Weapons king: The U.S. is again the world's top arms merchant

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In a world full of unmet human needs, too much is spent on military weapons, the bulk of which comes from the United States. A study released Friday by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service said that America is again the world's top arms dealer, with $66.3 billion in sales in 2011, the largest in its history.

The total was three times that of 2010 and 78 percent of the world market. Russia was second, with $4.8 billion, only 6 percent. Developing countries made 84 percent of the purchases. The United States sold them 79 percent of the total, or $56.3 billion worth.

Top U.S. customers were Persian Gulf states including Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, frightened into buying aircraft and other systems by American, Iranian and Israeli saber-rattling. India and Taiwan were other U.S. clients.

Arms sales have important implications for both buying and selling countries. For the buyers, particularly developing countries, money spent on arms leaves less for education, health care, infrastructure and other items that could improve their people's standard of living. The cost of war between poor countries, such as Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan, even India and Pakistan, and in civil wars such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Syria is paid for in humanitarian terms.

For Americans, these sales should raise questions as to whether the United States belongs at the top of the list of the world's arms merchants, particularly to countries of the developing world. It is not clear that the $66.3 billion in weapons exports are a net plus for America, since the Department of Defense, which consumes at least 20 percent of the U.S. budget, must serve as the primary sales agent for the big arms makers and dealers.

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