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Two Terms for the New Age

August 17, 1993|Robin Wright

Those looking on the bright side of the post-Cold War armaments picture take heart from two developments that have already lent new buzzwords to the international weapons trade: "conditionality" and "transparency."

Conditionality links arms and defense spending to aid. States and international financial institutions are increasingly telling Third World countries that they can't have funds for development unless they cut back on defense.

"You couldn't get the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund to even think about conditionality in the 1980s because all the major donors were participants in the Cold War," said Edward J. Laurance, an arms specialist at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a U.N. consultant. "But now governments and arms specialists worldwide are calling on all countries to report imports and exports to the U.N. arms register as a condition for receiving aid."

The new U.N. Conventional Arms Register, scheduled to appear this fall, reflects the new trend toward "transparency."

In the past, reports by monitoring groups were often based on educated guesswork, since governments usually kept exact figures secret. But with the end of a world divided by rival arms industries as well as ideologies, many countries from the old East Bloc and the Third World are prepared to reveal at least basic figures about imports and exports of conventional weapons.

The U.N. register is also an offshoot of the Persian Gulf conflict. "The Iraq war documented that there can be such a thing as a destabilizing and excessive accumulation of conventional arms," Laurance said. "We now have a process in place with the potential to prevent another Iraq."

Most major supplier states, with the notable exception of North Korea, have complied--and thus will provide the first official global inventory of the arms trade.

"We're looking at up to 95% of all arms traffic becoming transparent, when none of it was before. So for those countries still exporting, they do so now in a transparent environment which allows the world--if it wants to--to have the information and therefore to act on it," Laurance added. "That opens up whole new possibilities in dealing with arms sales in the future."

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