Injecting human rights considerations into arms sales to Latin America is a cost "worth the benefits," State Department official John Bushnell told a House subcommittee yesterday.
"Arms are frequently associated-at least symbolically-with the conditions of force that sustain repression," disassociate the United States from those activities.
Bushnell, deputy assistant secretary for inter-American affaris, testified at the first of several planned hearing on arms policy toward Latin America.
Rep. Gus Yatron (D-Pa.), chairman of the inter-American affairs subcommittee, said the hearing would "help us determine exactly what the American arms policy is in this area and see how Congress can work with the president on it."
Recent critics have said the Carter administration has applied its human rights standards inconsistently when determining where to sell weapons.
Bushnell said that human rights is one factor in arms sales considerations. Also significant, he said, are maintaining a military balance, emphasizing defensive rather than offensive weapons systems, and resisting the introduction of new advanced weapons into a region.
The U.S. role as an arms supplier to Latin America has declined during the past 15 years, but sales by other suppliers-particularly the Soviet Union and France-have increased, he testified.
Bushnell said talks have been held with the Soviet Union and European nations about restricting Latin arms sales.
Yatron said "it is paternalistic to say we know best on what (arms) come into the region," and he expressed concern that American refusal to sell arms to a country might lead to an imbalance of power.
Bushnell defended arms restraint, noting that "the number of times we failed to supply arms and someone else came in to supply them is fairly limited."
he added, however, that sometimes it is destabilizing to refuse to sell arms. He cited situations where one country's military buildup makes its neighbors feel threatened, or where a military regime is unable to modernize its forces and so takes the offensive rather than fall further behind in military power.