From the Editors

published in MER177

In the pages that follow, our authors envision a set of compelling scenarios that could halt and reverse the ratchet wheel of militarization in the Middle East. Yahya Sadowski sees in the worsening material circumstances of most states of the region an unusual opportunity for arms control, as governments seek to reduce expenditures and civilian forces demand increased allocations for economic and social projects. Yezid Sayigh argues that arms control initiatives can help advance the resolution of underlying political conflicts, and should not await the successful conclusion of the core negotiations. John Steinbruner sees in the Western need to cope with the military disintegration of the former Soviet Union a way of gradually enveloping the Middle East in “cooperative security” arrangements that preclude offensive military capabilities.

We present these arguments because, among other things, they contest the dominant version of these matters in the US. Prevailing wisdom holds that intrinsically irrational hostilities in the Middle East rule out arms reduction agreements of the sort concluded among European states, and that the adversaries of US allies and clients are invariably responsible for this state of affairs. A lot of money goes to people like Geoffrey Kemp, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to produce books, articles and conference presentations with the prime purpose of rationalizing business as usual. The views of Kemp and company are further amplified via the policy media as “the experts” who explain to the ignorant public why demilitarization of the Middle East, and US foreign policy, is just not “realistic.”

Business as usual means record-breaking sales contracts with clients. The collapse of the Soviet Union has stripped away the “national security” blanket with which arms sales were once draped. When a $23 billion arms proposal to Saudi Arabia was announced following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, an irreverent Congressional aide correctly dubbed it the “defense industry relief act of 1990.” Some firms like Northrop and General Dynamics get a quarter or even half of their military orders from abroad, and arms sales now account for around 5 percent of total US exports, according to William Hartung of the World Policy Institute. Arms sales proposals now go to the Congress accompanied by Pentagon-prepared economic impact statements, to make sure that the pork-barrel consequences are not lost on legislators. While mouthing pieties about arms control, the Bush administration has been trying to rewrite the bylaws of the Export-Import Bank to allow taxpayer-subsidized loans for military sales. A memo from Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger has ordered all US embassies to “get on board by helping open doors for US defense vendors.”

Effective arms control measures for the Middle East will require confronting, and changing, some intrinsic aspects of the political economy of the United States. Arms transfers are a central element in that economy. This will only change if a progressive coalition comes together to challenge the corporate and state interests served by the present policy of escalating rather than ending military sales.

Filed under: