With the U.S. already maxing out the credit card with roughly a trillion dollars a year on defense spending, America’s weapons industry has been forced to look elsewhere for buyers. Luckily for the military-industrial complex, there’s an eager salesman in the White House.
As defense giants like Boeing, Raytheon (RTN, Fortune 500), and Lockheed Martin (LMT, Fortune 500) increasingly seek to peddle their wares to well-financed (sometimes by the U.S.) international customers, they have a surprising ally: the President. “Obama is much more favorably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations,” says Loren Thompson, a veteran defense consultant. Or, as Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, puts it: “There’s an Obama arms bazaar going on.”
Administration officials say the boom in arms exports is simply the result of healthy demand. Indeed, American-made arms are widely considered the best and most coveted weapons in the world. But the Obama team has hustled to pave the way for big sales like the Saudi deal; the President himself recently sought to secure a pending $4 billion aircraft deal with India. Obama is also backing a massive push to rewrite the rules that govern arms exports, a process that some say will reduce oversight of U.S. weapons sales.
For the administration, robust international arms sales advance domestic goals, like bolstering exports and supporting a defense workforce of more than 200,000. Weapons transfers are also a subtle yet potent form of diplomacy: By arming its allies, the U.S. can spread the burden of policing hot spots (the Middle East, the Korean peninsula). And arms exports give Obama’s State and Defense departments tremendous negotiating clout with buyers.