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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 17, July - August 1997

US Lifts Advanced Arms Sales Ban to Latin America

On 1 August, the White House announced that the US ban on the sale of advanced weapons to Latin America, in place since 1977, would be lifted on 1 March 1998. The rationale for the change was put forward in a statement by White House spokesperson Mike McCurry:

"As [Latin American] democracies strengthen and their economies grow, the governments of some Latin American countries are now addressing the need to modernize their militaries. They are doing so in the context of greatly improved regional political cooperation and economic integration..."

The new policy will be one of case-by-case assessment, aiming to ensure that "defence modernisation occurs responsibly and with restraint." The assessment will be made by an inter-agency group headed by the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Lynn Davis.

Reaction to the move was predictably mixed. On 4 August, Brazil's Foreign Minister, Luiz Felipe Lampreia, stated: "Brazil views this issue with calm because conditions in Latin America are not likely to prompt an arms race." But on 12 August, the Inter Press news agency quoted the former President of Costa Rica, Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias, as warning that "we run the risk of upsetting the limited gains achieved in demilitarization and the construction of democracies."

The lifting of the ban came after Congressional attempts to extend it. Legislation introduced on 2 July by Senators Christopher Dodd (Democrat - Connecticut) and Joseph Biden (Democrat - Delaware) stated that "the President should respect the request of Latin American heads of government for a two-year moratorium on the sale or other transfer of highly advanced weapons to Latin America while proposals for regional arms restraint are studied." According to Senator Dodd, quoted on 2 July:

"The demands on governments throughout the region to meet pressing economic and social needs have never been greater... I would argue that it is short-sighted on our part to push countries in the hemisphere to divert scarce resources for non-productive, one-time arms purchases."

Reports: Bill would keep US ban on high-tech arms for Latin America, Defense Daily, 2 July; US lifts ban on advanced weapons sales to Latin America, Agence France-Presse International News, 1 August; Restraint will guide US arms transfers to Latin America, United States Information Agency, 5 August; US-Latin America - 'case by case' the key to new arms policy, Inter Press Service International News, 6 August; US lifts weapons ban, Notisur: Latin American Affairs, 8 August; Central America - end of embargo raises fears for fragile peace, Inter Press Service International News, 12 August.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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