US aircraft carrier

United States

Racist policing and the activities of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement organization are responsible for severe human rights abuses. Externally, the US is engaged in multiple wars around the world, often alongside the UK.

Last updated: 06/08/2020

The United States of America is the world’s sole military superpower. It is by far the world’s largest military spender and arms producer, and by some margin the largest arms exporter.

Externally, the US is engaged in multiple wars around the world, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen, and has ongoing tensions, some severe, with numerous countries. Internally, increasingly militarized police forces are responsible for hundreds of killings every year, disproportionately of black people, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and border control forces terrorize immigrant communities and are responsible for severe human rights abuses.

The UK is the US’s closest military ally, frequently participating in US-led wars. There is a substantial two-way arms trade between the two countries, and there is likewise a strong degree of integration between the two countries’ arms industries.

Militarized policing and border control

Protests in the US against racism and police violence have been met with further state violence. Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, President Trump threatened to deploy the army against protestors and seek “total domination”.

Police forces in the US, as in the UK and many other countries, disproportionately target people and communities of colour for surveillance, arrest, and violence. US police killed at least 1,099 people in 2019, according to Mapping Police Violence.

Many US police forces have increasingly acquired military equipment through programs supplying them with excess equipment from the armed forces. Such equipment includes armoured vehicles, aircraft, drones and helicopters, assault and sniper rifles, bayonets, grenade launchers, and body armour. Heavily armed police units have been used against protests by communities of colour, such as Black Lives Matter and Native Americans at Standing Rock protesting the Keystone-X oil pipeline through their lands.

Meanwhile, the paramilitary Immigrations and Customs Enforcement organization (ICE) terrorizes immigrant communities with its increasingly frequent raids. ICE, along with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) maintains a network of detention centres for undocumented immigrants, many of which keep detainees, including children, in extreme and inhumane conditions. In some of the detention camps at the borders, this includes keeping detainees in cages, with inadequate food, water, sanitation, medical care, and even protection from the elements.

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The world’s dominant military power

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US has been the world’s sole military superpower, with a huge lead over all possible rivals in capabilities, technology, and global reach.

In 2019, US military spending stood at $732 billion, 38% of the global total of $1,917 billion, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This was 2.8 times as high as the second biggest spender, China, and about equal to the sum of the next 10 highest spenders after the US.

The US likewise has by far the largest arms industry in the world. In 2018, the largest five arms companies in the world outside China, measured by total sales of military equipment and services, were all based in the US: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics.

Wars and threats of wars

The US has been continuously at war in Afghanistan since 2001, and is also engaged in military action in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and the Sahel region of west Africa, mostly through air strikes (including with drones), and/or special forces. During 2019, US -led forces killed an estimated 465-1,113 civilians in air strikes across Iraq and Syria, according to Air Wars, while international forces (primarily the US) killed an estimated 559 civilians in Afghanistan, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Tensions between the US and Iran are extremely high, especially since the US assassination of a senior Iranian general in Iraq early in 2020, and retaliatory missile strikes by Iran on a US military base in Iraq. The US maintains an extremely severe sanctions regime against Iran, and maintains huge military forces in the Gulf.

Significant military tensions also exist between the US and China over military dominance in the Western Pacific region. While the threat of war in the short term is low, both sides are engaged in an arms race as the US seeks to maintain its dominant regional position, while China seeks to challenge it.

The US-UK arms trade and industrial linkages

The US is both a major customer for UK arms and a major supplier of arms to the UK. Between 2009 and 2018, UK companies received around £17 billion worth of contracts for arms sales to North America (the US and Canada), according to the UK government’s arms sales unit. The vast majority of these sales will be to the US. Over the same period, the US delivered arms worth $8.1 billion to the UK, according to the Security Assistance Monitor.

However, links between the US and UK arms industries run much deeper than this. A Defence Cooperation Treaty signed in 2007 greatly eases arms sales between the two countries, so that specific licences are not required for most exports. The UK is a major partner in the US’s F-35 stealth fighter aircraft programme, with 15% of the value of each plane produced in the UK, while the UK is planning to buy 138 of the aircraft itself.

Many major UK arms companies, including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ, Cobham, and Meggitt, have substantial parts of their business located in the US, and several major US arms companies likewise have significant UK subsidiaries.

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