The World Gorges at the Arms Cornucopia

By Horvitz, Leslie Alan | Insight on the News, December 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

The World Gorges at the Arms Cornucopia


Horvitz, Leslie Alan, Insight on the News


The end of the Cold War transformed the global arms market, but there hasn't been a corresponding reevaluation of weapons policy. Who is profiting under current international arrangements?

The United States has become the largest arms producer and exporter in the world, accounting for $34 billion in sales in the last fiscal year. While sales are expected to fall to $13 billion next year, the U.S. share of the world market probably will exceed 70 percent. Russia vies with Germany for second place, each controlling about 10 percent of the market.

But the end of the Cold War has arms-producing states scrambling to find new customers and keep old ones. And they have much fancier gadgets to sell, including satellite positioning systems, antitank and antiaircraft missiles, night-vision devices, cruise missiles and diesel submarines.

"The overall technical threat and lethality of the arms still being sold has never been higher," warns the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI, in a recent report. Extremely advanced weapons, it states, "are being advertised or exported with seemingly little consideration for their effects on regional political-military balances."

The ONI's concerns are not exaggerated. When the Shah of Iran's regime was overthrown in 1979, for example, the country had six diesel submarines on order from Germany. If they had been delivered, the ayatollahled regime could have used them to great effect during the Iran-Iraq war. If Iraq had managed to acquire six such submarines, they "could have made a significant difference in the Persian Gulf War," says Vice Adm. James Williams.

Watchdog agencies are particularly alarmed by the surge in arms transfers to Turkey and Greece, two longstanding adversaries. "Western policies toward Greece and Turkey attempt to use arms sales to maintain links of dependency with these states," notes a report by the Project on the Arms Trade of the British-American Security Council, or BASIC. In 1993, Turkey received 1,017 battlefield tanks from the United States and Germany; Greece received 725. Some fear that an arms race between the two countries could precipitate a wider conflict throughout the Balkans.

Similarly, the arms market is booming in the developing world - especially the Far East. Former Sen. William Proxmire estimates that of the 48 regional or ethnic conflicts currently raging, 39 are being fought with weapons that were sold by the United States. "With nations breaking up and governments being replaced at breathtaking pace, this is no time for the U.S. government to be handing out arms indiscriminately, as if they were some sort of post-Cold War party favor," cautions William Hartung, an arms expert for the World Policy Institute, in his 1994 book And Weapons for All.

But while the dramatic political changes of the last few years may have had an impact on the global market, they do not seem to have had a corresponding impact on arms policy. "A Cold War Rip van Winkle waking up from a long nap would find the field completely familiar, dominated by the same policy questions and the same actors," says Aaron Karp, adjunct professor of international studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

Indeed, President Clinton has sanctioned arms sales to Albania, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Eritrea, the Baltic states and Romania to "strengthen the security of the United States and promote peace" - a statement similar to that of his predecessors who have justified arm sales to 156 of the world's 195 states. "Passivity has led tb a weapons sale free-for-all," says a spokesman for Sen. Mark Hatfield, an Oregon Republican who has introduced legislation to restrict the flow of arms. "As we've seen in Panama and Somalia and to some extent Iran, what goes around comes around."

Since taking office, the Clinton administration has been curiously reticent about articulating its arms policy. But according to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, the policy, known as Presidential Directive Decision-41, is about to be formalized. …

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