U.S. and Russia create problems for themselves by supplying arms to third countries
RIA Novosti military commentator Konstantin Bogdanov
Russia continues to export military hardware to Iran while strictly observing UN Security Council sanctions. The United States behaves similarly, continuing to deliver military hardware to Pakistan, although Washington's relations with it have soured recently. Selling for profit today regardless of the consequences tomorrow is not a unique situation for some governments.
As part of military technical cooperation, Russia has supplied Iran with 1L222 Avtobaza radioelectronic countermeasure systems and is negotiating another sale of this system, Konstantin Biryulin, deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, told RIA Novosti. He said that since the equipment concerns defensive arms it does not fall under the Russian president's decree on joining the sanctions specified by UN Security Council Resolution 1929.
In turn, the U.S. recently sold ALQ-211(v)9 electro-optical intelligence pods for F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters to Pakistan.
Military-technical cooperation with "rogue" countries has always been a dangerous game. On the one hand, no great power would willingly give up such all-purpose and powerful tools of influence. On the other, this approach often has a knack for coming back to haunt the seller under very unpleasant circumstances.
Sovereign bulls in the china shop of history
Isolated corporate groups inevitably spin off a bureaucracy to gradually merge with the expert community, business and mass media.
These organizations are powerful. Even at home they can influence developments, but they are handicapped by rivalry and competition and closely watched by public institutions. Abroad, however, in Second- or Third-World countries, they can have a field day.
Great-power policies hatched in Third World backrooms cannot be analyzed without taking the corporate organization's interests into account. Top intelligence services (CIA, BND, Mossad, MI-6 or Russia's FIS) can destabilize an average-sized African country easily. As for arms and mineral business interests, they sometimes twist and turn other governments at will.
It is not a matter of formal authority, but of taking advantage of an opportunity at the right time. Once a corporation obtains ample resources that meet its size and needs, it sooner or later uses them as it sees fit, ignoring the parent state or even going against its interests. At best, it might perform delicate missions for a county's top leadership.
Such corporations usually take decades to amass in a long, slow process. Quickly changing political administrations concerned with re-election and ever falling popularity ratings run contrary to the interests of these corporations which like stability.
Under these circumstances, an influential organization will unavoidably "downplay" the leadership's political activity while at the same time carefully selecting the information they feed it. This creates the perfect environment for unsanctioned maverick tactics.
Irangate and Iraqgate
A classic example of such chaotic spontaneity was the way a variety of U.S. multinationals behaved during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
U.S. leadership, worried by the Islamic revolution in Iran, gave every encouragement to public and private contacts in an effort to promote the military might of Saddam Hussein's regime in its opposition to Tehran.
The agenda for cooperation was wide and varied: from passing satellite and radio intelligence to Baghdad to providing specimens and technology to help Iraq develop biological and chemical weapons.
In this respect, U.S. Operation Bear Spares stood out. It was a clandestine operation to find and ship parts for Soviet-produced(!) military equipment into Iraq (in the early 1980s the Soviet Union observed the embargo on arms supplies to the warring sides).
On the other hand, in the same conflict, a U.S. intelligence corporation engaged in the very opposite strategy: it secretly sold arms to Iran (alleging this might help solve the U.S. hostage crisis) and used the money obtained (again secretly) to fund the pro-U.S. guerilla movement in Nicaragua, fighting Daniel Ortega's regime.
When the truth came out in the late 1980s, the words "Irangate" or "the Iran-Contra Affair" became household expressions to designate such corporate "free-for-alls."
Incompetence vs. ill-intention
But it appears that what is craftily planned by global conspiracy as represented by powerful intelligence agencies working with transnational business is, strangely enough, not the most destructive approach. The real destruction takes place when decisions are made out of short-sighted, incompetent or plain greedy considerations.
In the late 1940s the Soviet Union actively supplied arms to a newly born Jewish state in Palestine, via Czechoslovakia, as it fought against the British-supported Arabs, something it probably regretted many times.
Utter confusion also ensued during the Ethiopian-Somali "war for Ogaden" in 1977-1978: both countries received Soviet-made arms and drew extensively on Moscow's advisers for military strategy.
The British-Saudi Al-Yamamah deal (crude oil in exchange for a large shipment of Tornado fighters) has entered the annals of world arms business as the worst case of runaway corruption. The affair turned out to involve both members of the Saudi royal family and high-placed Whitehall officials.
The saga of illegal exports of military equipment from what used to be the Soviet Union still awaits its chronicler.
One can also recall the hither and thither of the U.S. intelligence as it went from pillar to post, first supplying the Afghan mujahedeen facing Russian troops with hand-held Stinger missile launchers and then, in the 1990s, making a massive effort (Operation MIAS) to buy back these very deadly armaments. When the dust settled, it emerged that Congress had allocated a total of $65 million, which went down the drain without serving any useful purpose.
That the U.S. and Pakistani secret services nourished and equipped the strongest Islamic movement ever in the "tribal area" on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border need not be mentioned. The objective of doing harm to the Soviet Union was achieved ... with the Taliban regime and al-Qaida resulting as byproducts.
Mechanism of wholesale delusion
The widest chance for abuse appears above all when top leadership neglects strategic planning and long-term interests and the analysis of risk of mishandled interference is swapped for short-term gains. And it does not matter if this happens because of time constraints or if it is a sincere mistake.
All of this greatly complicates political leadership's task of controlling powerful corporate interests. If it is set at all: occasionally the corporate interests are fused with governments, unleashing a series of "special operations" both inside and outside the country.
Weak civilian controls tempt one to take advantage of available resources for personal gain, even if it is necessary to break a few pots and pans in the process - one's own or others'.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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