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Arsenal of Democracy

The arms export debate needs a heavy dose of clarity.

2:36 PM, Mar 11, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, once the largest exporter of arms in the world, there's been a growing international choir of peace-minded activists determined to halt the import/export of weapons. Now that America has taken center stage as the new chief arms dealer, that chorus has grown louder. 

Arsenal of Democracy

Choose your weapon.

In a famous fireside chat, FDR announced that it was in America's best interest to serve as an "arsenal of democracy," the logistical lifeline to friendly powers who lacked our industrial and technological might. Roosevelt's calculus was simple: strong allies, rich in democratic tradition and common values, would help keep the world free, secure, and stable. He was right. 

Today FDR's vision of the world's democracies armed with American muscle lives on. Blackhawk helicopters were instrumental in helping the Colombian government knock back vicious FARC rebels. Democratic Israel's existence rests on her superiorly trained defense forces -- and advanced U.S. manufactured warplanes. American built howitizers and tanks provide the South Korean Army with the means to deter an aggressive totalitarian neighbor, while American Patriot missile batteries give communist China's ambitions for Taiwan pause. That's why it's in our interest to sell the F-22 to Japan, Australia, and Israel -- and precisely why we should be upgrading Taiwan's Block A/B F-16s to better match China's Su-30 interceptors. Wherever there's a free nation threatened, American weapons are there to keep the wolves at bay.

While it's common for allied air forces and navies to sport American kit, you don't see M-16 rifles in the hands of third world militias, or terrorists carrying M72 LAWs instead of RPG-7s. And it's the ubiquitous AK-47 -- not the Hartford, CT manufactured M-4 -- that's served as the right hand of modern genocides. These distinctions belong to the Russians and Chinese. And though our judgment has slipped on occasion, most notably during the Cold War (Stinger missiles come to mind), 21st century critics would be hard pressed to find U.S. equipment in the hands of actors eager to actually use it.

America's military power rests in her near infinite logistical capacity. This ummatched ability to produce, to supply, and to equip has served as both the backbone and the bicep of world stability for decades. We should be cautious about succumbing to treaties which would negotiate away our ability to sustain that peaceful equation.

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