The US has always favored free competition as a driver of progress. In his speech at the Davos Economic Forum, US President Donald Trump emphasized allegiance to the principles of free trade, which, he believes, has to be “fair and reciprocal.” He wants the world to promote it. The winner is whoever offers the best deal and politics should never be used to influence economic transactions. That’s what the US claims to stand for. What a pity it doesn’t put its money where its mouth is!
It’s no secret that Russian weapons are in high demand. Cheaper, more reliable, and more effective than those produced by other countries, they continue to dominate the global arms market. The conflict in Syria has helped Russian arms manufacturers hit pay dirt in the Middle East. America is free to compete and keep a level playing field, but that’s not what’s happening. All those nice words from the US and the lip service to its values get forgotten in favor of blatant pressure and intimidation.
Much has been said about Turkey choosing Russia’s famous S-400 air defense (AD) system to protect its skies. The system may not be compatible with NATO systems and officials from that bloc have expressed their concern over this, but Ankara has made its choice. On Feb. 24, the Hürriyet Daily News quoted a US official who declared that the possible acquisition of Russian S-400 systems “would potentially expose Turkey to sanctions due to the new sanctions law recently passed by Congress.” Simply put, abandon the deal or else. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) can impose sanctions and end arms sales to any country doing business with Russia. NATO has also warned Turkey of unspecified consequences should the deal go through.
In late January, Qatar announced its intention to acquire S-400s. It claimed the talks had progressed to an advanced stage. That decision was reversed literally within a few days. On Feb. 1, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani announced that his country would honor the American sanctions, which would include the S-400 deal with Russia. This statement was made right from Washington DC.
The US is trying to persuade Vietnam to buy American rather than Russian weapons.
On Feb. 22, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert warned Iraq and other countries in a press briefing not to buy Russian weapons. As she put it, the US is “making those governments aware of how they could run afoul of the CAATSA law and the potential repercussions as a result.”
There was one other announcement that offers a good illustration of what fair trade à l'américaine is like. On Jan. 30, the State Department openly warned countries around the world of the potential repercussions of dealing with Moscow. It claimed “real success” in thwarting Russian defense exports, forcing Russia to come up “several billion dollars” short. A couple of "big countries" were reconsidering their defense purchases from Russia as a result of the US warning. The statement provided no details.
It’s not just words. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Feb. 11 that he has information that the US is demanding, “through its ambassadors, that Latin America, Asia, and Africa refuse to buy military equipment and weapons from us, promising that the United States will compensate for the equipment shortages in a particular country.”
The international rules stipulated by the UN Charter and WTO documents mean nothing to America.
President Donald Trump plans to announce a “whole of government” approach aimed at easing export rules on American military sales abroad. This will include all weapons systems. The new policy to be made public this month is also expected to offer economic benefits for American manufacturers as part of a decision-making process that puts an end to human-rights considerations. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and Syria are considering the purchase of S-400s. According to SIPRI, Russia's global arms sales have grown by 3.8 percent in 2016. Russian companies account for 7.1 percent of global arms sales, ranking third among world defense contractors. Ten Russian companies are listed in the SIPRI Top 100. The Russian arms-export policy is a success story, despite the US history of not playing fair.
These facts show that there is a wide gap between what America says and what it does. What’s “fair” to Washington is unfair to others. The double standards and hypocrisy are patently obvious. Turkey has said it won’t succumb to the pressure. Iraq has been buying Russian weapons, signing deals without a backward glance at Washington.
One thing is certain. This policy undermines the credibility of the US as a trade partner who is ready to make fair deals. Nobody likes to be told what to do. The increasing pressure will strengthen the will to resist, thus producing quite the opposite effect of what is expected.