Conventional Arms Control Initiatives: Russia as a Special Case

By Khripunov, Igor | Arms Control Today, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Conventional Arms Control Initiatives: Russia as a Special Case


Khripunov, Igor, Arms Control Today


The post-Cold War period has provided several spectacular breakthroughs in what seemed to be intractable arms control problems that were pushing the world to the brink of global disaster. One of the serious remaining gaps is the still largely unrestricted flow of conventional weapons, whose increasing sophistication and overkill potential is understandably a matter of growing concern. In addition to recognizing the continued priority of curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and drastically reducing their stockpiles, the time has come to engage major weapons exporters in developing new international understandings and mechanisms to stop the flood of conventional arms on the global market and to drastically curb conventional arms transfers.

There is no lack of interest in this issue, but specific and effective actions by governments in this area are still lacking. The impact of shrinking domestic and international demand for conventional weapons in the post-Cold War period is pushing major manufacturers toward fiercer competition, forcing them to offer unprecedented bargains in what has become a buyer's market. In this environment, there is growing global interest in many of Russia's most advanced weapons systems, which in many cases are now offered at extremely attractive prices, and Russian arms sale are again on the rise.

These trends point to two major problems in initiating meaningful constraints on conventional arms transfers globally. The first is the very real political difficulty government leaders face in constraining their own once-highly prosperous, and in many cases still politically influential, arms manufacturers. Curbing their profits can have domestic political consequences. The second problem is economic. In a world of shrinking markets, the natural impulse of any business is to increase profits by every means possible, including efforts to expand its global market share.

Two other problems are specific to Russia, whose economy remains in a disorganized state of transition, and which has few products--other than its military hardware--that are competitive in a global market economy. Curtailing the impulse to export arms will be doubly difficult for Russia when armaments are one of the few good sources for foreign trade and currency. Second, the resurgence in Russian conventional arms sales and related contracts has prompted Moscow's leaders to again think of arms transfers as an important component of its foreign policy and one of the most visible trappings of Russia's Great Power status.

A spectacular arms transfers comeback by Russia in the second half of 1994 (following a precipitous drop in Russian conventional weapons exports during the 1980s from an estimated high $19 billion to $21 billion annually to about $1.8 billion in 1993) means there will be an even tougher competition and a change in the export patterns in the months and years to come.(1) Quoting "confidential government sources," the Russian media report that the export of Russian-manufactured weapons in 1992 and 1993 totaled as much as one-third more than previously estimated, reaching $2.329 billion in 1992 and $2.504 billion in 1993. Their forecast for 1994 has now risen to $3.4 billion. Given the contracts already signed with India, Malaysia and Kuwait, totals for 1995 may be as high as $6 billion. According to the most optimistic scenario envisioned by Russian officials, which assumes that UN restrictions on Libya, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia are lifted, Russia would be grossing over $10 billion annually after 1995.(2) Russian officials are publicly circulating these assessments, which are regularly quoted in the Russian media, apparently in an attempt to boost the morale of the defense industry. (By way of comparison, U.S. conventional arms transfers were about $12 billion in 1992 and a record high $32 billion in 1993.)

But Russian projections are creating dangerous illusions about the future because of the shrinking global market and uncertainty about how well Russian arms will compete globally in the future. …

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