Allies of US Are Producing More of Their Own Weapons

QUIETLY, and with little media fanfare, a development of great political significance is taking place within the Western alliance: The European Community (EC) and the Japanese are now building their own weapons systems and, as a result, are reducing their dependence upon the United States arms market.

The US is already largely autonomous in military hardware, and "buy American" laws reinforce the Pentagon's proclivity to source weapons from American factories. Now the EC and Japan are also moving toward indigenization of their defense capabilities.

The collapse of the Soviet Bloc has reduced the need for standardization, and thus interoperability, of weapons systems within the Western alliance. More importantly, the EC and Japan desire to strengthen their defense industrial base and preserve existing jobs and production. This is especially important to the Europeans as the ratio of arms exports to total arms production is much higher in Europe than in the US.

Finally, allied governments wish to disengage from the American weapons market in order to reassert control over their foreign policy. Washington has frequently used allied dependence on American arms as a tool to project US interests - from impeding the French nuclear effort in the 1960s to restricting the export of US-licensed weapons manufactured in Europe during the 1980s. Initially, Washington sold "off-the-shelf" jets, rifles, and tanks to its alliance partners after World War II. But from the 1960 s on, the latter increasingly demanded licensing and then coproduction of military items, with much of the actual manufacturing taking place in Germany, Japan, Turkey, and elsewhere. As a result, Bell Helicopters, F-16 fighters, and many other American systems are now built overseas under license. In 1988 alone the US transferred abroad the production technology for 70 major weapons systems.

NOW that the EC and Japan have caught up to the US in many commercial and defense technologies they are able to replace American weapons with their own.

Rather than buying the Hornet 2000 from the Pentagon, the EC decided to build its own European Fighter Aircraft (a project currently being revamped because of the Kohl government's concern with rising costs), while the Japanese government said "no thanks" to off-the-shelf American F-16s in order to coproduce with General Dynamics an advanced, largely Japanese version of the plane, the FSX.

Similarly, Japan replaced the US Sidewinder Air-to-Air missile with its own AAM-3, while the EC rejected Pentagon offers to jointly develop a program for building an all-European alternative. Currently, 80 percent of French, 75 percent of British, and 90 percent of Japanese major weapons systems are domestically produced, although much of Japanese production still involves the manufacture of US-licensed weapons.

Meanwhile, allied interdependence in arms components and subassemblies has increased in recent decades. The US Commerce Department has found that 20 percent of the components of both the US HARM missile and the Mark 48 torpedo are manufactured abroad. Approximately 80 percent of the integrated circuits used in European weapons come from nondomestic sources. Nevertheless, defense bureaucrats in the US and Europe are seeking to identify such dependencies and limit them over the course of time.

The emergence of three relatively distinct weapons blocs in the global arena will have a number of disquieting consequences. The need for the US, the EC, and Japan to cooperate will be reduced as their defense needs become less tied to each others' weapons factories; and the possibility of joint military action, as in the Gulf war, becomes more problematic as each bloc develops its own radar, missiles, and frontline fighters.

Finally, the division of the liberal democratic camp into three weapons blocs is discouraging evidence that, despite the growth of global economic interdependence and multilateral decision making, the security function is still the exclusive preserve of the individual state.

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