The debate over whether or not to halt U.S. military aid to Egypt in response not just to the overthrow of the Morsi government but the ongoing violence in that country is an important one. Whatever issues we had with Egypt’s fledgling, democratically-elected government, and there were many, there is a point beyond which the Obama Administration cannot go without seriously undermining both its credibility and our laws. One can even make the case that we should applaud what the Egyptian military did while at the same time taking steps to rein in its excesses and nudge it towards the path of reform and a return to civilian rule.
Whatever happens going forward should not be viewed as evidence that U.S. military aid, assistance and sales to friends and allies do anything other than serve this nation’s national interests. Indeed, the billons the U.S. has given to Egypt in military hardware, spare parts and training has been a major factor in keeping the peace between that country and Israel for nearly forty years. Then there is our assistance to Israel, which includes support for its Arrow and Iron Dome missile defense systems, as well as sales of F-15 and F-16 fighters and M-1 tanks.
Similarly, the sales of advanced fighter aircraft, tanks, warships and missile defense systems to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates is part of the regional deterrence strategy to prevent Iranian aggression.
Foreign military sales and collaborative arrangements also serve to deepen ties with long-standing friends and allies. A great example of this is the international collaborative program to build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It involves eight U.S allies (Great Britain, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Demark and Norway). Each of these countries has put money into the program and is sharing in the work. Each plans to modernize its tactical fighter force with the F-35. The power of a stealthy fifth-generation fighter in the hands of an alliance of like-minded and motivated nations cannot be underestimated.
Foreign military assistance is not a panacea. But it is an important tool of U.S. foreign and security policy. In addition, in an era of declining defense budgets, such sales may be a significant avenue for guaranteeing that the U.S. military will be able to acquire new capabilities at a more affordable price. Such sales may also be the only way to ensure that friends and allies in dangerous parts of the world have the wherewithal to defend themselves and cooperate with U.S. forces should the need arise.