Press "Enter" to skip to content

Kathleen Vern

Kathleen is senior double majoring in Public Policy and Russian, with a History minor. She grew up in Grosse Pointe Park, MI, which is just outside Detroit. At Duke, Kathleen is involved in Duke Political Review, Outdoor Adventures, and Army ROTC. After graduation, she plans to commission into the U.S. Army Reserves as a Military Intelligence officer and work full time in Washington, D.C., as a government analyst.

Honors Thesis:

Factors of Successful U.S. Arms Influence Attempts under the Trump Administration

Faculty Advisor: Professor Douglas A. Brook

Abstract: Arms sales are traditionally viewed as a critical tool of American foreign policy, promising benefits such as increased leverage over recipient countries, support for U.S. allies, stronger regional balances of power, and economic benefits for American companies (Thrall and Dorminey, 2019). Although arms sales are only one aspect of U.S. defense strategy, their role has grown dramatically in both the sheer dollar value of American arms exports and the part they play in advancing national security goals. The State Department itself describes arms sales as a key method of foreign policy and emphasizes its importance in furthering U.S. national security interests. Indeed, in 2018, the U.S. executed a total of $78.8 billion in arms sales, sustaining its role as the world’s leading arms exporting nation (Hartung and Arabia 3, 2019). Despite these undeniable benefits of arms sales, these transactions are accompanied by a host of risks. Attempts to generate influence across the globe are heavily contingent on a number of factors, most of which lie outside of American control. Arms sales can spawn unwanted outcomes on three levels: blowback against the United States and entanglement in conflicts; regional consequences in the buyer’s neighborhood, such as the dispersion of weapons and increased instability; and consequences for the buyer itself, such as increased levels of corruption, human rights abuses, and civil conflict. Ultimately, although the U.S. can use arms sales to enhance the military capabilities of other nations and shift the local and regional balance of power, its ability to control specific outcomes through such efforts is severely limited. (Thrall and Dorminey, 2019) Understanding which circumstances lead to successful arms influence attempts, or the manipulation of arms exports to make the recipients comply with American wishes, is thus an important aspect of American security policy (Sislin 665, 1994). Despite the significance of this information, modern literature tends to focus on one of three topics related to arms sales: one, profiling the global arms sale network; two, analyzing US military and security cooperation events, such as joint force exercises, and their role in U.S. defense strategy; or three, studying arms sales during the Cold War. This study aims to address this gap by analyzing the determinants of successful arms influence. It will do so by applying Sislin’s determinants of successful arms influence (1950-1992) to the modern security environment (2002-2018) by providing an overview of the American arms sale network during this time and using case studies on Ukraine, Turkey, and Egypt to focus on the circumstances that led to the success–or failure–of these attempts. These findings will enable policymakers to decide when the risk of selling weapons will reward the U.S. with foreign policy and national security payoffs.