Across the world, the Pentagon has thousands of garages, hangars and sprawling lots to store all its jets, tanks and other weaponry. But, like most US households, it suffers from clutter, with old, unused and unwanted things.
And so the Pentagon runs a little-publicized giveaway and tag sale program to clean out its overstuffed attics and closets, which are bulging with the greatest weapons buildup since the Reagan era. The Pentagon also uses the Excess Defense Articles program, as it is called, to reward government friends and allies across the globe with equipment the Pentagon says it no longer needs.
There are deals galore, available free to the right customer or for cents on the dollar of their original cost. And there are lots of deal hunters, but access is by invitation only, and only for governments.
Pakistan and Jordan have snapped up a bunch of used F-16 Fighting Falcon jets. Afghanistan kicked the tires on a fleet of slightly used armored personnel carriers and walked away with 75 of them. A small fleet of 30-year-old sea rescue lifeboats has become the backbone of the Yemeni coast guard, and Portugal is about to take possession of a decommissioned guided-missile frigate.
"It is a flea market," said a State Department official who oversees the program. "It's our yard sale, and we make no guarantees."
The program is meant as a good will operation that the government uses to build friendships internationally. And the program has been picking up: The equipment offered this year had an original price tag of around US$1.56 billion, double the amount from the previous year. It is expected to grow again next year.
"There's everything from M-16s to F-16s, and anything in between," said Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a nonprofit group often critical of military spending priorities. "You can't get everything you want. But, boy, can you get a bargain."
Between 2000 and last year, the Pentagon offered up wares originally valued at US$8 billion: helicopters, torpedoes, airplanes, a wind tunnel, utility landing craft, cargo trucks, high-power radars, missiles, ammunition, uniforms and tenders, harbor craft and other vessels.
Around US$2 billion of this merchandise was given away to countries deemed needy enough to qualify. Another US$800 million was sold at drastically reduced prices -- even as low as US$0.05 on the dollar. The rest had no takers.
Most of the recipient countries cannot afford brand-new equipment on their own; the Philippines, Morocco and the Dominican Republican have been recent shoppers. But first world states like Australia and Canada have picked up some cheap castoffs, as well.
There is no central site where all the weaponry is gathered for inspection by would-be buyers. Instead the merchandise is offered on an "as is, where is" basis, with the buyer having to pay for shipping and repairs -- which can sometimes make the bargain less appealing and accounts for why not all the merchandise moves. Few shoppers, however, complain -- and they often observe the hand-off of weapons in ceremonies in their home countries, with US officials in attendance.
"We're grateful," said Sergeant Major Irving Estrada, assistant to the military attache of Guatemala.
His country has received used body armor, flight suits, boots and computers which were presented by the US ambassador at a ceremony in Guatemala City last April.
"This is very important to us," Estrada said. "Everything is useful and we use everything that we get."
The program is not without its critics, who say it contributes to a global arms race and may be a short-sighted way of winning friends.
"Aren't there more constructive ways for the United States to make friends?" asked Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a group that studies Pentagon spending. "We are arming countries that otherwise would not afford to be armed. If we want to make friends, we should have something better to offer."
Critics also say the tag sale or giveaway metaphors are not apt, and prefer to describe it in terms of a business giving out free samples. The program, they say, gives nations a taste of weapons that they might like to purchase later, often with foreign aid from the US.
"It's like, `Here, have this and next time you'll come back,"' Stohl said. "Excess defense articles are a springboard to other sales."
State Department officials say the program provides a steady source of rewards to help build critical international relationships. Last year, Pakistan obtained two used F-16s as a sign of appreciation for its help to the US when it invaded Afghanistan after Sept. 11, according to statements from State Department officials at the time. These were 1980s-vintage planes with a current value of US$6.5 million, but were given to Pakistan free.
Those two used F-16s have already been delivered to Pakistan, and were offered just as the country placed a controversial US$5 billion order for advanced F-16s, a fighter jet that Pakistan had been banned from obtaining since the early 1990s because of US objections to its nuclear program. That ban is no longer in effect.
President George W. Bush has also provided old equipment to help secure support for foreign policy goals. For instance, in 2003, in the countdown to the war against Iraq, a squadron of used National Guard F-16s was transferred, free of charge, to Jordan, which shares a border with Iraq.
The arrival of the first six F-16s was heralded at a ceremony at the Sahid Muwafak al-Salti air force base in northern Jordan that was attended by Major General Prince Faisal bin Hussein, brother of the Jordanian king, as well as by the US ambassador to Jordan and high-ranking Pentagon officers.
"It's hugely important," said Lieutenant General Jeffrey Kohler, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages the transfers. "It is one of the ways that we can help some of our friends obtain the capabilities they need."
Kohler noted that used personnel carriers had gone to the Lebanese army and that excess Coast Guard cutters patrolled the Caspian Sea.
"It gives us access and influence and builds friendships," he added.
In a policy statement, the State Department said that the program "has contributed to our foreign policy successes" and has had a "positive global impact, furthering US national security interests and supporting the growth and strengthening of democracies."
The program traces its roots back to the 1970s, and the amount of goods flowing through it comes in waves. One high point was in the early 1990s, as bases around the country were closing and the military was downsizing.
In the 12 months through September, used weapons valued at US$235 million were put into the program, with some US$220 million of those being offered free. Since the current depreciated values generally represent around 15 percent of the purchase price, that puts the original value at US$1.56 billion.
Soon the program is supposed to get a vast infusion of ships, helicopters and planes from the Coast Guard, which is getting a new fleet.
Critics say that the government may not be able to control how these weapons are finally used. While the State Department says it will not ship arms to countries with human rights violations and prohibits countries receiving weapons from selling them to others, critics argue such restrictions can provide false comfort.
"The United States believes that if we sell weapons at low prices to other countries, we can control their foreign policy or military actions," Stohl said. "But in reality, once you sell or give it away, you lose control of what was done with it."
As an example, Stohl said the Pentagon was selling excess M-16s to the Dominican Republic, which shares a notoriously porous border with Haiti, at a time when international peacekeepers were facing off against Haitian rebels.
Government officials counter that there are controls in place to monitor the use of the equipment and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
One of the largest recipients of excess defense articles has been the Philippines. When Bush met with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo in Washington in 2003, he promised 20 used UH-1 Huey helicopters to help the country wipe out a three-decade-old communist insurgency, the New People's Army.
"These helicopters are a demonstration of an attachment," said Major General Roberto Sylim, the Philippines' military attache in Washington. "We are assisting an ally and getting equipment free or at cost. We hope to maintain this kind of strong relationship in the global war on terrorism."
Since Sept. 11, the Philippines has received 14,600 used rifles with an original price tag of US$13.3 million, two dozen cargo trucks that initially cost US$41,000 each, a C-130B cargo airplane and a Coast Guard patrol boat.
Brian suspects the Pentagon may be pushing perfectly usable military goods out the door to make way for new ones.
"The Pentagon is always trying to mothball weapons," Brian said. "It's a perennial excuse to buy new ones."
But the military contractors do not see it that way and have mixed feelings about the program.
The industry fears that these used goods may compete with new products they are trying to sell overseas. At the same time, the industry welcomes the business of refurbishing this used equipment, something only US manufacturers are usually capable of doing.
To protect itself, the industry successfully pushed in the mid-1990s for regulations that require the Pentagon to consider the impact of the program on military contractors before any used goods are distributed. The Pentagon often strips out sensitive technologies from these weapons.
"Some bread on the table is better than none," said Joel Johnson, an expert on arms sales at the Teal Group, a Washington-area consulting firm. "Rather than turn a Navy ship into a reef, it's better to send it to a Third World nation which can then hire an American contractor to refurbish it."
One big refurbishment program currently under way is Portugal's overhauling of the used frigate it received. Portugal receives used military goods as a form of payment for the Pentagon's use of military bases in the Azores.
Some of the frigate's upgrades, including new radar and sonar systems, will be done in Portugal, but most will be done in the US.
"We've got to pay for all the upgrades and sometimes it costs more money than if you are buying something new," said Manuel Pereira at the Portuguese embassy in Washington. "You have to be careful. Sometimes, this is the kind of present that you don't want."
Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) hasn’t had a very good spring, either economically or politically. Not that long ago, he seemed to be riding high. The PRC economy had been on a long winning streak of more than six percent annual growth, catapulting the world’s most populous nation into the second-largest power, behind only the United States. Hundreds of millions had been brought out of poverty. Beijing’s military too had emerged as the most powerful in Asia, lagging only behind the US, the long-time leader on the global stage. One can attribute much of the recent downturn to the international economic
Asked whether he declined to impose sanctions against China, US President Donald Trump said: “Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal... [W]hen you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on — we’ve done a lot.” It was not a proud moment for Trump or the US. Yet, just three days later, John Bolton’s replacement as director of the National Security Council, Robert O’Brien, delivered a powerful indictment of the Chinese communist government and criticized prior administrations’ “passivity” in the face of Beijing’s contraventions of international law
In an opinion piece, Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓) suggested that Taiwan focus its efforts not on making citizens “bilingual,” but on building a robust translation industry, as Japan has done (“The social cost of English education,” June 29, page 6). Although Chang makes some good points — Taiwan could certainly improve its translation capabilities — the nation needs a different sort of pivot: from bilingualism to multilingualism. There are reasons why Japan might not be the most suitable role model for the nation’s language policy. Bluntly put, Japan’s status in the world is unquestioned. The same cannot be said of Taiwan. Many confuse