When arms sales replace foreign policy

THE Reagan administration's efforts to sell 40 F/A-18 aircraft and over 800 missiles worth $1.9 billion to Kuwait symbolizes a missile-mad world. Arms sales are not automatically helpful or harmful. But arms sales should not preclude or replace the difficult and important task of establishing better diplomatic relations with countries that enhance US geopolitical interests. Oftentimes, better relations involve plodding diplomatic efforts and prolonged negotiations.

Arm sales often serve a valuable purpose, both militarily and diplomatically. The decisions exhibited by countries such as China and North Korea, however, point toward an accelerating trend to sell any and all missiles without a careful assessment of the countries' military requirements, the implications of an arms race, and current diplomatic relations. This is happening throughout the world, and the United States should lead the opposition against such a trend.

China has recently sold ballistic missiles to Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. There is no diplomatic rhyme or military reason for these sales. In addition, Syria, Pakistan, and Libya are reportedly negotiating arms deals with China. The proliferation of arms further jeopardizes world peace.

The US should encourage holding an international ballistic missile conference to discuss proliferation. The US should pursue direct and vigorous bilateral negotiations with the relevant countries to discourage this trend. And the US should also explore the appointment of a presidential commission to advise the next president on the defense and diplomatic implications of this arms buildup. Continued arms sales of highly sophisticated technology only make this delicate situation worse.

We cannot ignore the words of the great political writer Walter Lippmann: ``Surely the task of statesmanship is more difficult today than ever before in history. ... In foreign relations, as in other relations, a policy has been formed only when commitments and power have been brought into balance....'' His comments are applicable and accurate today.

In regard to the pending Kuwaiti arms sale, the Senate has acted to prohibit the sale of Maverick D and G missiles to Kuwait. The Maverick G missile was first test-fired in November of 1987 and has not yet been delivered into US Air Force inventories.

The US should set an example on limiting sophisticated missile sales in this region. We should be leaders in the area of addressing the proliferation of missiles around the world, and especially in the Middle East. Already many countries in this area can combine chemical weapons with ballistic missiles. How soon will a nuclear weapons capability follow? The Maverick missile is not a ballistic missile, but nevertheless, it is a highly sophisticated state-of-the-art infrared guided missile that greatly enhances military capabilities. The Maverick G has never been sold in the Middle East region.

What is the military justification for this? Incidentally, this $1.9 billion package for 1.9 million Kuwaitis translates into $1,000 worth of arms for every Kuwaiti citizen. The administration argues that the Kuwaitis need this $1.9 billion arms package for protection against Iran. We now seem to be on the threshold of peace between Iran and Iraq. Thus it would appear that such a huge sale might be both inappropriate and unnecessary. Still, the Kuwaitis hope to purchase 60 to 80 new fighters, including the F-18s, from anyone who will sell.

It would also appear that Britain, France, and all NATO countries should be more concerned about ballistic missiles in the Middle East aimed at Paris, London, or other cities. They should also be concerned about a war that would hurt the flow of Gulf oil.

Another argument from this administration is that the US should sell arms to Kuwait in the hope of influencing its policies. Instead, the US should attempt to gain changes in Kuwaiti policy through diplomacy and negotiation now. This must take priority over arms sales. We have no assurances or commitments from Kuwait that it will assume a greater burden in the protection of their shipping in the Gulf. Furthermore, Kuwait has not signed any type of peace agreement, nor has it officially recognized Israel. Kuwait also gives generous financial support to the Palestine Liberation Organization. We should try to negotiate changes in these policies now and not simply wish for change after a sale.

Proceeding cautiously on arms sales in the Middle East will help us retain our flexibility. A new administration needs to preserve all of its options if it proposes a new Middle East peace plan in 1989 or 1990. The Reagan administration has already sold close to $35 billion worth of equipment to the Middle East. Britain has sold $9 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 1986 and just recently signed a deal worth over $20 billion. But we are still no closer to peace.

History proves that it is the arduous work of diplomacy that seeks and gains peace. When we sell arms to one country, we must often sell more arms to the other side. Furthermore, when we sold a restricted number of Stinger missiles to Bahrain last year, its neighbor Qatar felt threatened and demanded its own Stingers. Since then, Qatar has illegally acquired Stingers, thus further proliferating sophisticated arms. We should be stressing negotiations, not stockpiling arms. In the Middle East and around the world we need more thorough and coherent foreign policy. As Lippmann said, statesmanship is not easy, but it does produce positive results.

US Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona is a member of the Committee on Appropriations.

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