February 26, 2016 - As still the world’s sole superpower, the United States possesses an unequaled array of instruments to support its foreign and defense strategies. With so much attention being focused on the conflicts in the Middle East, Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and Chinese efforts to assert its hegemony in the Western Pacific, the fact that the United States employs a wide range of non-military, or at least non-kinetic tools in pursuing its national interests is lost. Most recently, for example, the United States and China agreed on the imposition of new trade sanctions on North Korea in response to that country’s test of a long-range ballistic missile.
One of the most important of these tools is foreign military sales (FMS). The complex role of FMS is reflected, in part, in the fact that the program is run by the Department of State and not the Department of Defense. One reason for this unusual management approach is that the FMS program involves sales by the U.S. government of U.S. arms, defense equipment, defense services, and military training to foreign governments. As a result, such sales reflect the views of the U.S. government with respect to the recipient country, its relationships with others in the region and the overall approach this country takes to mitigating the threat of regional or global conflict.
The FMS program serves many other purposes. The sales of U.S. arms and related items to foreign countries helps reduce the cost of those systems to our own military. FMS sales help to ensure the ability of U.S. allies to defend themselves and support the maintenance of stable regional military balances. Equally important, FMS sales over time establish enduring relationships between foreign governments and their militaries and the U.S. When the U.S. military trains alongside those of allies equipped with the same hardware, it helps to cement the bonds between our countries. Moreover, it improves communications and understanding among these militaries, often helping to inculcate U.S. values related to the use of military force. Foreign militaries dependent on access to U.S. hardware, spare parts, software upgrades and training are more likely to listen to this country when there is a dispute regarding regional politics or defense issues.
FMS has been particularly important as an instrument for influencing foreign governments and shaping regional balances of power in the Middle East. Following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the United States completely reequipped the Egyptian military. The Egyptian-Israeli border has been remarkably stable ever since. Sales of military aircraft, missile defense systems and precision munitions to the nations of the Persian Gulf have been instrumental in ensuring a stable balance of forces in that area.
Pakistan has been a recipient of U.S. arms. FMS sales have been extremely important to U.S. efforts to ensure Pakistan’s reliability as an ally in the war on terror. Congress has appropriated about $3.6 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Pakistan since 2001. The kind of equipment provided ranges from radios, transport aircraft and unmanned systems to F-16 fighters.
Recently, the State Department approved the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan. Pakistan intends to use these aircraft in its fight against domestic terrorists. The U.S. and other regional allies have found the F-16 to be an effective platform for conducting precision strikes against terrorist targets. In addition, India is pursuing a major Air Force modernization program. The sale of F-16s to Pakistan would help to maintain the balance of power in the subcontinent.
Unfortunately, Senator Rand Paul has filed a Joint Resolution of Disapproval for this sale, something that hasn’t happened since the 1980s. The effort to block this sale is a mistake. It will serve only to weaken the relationship between our two countries even as the fight against the Taliban continues and intensifies in Afghanistan. In addition, it leaves the way open for Pakistan to acquire aircraft from other suppliers, such as China or Russia. The only practical effect that disapproval of this sale will have is to weaken Washington’s hand at a time when it needs all the policy instruments it can muster.