Arms Sold in Cold-War Rivalry Are Turning Inward

By David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia. | The Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 1992 | Go to article overview

Arms Sold in Cold-War Rivalry Are Turning Inward


David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia., The Christian Science Monitor


IN the aftermath of the cold war, those who suffer from its effects are not all in the former Soviet Union. Many are in countries where the arms delivered in the chess game of superpower rivalry are now turned inward in internecine warfare.

Somalia is an example. Last week another negotiated cease-fire broke down in a bloody conflict between two rivals for power in the capital, Mogadishu, that has cost several thousand lives. The weapons used in that conflict undoubtedly came from many sources including the former Soviet Union. But some almost certainly came from the United States. These are, moreover, not just small arms; the rivals in Mogadishu were firing through the rubble of the cities with heavy artillery.

Somalia was one of 17 African countries that for at least two decades have been recipients of US military assistance. Others include such strife-torn nations as Chad, Sudan, and Zaire. Meanwhile in Europe, Yugoslavia - scene of violent internal divisions - received $130 million worth of US arms and military training between 1984 and 1988.

Whatever the region, for the past 40 years military assistance, through grants, credits, and sales, has been a significant element in the global US-Soviet competition. Both sides equated the provision of arms with political influence - although, in retrospect, the relationship was not always that clear.

Ambitious leaders, however, seeking to please their military officers and enhance their own power bases, have played on the great-power rivalry to gain access to the armories of both East and West. In the US, officials in the executive branch and Congress were persuaded to support military assistance by the threat that countries might otherwise be armed by the Soviets.

The rationale was enhanced by arguments that US help to foreign military establishments could strengthen democratic elements. Those manufacturing and selling arms waded in, seeking to convince policymakers that the provision of such assistance was in the national interest. In just the four years between 1984 and 1988, the value of US arms transfers to developing countries alone was $34.4 billion.

In the official deliberations on arms deliveries, cautionary advice that such transfers might fuel regional conflicts was brushed aside. Such conflicts were seen as cold-war arenas where the US needed to help "its side.

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