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Scuds or Butter?: The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East.

In Scuds or Butter?: The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East, Yahya M. Sadowski examines arms control in a very sensitive part of the world, namely the Middle East. First, Sadowski analyzes U.S. policy toward arms control and second, he examines the specific disarmament policies of numerous Middle Eastern nations, including those of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran.

Following Operation Desert Storm, the United States emerged as the major power in the region. One of the key U.S. problems was how to implement an arms control policy that would avert future conflicts that might run counter to American interests. The main U.S. goal was to stop the flow of weapons to countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and to organizations such as the PLO.

According to Sadowski, the U.S. strategy, which focused on retaining the U.S. devised balance of power as a safeguard for American interests, was not beneficial to most Arab or Middle Eastern nations. Sadowski's main criticism of U.S. arms policy is that it diverts much needed funds from economic development in the fields of health, education, agriculture and transportation.

Further, Sadowski indicates that Middle Eastern nations, owing to declining oil prices, government economic mismanagement, and mounting civil demands for arms control, can no longer afford lavish armament purchases. Sadowski clearly demonstrates that these factors will soon drive leaders to reduce their defense budgets in favor of more pressing economic concerns.

To illustrate his argument, Sadowski examines the economic situations in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Due to the Gulf War, the Iraqi economy can no longer sustain an arms race. According to Sadowski, the United States has largely destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, while the war caused Iraq to lose its rich Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia. Sadowski argues that Saddam Hussein will eventually be forced to reduce his arms' expenditures as a result of Iraq's declining economic situation. This argument is by no means a compelling one. Despite the fact that Hussein was defeated at the hands of the United States and the U.N. coalition, he persists in trying to obtain armaments in order to reemerge as a dominant Arab leader. It is therefore questionable whether Hussein wants, or could survive, the introduction of arms' control measures in Iraq.

Similarly, Sadowski argues that Syria is also interested in reducing arms expenditures because it has suffered from economic mismanagement and the loss of its former ally and main arms' supplier, the Soviet Union. Sadowski argues that the Syrian leadership wants to reduce arms expenditures in order to divert defense funds toward other serious economic concerns.

Again the argument is debatable. Hafiz al-Asad, much like Saddam Hussein, has aspirations to appear as the strongest Arab leader. In order to preserve this image, al-Asad must sustain a large armed presence precisely in order to present to the world a show of force.

Finally, Jordan, through King Hussein's arms-for-debt plan, has introduced the most wide reaching arms' control policy in the region. Under that plan, Jordan has substantially reduced expenditures on armaments in order to create better economic conditions and to pay off foreign debts. These measures were introduced during the Gulf War when the number of refugees flooding into Jordan increased and oil supplies decreased. The war caused severe economic difficulties for Jordan, making it increasingly difficult for the government to increase or to maintain its expenditures on arms.

Sadowski not only describes the specific policies initiated by various Arab governments, but he also explains the circumstances that could scuttle the implementation of arms control in the region. To document his arguments, he uses the examples of Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia -- all of which have continued to increase their armaments in order to play dominant roles in the region. These policies, often assisted by the United States, could destroy the efforts at arms limitations, as neighboring countries may believe it necessary, for security reasons, to match the arsenals of their neighbors.

Sadowski's arguments regarding the complexity and seriousness of arms limitations in the Middle East are generally persuasive. Although some of his predictions regarding the future of arms control in the region are debatable, Sadowski's documentation is compelling. In conclusion, Sadowski emphasizes that "military insecurity often overrides economic rationality." Thus, it is almost impossible to eradicate perceived security needs for ever more armaments in a region where security has often been equated with huge arsenals.

Vassilios Damiras is a graduate student in political science at Illinois State University.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Damiras, Vassilios
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:750
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