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Czechoslovak Arms Industry

Decades of Communist control passed since Czechoslovakia belonged to the leading industrialized nations of the world. Of course,the former CSSR was able to maintain a top international position in the arms trade in spite of the general economic decline. According to SIPRI [Stockholm Inter-national Peace Research Institute], the country placed seventh among arms suppliers, and military goods valued at approximately 32.5 billion schillings (converted) were exported worldwide from 1984 through 1988, half of which went to developing countries.

Nonetheless, Prague economic expert Milos Zeman did not believe that arms exports by the former regime were so profitable. According to Zeman, a majority of customers did not pay for their deliveries. Also, political motives frequently played a greater role than business motives in weapons exportation for the power brokers of the Prague Communist Party. Czechoslovakia had supplied allied states with tanks, training aircraft, and military transports. Infantry weapons, submachine guns, armored vehicles, and artillery weapons found their way to Third World countries.

The transfer of arms from an industrialized nation to a third World country is a common feature of international foreign relations. The first such transfer of notable scale occurred in 1955 when the Soviet Union began shipping large quanities of modern arms to Egypt. This transfer, known as the Czech arms deal, is widely recognized to have been a turning point in the relative influence of the Soviet Union and the United States in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the specific details of the deal itself and of the events and decisions associated with this precedent setting incident are not well known or understood.

Libya's Qadhafi was unable to pay cash for the military equipment delivered. Instead, the former power brokers of the Communist Party acceptedthe delivery of 3,000 South Korean passenger vehicles. Qadhdhafi was also the buyer of another of the Czecho-slovak arms industry's export hits: Czechoslovakia sold nearly 1,000 tons of the odorless and hard to detect plastic explosive Semtex H to Libya for $6 million,between 1975 and 1981. "Enough," says President Vaclav Havel, "to supply all the terrorists in the worldfor 150 years." Based on a 1984 test, explosives experts of Prague's Ministry of the Interior determined that 200 grams of Semtex H were sufficient to demolish an aircraft. Semtex was, in fact, used in the destruction of the Pan Am jumbo jet (259 dead) by Near East terrorists over Lockerbee, Scotland, in December, 1988. It was probably also used in the attack on a DC-10 aircraft over the Sahara (110 dead). Even the Northern Irish IRA [Irish Republican Army] resorted to the Czechoslovak plastic explosives in its terror campaign.

When Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier announced in January 1990 that his country will not sell anymore weapons, he caused quite a stir among some Warsaw Pact allies. A few days later, Lubos Dobrovsky, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, had to revise the announcement: Arms exports would be stopped "gradually," and all existing agreements would be observed. Conversion of the arms industry to civilian production was to take place in "a gentle fashion." Nonetheless, arms production in Czechoslovakia was supposed to be curtailed by 25 percent by 1993. One hundred eleven factories with 150,000 to 200,000 employees were affected by this. In the future, for example, more tractors and forklifts instead of modern T-72 tanks were supposed to roll out of the assembly corridors of the ZTS [heavy engineering plants] Martin Arms Factory.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:49:58 ZULU