IN MAY 2017, President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia to finalize a massive $110 billion sale of "American-made" weapons. The deal was part of his America First initiative. "That was a tremendous day," Trump said. "Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs."
The Trump administration hopes to expand this effort via arms export deregulation. "We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters," a senior administration official told Reuters.
Every president promotes the sale of U.S. weapons. But Trump's push is especially vigorous and is based on a misleading claim that increased sales will create thousands of jobs in the United States. The truth, however, is that the jobs generated from selling weapons won't be U.S. jobs but Saudi ones. As William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, explains, "This will be no different than with the F-35 program, where final assembly of aircraft sold to Europe and Asia will occur in Italy and Japan, respectively."
Nevertheless, defense contractors in the U.S. will make a literal and figurative killing. Not counting this Saudi deal, the U.S. has sold close to $200 billion in arms since 2002. We are the top provider in the global weapons market, responsible for a third of total worldwide arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Many think American arms dominance is not just a source of revenue but important to our geopolitical hegemony. According to this view, losing our supremacy would jeopardize our security and reduce U.S. gross domestic product. But this theory was challenged and debunked by George Mason University economists Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall in a 2013 working paper. Their main takeaway was that the risk of negative foreign policy consequences, such as powerful U.S. weapons being used to kill large numbers of civilians abroad, far outweigh any economic benefits.
As SIPRI explains, "The USA delivered major weapons to at least 96 states in 2011-15, a significantly higher number of export destinations than any other supplier."...