscriminate sale of weapons.

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