Scuds or Butter? The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East

Scuds or Butter? The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East

Scuds or Butter? The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East

Scuds or Butter? The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East


In the 1970s and 1980s, Middle Eastern states spent more than $600 billion expanding their military forces. They acquired thousands of tanks, advanced fighter aircraft, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and - in some cases - nuclear devices. These potent arsenals make the Middle East the tinderbox of world affairs. In this book, foreign policy analyst Yahya Sadowski shows that the arms race cannot be sustained in the 1990s. Declining oil prices, overpopulation, economic mismanagement, and foreign policy adventures - such as the 1991 Gulf War, which cost local states another $600 billion - have sapped the economies of the Middle East. Facing dwindling incomes and rising expenses, growing numbers of Middle Easterners now favor diverting funds away from military expenditures and concentrating them on economic development programs. Sadowski argues that arms control programs for the Middle East should be designed to reinforce and exploit these economic pressures for demilitarization. He examines the strengths and weaknesses of various arms control proposals, such as the U.S. call for a cartel of weapons exporters and a Jordanian plan to liquidate the foreign debt of states that curb military expenditures.


For the past year, a team of scholars at the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Harvard University, and Stanford University have been collaborating to develop a vision of international security arrangements appropriate for the post-cold war world. They have been studying how diverse programs of arms control, defensive force configuration, and collective response to aggression might be combined into an international regime based on cooperative security. In the fall of 1991 John Steinbruner and Janne Nolan, on behalf of the cooperative security project, asked Yahya Sadowski to prepare some remarks on how the recent Gulf War had influenced the prospects for arms control in the Middle East. Scuds or Butter? grew from this request.

In this study, Yahya Sadowski suggests that during the first half of the 1990s there will be an unusual window of opportunity for arms control in the Middle East. He believes that this opportunity arises neither from psychology or diplomacy nor from a reduction of hostilities in the region. Rather, it emerges from economic trends that compel Middle Eastern states to contemplate arms control in their search for cheaper means of obtaining national security.

Sadowski's premise is that Middle Eastern states can no longer afford the arms races of the past. Declining oil prices and economic mismanagement, coupled with growing civilian demands to divert a greater share of the national budget into economic development programs, have created fiscal pressures that will not allow them to engage in expensive arms races. Faced with the necessity of curbing their weapons purchases or even of demobilizing existing forces, local political elites have begun to view arms control proposals with greater sympathy.

Yahya M. Sadowski is a senior fellow in the Brookings Foreign Policy program. He is grateful to Janne Nolan and John Steinbruner, who guided this project from its inception, and to Abdel-Elah Khatib, Ahmad Mango . . .

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