The United States is the largest supplier of weapons to developing nations, delivering more than $9.6 billion in arms to Near East and Asian countries last year.

The U.S. sales to the developing countries helped boost worldwide weapons sales to the highest level since 2000, a congressional study says.

The total worldwide value of all agreements to sell arms last year was close to $37 billion, and nearly 59 percent of the agreements were to sell weapons to developing nations, according to the Congressional Research Service report.

The weapons being sold range from ammunition to tanks, combat aircraft, missiles and submarines.

As economic pressures led to a worldwide decline in weapons orders _ from about $42 billion in 2000 to $37 billion last year _ competition is forcing the U.S. and European countries to forge agreements to develop weapons jointly.

The CRS report released Monday said worldwide arms deliveries to developing nations rose from $20.8 billion in 2003, to $22.5 billion last year. Agreements to sell weapons, meanwhile, shot up from $15.1 billion to nearly $21.8 billion last year. China, Egypt and India were the heaviest buyers of the weapons.

Last year, for example, the U.S. completed agreements to sell helicopters and other weapons to Egypt, radar systems to Taiwan, helicopters to Brazil and Israel and other weapons systems to Oman and Pakistan.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack explained the transfers as “a very serious national security and a foreign policy matter” carried out under “a very rigorous set of rules and regulations and laws.”

“And just as we exercise restraint in our own transfers, we encourage restraint by other countries,” including the European Union, which McCormack said should reconsider its decision to resume arms shipments to China.

Developing countries are the weapons’ primary buyers. And the U.S. has been the most active seller for the past eight years, resulting mainly from agreements made in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The U.S. was responsible for more than 42 percent of the deliveries to developing nations in 2004.

Russia, which ranks second, sells mostly to China and India, as well as a number of smaller, poorer countries.

The CRS study, which is done each year, was written by national defense specialist Richard Grimmett. He said in the study that developed nations have tried in recent years to emphasize joint projects rather than simply buying the weapons from each other, so they can preserve their own industrial bases.


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