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US, Soviet Arms At Fire Sale Prices

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THE main purpose of the arms agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union has been to reduce the combustible tensions between the two countries. But something is missing. If the two superpowers are going to use the agreements as an opportunity for unloading their surplus weapons on other countries, then they would have traded reductions of tensions between themselves for increasing tensions elsewhere.

Just a few years ago, both the US and the USSR contributed to Saddam Hussein's arsenal. The US supplied arms to Iraq during its war against Iran. The Soviets were an even heavier supplier throughout most of that war. Would Iraq have been in a position to attack Kuwait or to represent a major threat to Saudi Arabia if it hadn't been for the arms sales from the US and the USSR?

Now that the superpowers have improved relations, are we going to try to profit by dumping our weapons abroad?

The question becomes particularly pertinent today in view of the criticial need of the Soviet Union for hard currency in meeting its economic crisis. The buying power of the ruble has fallen off steadily. The attempt to obtain or borrow adequate hard currency from other nations has been unsuccessful. Under these circumstances, some Soviet officals have been urging President Mikhail Gorbachev to sell off military supplies. They point to arms agreements with the US as a heaven-sent opportunity to raise negotiable currency.

How much hard currency the USSR requires to meet even its short-term needs one can only guess. The hesitation of other nations to supply hard cash is understandable. The Soviet economy is weak. The value of the ruble is about one-tenth the official exchange rate. Moreover, converting rubles back into Western currency is largely theoretical at the moment.

Hence the magical lure of the world arms market to Soviet planners. Their arsenals are estimated to be worth some $50 billion - planes, missiles, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, explosives, rifles.

The USSR, let it be noted, has had to compete with Pentagon salesmen who have been out on the hustings with what they proclaim to be irresistable arms bargains. The US has been using its military stockpiles as an offset for its adverse trade balances.

It is clear that the dumping of arms on such a vast scale, especially among third world countries, exponentially increases the risk of regional conflicts. At least half a dozen tinderboxes around the world could blow sky high if local power balances are shattered by advantages in weaponry.


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