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NATO Plays a Quiet Role in Balkan Arms Buildup

ALREADY riven by ethnic warfare, the Balkans are bulking up on arms, causing concern among some experts.

Independent analyses done by experts in Washington, Berlin, and London show that Greece and Turkey - historic enemies although nominal NATO allies - have been accumulating large stockpiles of heavy weapons from other NATO nations. The weapons include combat aircraft, tanks, and artillery.

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Other countries in the region are also making efforts to upgrade their arsenals. In May, Bulgaria signed agreements with its historic ally, Russia, to begin a series of arms-production projects. And Romania won a contract from Bell Helicopter to assemble 96 Cobra attack helicopters to be used by the nation's military.

"It's the last thing the region needs - an arms race," says Tasos Kokkinides, an arms-control expert at the British-American Security Information Council in London.

"I'm afraid the region is becoming an arms dumping ground," adds Mr. Kokkinides, one of the experts who compiled the information on the Greek and Turkish buildup.

A worrying aspect of both nations' weapons procurement is the wide discrepancies in acquisition figures. Between 1992 and 1994, for example, records from exporters show Turkey received 1,852 missile-launcher systems. Turkey claims receipt of only 34 such systems in the three-year-period. Likewise, exporters say Greece obtained 229 missile-launching systems, while Athens says it took delivery of only 54.

Kokkinides also expressed concern about NATO's role in the buildup. Greece and Turkey are getting many of their arms from NATO allies, who are scaling back their militaries to conform with the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe.

In addition, NATO's Partnership for Peace program may be promoting arms transfers, Kokkinides says. The program is designed to stabilize the formerly communist nations of Central and Eastern Europe by promoting contact between Western and Eastern European military forces.

A goal of the partnership is to establish the "inter-operability" of all armies, something that tacitly encourages formerly communist armies to rearm with Western weapons, says Kokkinides in a separate report on the Partnership for Peace. "You can't implement security with military means. You need a diplomatic strategy," he says.

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