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The United States Doesn’t Just Have a National Gun Problem — It Has an International One Too

Destroyed home in Yemen. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret the United States has a problem with guns. With less than five percent of the world’s population, U.S. citizens own almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world. The United States is far and away in the lead among comparable developed countries when it comes to gun-related homicides and suicides: more than 32,000 a year. (Canada has about 700; the United Kingdom 140; Japan six. Yes, six).

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States also exports massive amounts of guns and weapons. According to the Small Arms Survey, the United States exported over $1 billion worth of small arms (including firearms, pistols, and ammunition) in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

The United States is ranked first in the world in terms of the value of its small arms exports and accounts for nearly 20 percent of the worldwide small arms trade. (Italy is second with $689 million and Brazil third with $591 million.)

However, if we move beyond things like small arms to include weapons of all kinds — fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, missiles, bombs, etc. — the picture is even more troubling. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States is ranked first in the world in terms of its arms exports and accounts for 33 percent of the world’s total. (Russia is ranked second with 23 percent. No other country reaches double-digits.)

Credit: SIPRI

Where do all these weapons go? Nearly half (47 percent) go to the Middle East (the region I’ll be focusing on in this short piece), while 35 percent go to Asia and Oceania, and 10 percent to Europe.

Saudi Arabia is the top client of the United States, receiving 13 percent of all U.S. arms exports from 2012–16. The Obama administration offered the Saudis more than $115 billion in “weapons, other military equipment and training” during Obama’s tenure, according to Reuters. And the Trump administration announced a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis earlier this year.

What does Saudi Arabia, a theocratic dictatorship with one of the world’s worst human rights records, do with all these weapons? Well, one thing it does is slaughter civilians. Since 2014, Saudi Arabia has used American weapons to bomb civilians and infrastructure in Yemen, contributing to one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, other top recipients of U.S. arms include:

  • the United Arab Emirates. Like Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. is an absolute monarchy contributing to the slaughter in Yemen.
  • Turkey
  • Iraq. After ISIS stormed across Iraq in 2014, the terrorist group acquired arms the United States had sent the Iraqi government. The U.S. has lost track of billions of dollars worth of weapons sent there since then.
  • Egypt. The U.S. has long backed the military dictatorship in Egypt.
  • Qatar
  • Kuwait
  • Israel. Israel uses U.S. arms to maintain its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and routinely uses American weapons to murder Palestinian civilians.

The spread of American weapons to the rest of the world, especially to the Middle East, is contributing to vast amounts of death and misery. On the other hand, it does generate lots of profits for weapons makers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman — corporations that rake in tens of billions of dollars worth of defense contracts with the U.S. government every year.

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