A New Military Equilibrium? Preventing Regional Conflicts in the Developing World

Article excerpt

Despite early hopes for the advent of a "new world order" to succeed the Cold War, the shape of what is to come remains elusive. One possibility, however, suggested by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Persian Gulf War in 1991, is that the global superpower struggle could yield to a series of lesser regional conflicts. And some of those conflicts, paradoxically, could result directly from the post-Cold War drop in military spending, as the advanced weaponry of the industrialized countries is recycled to developing countries. Indeed, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty, signed in November of 1990 by the 34 member states of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), imposes no restriction at all on exporting either new or secondhand weapons to countries that are not signatories to the agreement.

At the moment, world arms sales are going down. Total sales fell from a peak of $42 billion in 1987 to $12 billion in 1992, as figure 1 shows. But the implications for the future are far from reassuring. By far the largest drop has come in deliveries of Russian arms, and Russian exporters are eagerly looking for more business. Since 1989 the value of U.S. deliveries of arms to developing countries has actually risen. Even more worrisome, the value of agreements to sell arms has fallen nowhere near as much as actual shipments. In 1992 the United States and the major European countries signed agreements to export arms that represented increases over agreements they signed in 1987.

Furthermore, even though substantially fewer weapons are now changing hands between countries, changes in global security since the breakup of the Soviet Union are making the arms situation more volatile. During the Cold War the United States and the former Soviet Union maintained control over the nations accumulating weapons. With the United States now the sole superpower and a reluctant global policeman, developing countries can stockpile arms free of traditional constraints.

Finally, although the arms sale slowdown has been driven in large part by the ending of the Cold War, the global economic slowdown and the tightening of budgets in many developing countries has also played a large part in reducing arms imports. As figure 3 shows, developing nations in the Near East, Latin America, and Africa--all regions experiencing economic troubles--cut arms purchases way back between 1985-88 and 1989-92. But in Asia, the one region that has maintained strong growth over the past few years, arms imports actually grew briskly. When the world recovers from its economic slump, arms sales may begin rising again.

In short, although the drop in arms deliveries in recent years provides a measure of comfort to a world anxiously looking ahead to the emerging post-Cold War order, there is no reason to expect--and certainly no reason to act--as if controlling arms exports to developing countries is no longer a matter of urgent concern.

The Leading Option

Over the past several years security policymakers in the West seem to have concluded that the best way to limit the accumulation of weapons in developing countries, as well as to minimize regional military buildups, is to provide economic assistance to developing countries only if they keep military spending to reasonable levels. This approach, known officially as "military conditionality," breaks with traditional aid policy, which has been premised on keeping development assistance strictly independent of domestic defense issues. Several European countries, most notably Germany and Italy, formally adopted conditionality during 1991, and now link development aid to the recipient's military spending policies.

Conditionality's momentum increased in June of 1992 when Japan unveiled the Japanese Official Development Assistance Charter, which states explicitly that "to maintain and strengthen international peace and stability," Japan will provide development assistance only after taking into account "trends in recipient countries' military expenditure, their development and production of weapons of mass destruction, weapons and missiles, their export and import of arms. …