The Persian Gulf: Arms Race or Arms Control?

Courtesy Reuters

Today the American people are engaged in a rethinking of U.S. policy toward many parts of the world. In the process, it appears unlikely for the foreseeable future that we will respond to events in the world with major new commitments of arms or men, beyond maintaining established involvements-e.g., NATO, the strategic nuclear balance, and our commitments to countries like Japan and Israel.

However, there is one way in which we are slipping into more military involvements around the world-in the sale of arms to virtually any non-communist country that has the money to pay for them. From $921 million five years ago, U.S. arms sales rose to $3.8 billion in fiscal 1973, to $8.2 billion in fiscal 1974, and in the fiscal year just ended, to $9.3 billion. This tenfold spurt now involves 71 countries as customers; all told the United States is responsible for about half of a total worldwide arms trade that is approaching $20 billion.1

The dramatic American increase has so far occurred without a clear analysis of our interests, objectives, policies, or of costs or benefits. There is simply a vacuum in U.S. policy. And nowhere today is this more obvious-or the consequences of error more likely to damage interests of the United States and other countries-than in the region of the Persian Gulf.

Indeed, when one looks hard at the "arms sales" problem, it turns out to be very largely a "Persian Gulf" problem. For U.S. arms sales to a handful of Gulf countries account for $4.4 billion of the fiscal 1974 total (54 percent) and for $4.3 billion in fiscal 1975 (46 percent). In blunt terms, we cannot have a coherent arms sales policy unless we have a coherent Persian Gulf policy. And what we do there could be the first test case of our ability to adopt rational policies in the post-Vietnam world.

Nor are we alone. In 1974, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe agreed to ship about $360 million worth of arms to Iraq, while France sold more than $1 billion worth to

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