Magazine article Insight on the News

Deteriorating Arsenals Pose Hidden Threat

Magazine article Insight on the News

Deteriorating Arsenals Pose Hidden Threat

Article excerpt

Five years from now (10 at the outside), a dozen or so of the world's nastier nations will find themselves, by conventional military standards, disarmed. They may also be a lot more dangerous -- a peril that went unaddressed in the presidential campaign.

The problem, much simplified, is this:

Though the military-industrial complexes of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact are trending down, the planet remains awash in weaponry. Some of it's getting chopped up, blown up or otherwise deep-sixed. But the rest, especially the former East Bloc's inventory (minus Germany's), is up for sale.

And that's the key word: sale. Gone are the days when relatively small nations (Syria, for example) could maintain massive forces, courtesy of Soviet largess. The Russians, not to mention the Chinese, North Koreans and sundry other suppliers, want cash. It may be a buyer's market nowadays, but cash is something many of the more avid purchasers lack. And ironically, the more dependent their forces are (or become) on bargain-basement commie and ex-commie stuff, the worse off they'll be down the road.

It used to be a standing NATO joke and source of nervous reassurance that on any given day half the tanks and vehicles in the Warsaw Pact were down at the motor pool, broken. Ditto most of the airplanes in the hangars. Whatever this may have said about the Soviets' maintenance procedures, it certainly reflected their design philosophy. The Soviets and their imitators assumed, correctly, that the life of a vehicle or aircraft in high-intensity combat was very, very short. They never designed their weapons for longevity or even for easy, reliable maintenance. They wanted quantity. All that mattered was that when the big day came, everything would be up and ready for a brief, one-way trip.

This means that nations with large inventories of Soviet and similar weapons have forces almost impossible to maintain, especially as spare parts and technical assistance dry up, as systems are cannibalized and as Third World operating and maintenance procedures take their toll. Munitions have a limited shelf life. Training uses things up, wears them out and busts them all to pieces.

This inevitable disarmament by breakdown and consumption leads to one hope--and to a trinity of dangers. The hope is that the nations possessed of such forces (Syria, again for example) may finally decide to give peace a chance. But the dangers may turn out to be more real.

First, in the short term, some nasties may succumb to a use-it-before-you-lose-it mentality, i. …

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