New Race: Russia's Arms Trade

Article excerpt

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States and the Russian Federation have remained in a constant state of competition over the international arms trade.

In fact, Russia has made a considerable effort to advance its anti-Western positions by interfering in Western, and specifically American, arms markets. This situation has been further complicated by the economic and political turmoil that have plagued Russia since 1997.

According to a report in Jane's Defense Weekly, the volume of the Russian arms market increased dramatically over the course of 1997, pushing total sales to over US$9 billion and marking a three-fold increase over the previous year. The report also suggested that much of the increase came from new trading partners such as Greece and Serbia. President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 streamlining of Russia's arms-sales approval process was noted as a factor in the great increase in the number of interested parties worldwide. These developments are of great concern to the West since Russia, despite its fall from the peak of Soviet power, has the potential to upset the international status quo with its large nuclear force structure, extensive military-technology capabilities, and large inventory of poorly secured weapons systems.

The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis has suggested that a guiding principle in Russia is to obtain "its former level of international status [so as] to include a larger share of global [arms] markets and greater influence in the international decision-making process." Russia further claims that the Western effort to limit exports to "rogue states" is a covert means by which the United States hopes to remove Russia from the international arms market, leaving itself as the dominant power.

It is through this position that the Rosvooruzheniye, the Russian state firm controlling 97 percent of the country's multibillion-dollar weapons exports, justifies its August 1998 delivery of US$200 million in military equipment and missiles to the Republic of Cyprus. In response to US claims that Russia is simply agitating an already tense situation, Russia noted that, before Cyprus bought arms from the Rosvooruzheniye, it bought billions of dollars in military equipment from the West. Furthermore, when the New York Times reported in August 1997 that the Clinton administration intended to lift the American ban "on sales of the most advanced weapons, like fighter jets and tanks, to countries in Latin America," Russian contractors redoubled efforts to ensure their involvement in markets from Central America to Brazil.

While the Institute notes other security concerns over relations between Russia and the rest of Asia, the report suggests that another focus of Russian foreign policy is Russia's desire "to develop the capability of participating effectively in the international economy." However, after NATO's minimal concern over Russian objections to the organization's expansion, the Kremlin understands that "it is unlikely that Russia ever will ever be asked to join any European [federal] union," economic or political. As the possibility of finding common ground with the West dissipates, Russia can be expected to steer a more independent political course in the future as it pursues its national interests. …