Arms for Influence

The Global Arms Trade and the Future of U.S. Power
Thursday, 30 January 2020 - 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm
Contact information
Contact person: 
Anna Bogic
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Cost to attend: 
Free of charge
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Presented by CIPS and the International Theory Network

As with gasoline, Coca-Cola, and heroin, the global demand for major conventional weapons is both massive and hard to counteract. Moreover, one cannot understand any of these markets without acknowledging the crucial role played by the United States. This book employs both of these insights to analyze the global production and sale of the principal tools of war, including fighter aircraft, armored vehicles, naval vessels, and the munitions they deliver. In doing so, it argues that a power such as the United States—indeed perhaps only the United States—can develop an effective, if self-serving, international order for moderating arms transfers in a world of ongoing international competition, weak norms, fuzzy laws, and shallow institutions. In doing so, the book also points toward a larger theory for understanding international politics, and the presence or absence of international order, in a time of power transition.

In this book and talk I will first provide an overview of the global arms trade, and the central role played by the United States within it. Second, I propose a novel theory of asymmetric rent that will contribute to ongoing debates on unipolarity, the rise of great powers, and the robustness of the current international order. To do this I present the “hegemon’s curve” explaining the shape of the arms market and the developing competition between China and the United States. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the book presents a clear policy implication: an American-dominated arms market, where the United States sells many weapons to many countries, is the only feasible means of dampening the proliferation of advanced conventional weapons.

Jonathan D. Caverley is Professor of Strategic and Operational Research at the United States Naval War College and research scientist in Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.