Accessibility links

East: Ukraine, Belarus Rank High In Arms Exports

  • Andrew Tully

Deep within a U.S. study of international arms sales is a table ranking Belarus and Ukraine among the 10 leading exporters of military hardware. Some observers might see such sales as beneficial to the economies of two countries struggling to emerge from seven decades of communism. But analysts say these transactions can also indicate how little Belarus and Ukraine have evolved from the Soviet era. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports from Washington.

Washington, 23 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An American analysis of international arms sales says the United States, Russia, and France are the three leading exporters of military hardware to developing countries. It also ranks Belarus and Ukraine within the top 10.

Experts say this is not surprising because Belarus and Ukraine still have the factories used to make the arms and other military equipment that were the hallmark of the Soviet economy before the breakup of the USSR.

The 83-page report is titled "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1993 to 2000." It is prepared and updated each year by the U.S. Congressional Research Service. Like its other studies, the service distributes its documents only to members of Congress, who often share them with the news media.

The report focuses on the world's top three arms exporters. The U.S., it said, ranked first in agreements to sell arms during 2000. These contracts totaled $12.6 billion, or nearly 50 percent of all international arms contracts during the year. Russia was the second-leading nation in this category, agreeing to sell $7.4 billion worth of arms, or just over 29 percent of the value of all such contracts. France was third, contracting to sell $2.1 billion worth of military hardware, or a bit more than 8 percent of the total.

Often, the report cites exports by only the leading seven countries: the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China, Germany, and Italy. But more detailed tables deep within the report rank Belarus Number 8 in arms deliveries to developing nations in 2000, and Ukraine ranked Number 10. Both delivered to their clients military hardware valued at $200 million.

For the period from 1997 through 2000, Ukraine ranked eighth in such deliveries, with a total of $1.5 billion, and Belarus ranked ninth, with a total of $1.1 billion. The two former Soviet republics were not ranked for the period from 1993 through 1996 because their sales volume was so low at that time.

Aside from the ethical questions of weapons proliferation, such international sales can be important to a nation's economy. But analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say their dependence on arms exports can be an indication that the economies of Belarus and Ukraine may be stagnating.

Richard Thornton is a professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington. He told RFE/RL that the amount of military hardware that both Belarus and Ukraine delivered to foreign customers last year shows that their economies have not evolved properly from Soviet times.

"Their economies remain very narrowly focused in the way that they were before communism collapsed. All of these were part of the Soviet economy then, and one of the fundamental reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union was the fact that they could not expand their domestic economic base in a way sufficient to account for consumer needs."

Thornton says the blame lies squarely with the leadership in both countries. He was reminded that after World War II, U.S. companies quickly shifted production from military hardware to consumer goods. Thornton says this refitting or "retooling" of factories has not happened yet in the manufacturing sectors of the Belarusan and Ukrainian economies.

"They've had a decade to undertake a retooling process, and I don't see it happening."

According to Thornton, this stagnation is particularly puzzling given the amount of money that the International Monetary Fund and private Western industries have invested in the countries to help them broaden their economies. Now, he says, private investment has fallen off because Belarus and Ukraine have also failed to modernize their legal systems to ensure that investments are safeguarded and that contracts are upheld.

Anders Aslund is an economic analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private Washington policy center. He agrees that Belarus and Ukraine have until recently been slow to expand their economies. He says the government of Belarus has shed so little of its Soviet past that it is shunned by many other countries. In fact, in terms of arms sales, Aslund told RFE/RL that the Minsk government has no scruples about who its customers are for military hardware.

"Belarus is prepared to sell to whomever, and since that is almost an outcast state, they [Belarus] are probably the most dangerous ones from a U.S. foreign policy perspective."

Aslund says the same was true for Ukraine until last year, when economic reforms were instituted by Viktor Yushchenko, then Ukraine's prime minister, and Yuliya Timoshenko, who controlled the country's energy sector.

Yushchenko's government has since lost a vote of confidence in parliament, but Aslund says President Leonid Kuchma appears not to be abandoning Yushchenko's economic reforms. And he says these reforms are likely to produce economic growth of at least 10 percent this year. He cited aggressive economic growth in such sectors as agriculture, land ownership, and light industry, to name just three.

"There has been a massive structural change in the last 1 1/2 years. Before that, it [Ukraine's economy] was extremely stagnant for a long time."

As for Belarus, Aslund says the only hope is that the people vote President Alyaksandr Lukashenka out of office in the 9 September elections. He says he is slightly optimistic about the future of the country's economy, but only because Lukashenka's re-election is not assured.