The traditional season of “peace on earth” is in full swing in Maine and across the country. But recent events in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and, yes, even in Maine, give us reason for pause. Our nightly news bombards us with images of U.S. soldiers being dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu, or a 4-year-old girl caught in the deadly crossfire of a drive-by shooting, or a 5-year-old child starved to death, or a Maine teen-ager caught carrying a gun to school.
With the end of the Cold War, Mainers, like all Americans, held great hope for a stabilization of conflict in many areas of the world. Better yet, we hoped that some of the resources that were previously spent fueling the arms race would now be redirected back home, to meet the growing needs of the citizens of Maine for jobs, health care, and education.
Instead, approximately two dozen wars have been in progress at any given time in the post-Cold War era, and Congress just passed a military budget of $275 billion in outlays for this fiscal year. Mainers, particularly in Aroostook County, where Loring is closing next year, have yet to reap the benefits of the once lauded “peace dividend.”
In the post-Cold War world, the United States is still the world’s number one merchant of conventional arms. Number one. And we sell more weapons to developing countries than all other countries combined. In recent years the vast majority of United States arms transfers to developing countries have been to those countries with an undemocratic form of government — governments which may appear “friendly” in one instant, and turn enemy in the next. The horrific lesson we learned in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Somalia is that in this era of uncontrolled arms sales, our very own U.S. soldiers may find themselves in a foreign country facing conventional weapons that were provided, or even financed, by our own United States government.
Two years ago a report from the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment warned that the United States was losing control of the weapons it sold, pointing out, “There can be no assurance that the weapons we and our allies make available to our friends today will not be used against us tomorrow.” The tragic deaths of seven American soldiers in Somalia last month bring this home. In is quite possible that they were the victims of American arms and ammunition provided by our own government to the repressive regime of Siad Barre during the 1980s.
It is true that international conventional weapons trade increases the risk of additional violence in an already over-militarized world. The costs far outweigh the benefits for the United States. Our economy is affected by increased U.S. defense and foreign mliitary aid spending, and decreased demand for our civilian exports. In the end we all, Mainers included, lose.
If our government is going to put some controls on the spread of lethal weapons at home, e.g., the “Brady bill,” then surely we, and our Congressional delegation, have the responsibility to control the spread of conventional arms abroad, as well. Our colleague in the Women Legislators’ Lobby, first-term Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., is about to introduce landmark legislation along with Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore. The “Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers Act of 1993” would deter arms sales to foreign countries which do not meet certain criteria. Any country which denies its people democratic rights, abuses the human rights of its citizens, is engaged in forms of armed aggression, or is not fully participating in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, would be denied a proposed sale of arms unless Congress voted to allow it. The “Code” is the equivalent of an international “waiting period” on the purchase of conventional arms.
While the “Code” may not fulfill all our hopes of stabilizing conflict around the globe, it will help ensure that our brave servicemen and women do not find themselves in a far-away country looking down the barrell of a “Made in the USA” weapon. The “Code of Conduct” deserves the support of our Congressional delegation. In this season of “peace on earth,” our senators and representatives have the opportunity to fulfill the goal of “Goodwill to all people” by co-sponsoring the “Code of Conduct for Arms Transfers of 1993.”
Reps. Mary R. Cathcart and Anne Rand are members of Women Legislators’ Lobby, a national network of women state legislators in all 50 states working to influence federal policies with an emphasis on women and children, deterring violence, and promoting peace. Rep. Cathcart is also a candidate for Congress.