Russian foreign arms purchases are good for regional stability

A great deal of ink has been spilled recently about how terrible it is that a number of European NATO members are considering selling arms and military equipment to Russia. Many commentators vehemently argue against such arms sales. The reasons for the opposition are rarely stated openly, but when they are they tend to focus on the fear that such deals would tie West European states more closely to Russia, preventing them from standing firm against Russian policies that the commentators oppose. A secondary reason is that these deals would improve Russian military capabilities.

Both of these reasons are fundamentally misguided. First of all, countless studies have shown that greater ties between states reduce the likelihood of conflict between them. If France or Germany sell military equipment to Russia, they not only establish closer ties between their militaries, but they also make the Russian military more dependent on NATO military equipment. Cold warriors seem to think that the dependency argument only runs in one direction — Western states who sell to Russia wouldn’t want to lose sales, so they’ll do whatever Russia wants. But the road of mutual dependence is a two way street. If Russia starts buying certain categories of military equipment from abroad, its domestic defense industry will likely lose whatever capability it still has to produce that category of equipment. Russia will then depend on NATO states for the procurement (and perhaps maintenance) of its military equipment. In that situation, Russian leaders will have to think twice before undertaking any actions towards NATO that are sufficiently hostile as to result in it being cut off from access to such equipment.  This form of dependence is much more serious. After all, if Russia gets upset with France and stops buying its military equipment, French arms manufacturers will lose some money and perhaps some French people will lose their jobs. But if France cuts off military sales to Russia in a situation where Russia is dependent on France for certain types of equipment, Russian security will suffer.

Some analysts fear that Russia could use equipment purchased from NATO, such as the Mistral ships, to attack its neighbors. The 2008 Georgia war showed that even without NATO equipment the Russian military is plenty strong enough to defeat a small and weak army of the kind that just about all of its immediate neighbors possess. Western arms sales are not necessary for Russia to be able to successfully undertake hostile action against a country like Georgia. But again, if NATO arms sales to Russia become ubiquitous, Russia may well become more hesitant to undertake actions that could potentially result in the cut-off of such arms sales. In other words, Western leverage over Russian actions will actually increase.

Second, if Russia starts using NATO equipment, this will improve interoperability between Russian and NATO military forces, making their efforts at military cooperation more effective. Since the two sides are much more likely to work together on potential issues such piracy, smuggling and counter-terrorism than they are to actually fight each other, it seems to me that selling NATO equipment to Russia can only lead to improvements in security for NATO states.

Russian leaders have recently contemplated a large number of potential arms purchases from abroad, including both basic equipment, such as uniforms, weaponry,  such as sniper rifles, and major platforms, such as amphibious assault ships and armored vehicles. This shows that these leaders no longer trust the capabilities of Russia’s domestic defense industry to rebuild the Russian army, which is equipped almost entirely with aging Soviet-era technology. They have come to understand that foreign ties are only way to rebuild their military capabilities in a reasonable time frame.

Western leaders should encourage this trend, because it will only enhance regional and global security. Rather than “eroding the effectiveness of NATO policies toward Russia and in NATO’s own eastern neighborhood,” extensive arms sales by NATO states to Russia will increase Russian dependence on the West, decreasing the likelihood that Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests, while enhancing regional security by improving the ability of Russian forces to cooperate with NATO forces against threats to their mutual security.

4 thoughts on “Russian foreign arms purchases are good for regional stability

  1. Pingback: Atlantic Sentinel | Russian Foreign Arms Purchases Are Good for Regional Stability

  2. Absolutely well-put! The Russian military (or its defense establishment) wants to be good in detail, i.e., to satisfy their professional needs/competencies. Any such sales from the West (I wish that term, “The West,” had gone away with the end of the Cold War) are going to be minor, mostly in electronics, communications, etc. (the Russians are still good in radar, etc., as far as I know). It’s not going to be big stuff (see all the silly debate about the Mistral, which a Frenchman described to Dmitry as “a ferry painted grey”). That is, the Russian military is hardly going to grow in any numbers or real capabilities as a result of any such sales (see their personnel problems), and they are likely to shrink even more in numbers, but they will feel more professional, feel better about themselves. And there is, of course, the dependencies that are created, as Dmitry points out (Iran under the Shah bought something like 77 F-14s; they could across the years keep only 7 going by cannablization — no spares).

  3. No wonder Russia is paranoid, it seems all the west is interested in is control and influence to make it do what the west wants it to.

    BTW I think your logic is seriously flawed, because the Russians have always introduced western technology where they could, from buying the design of the gatling gun and the Maxim machinegun, through to buying a new suspension system from Christie that they could use on their light tanks.
    They also took the design of one of their early tanks by basing it on a captured French model (tanks were not used on the eastern front in WWI as there was no trench warfare there and the tanks of the time simply couldn’t keep up).
    From licence production of the DC-3 through to licence production of Ford Trucks and tractors what they do is buy a production licence.
    A good example right now is the French Thermal Imager called Catherine. The Russians were fitting it to tanks they were exporting and decided to use it themselves so they have built a manufacturing plant in Russia to make them under licence and work with THALES France to develop new models. If France want to break ties with Russia I rather doubt the Russians will give back the factory or even stop production or stop development.
    It also works both ways with US rockets flying with Russian engines and Russian rockets taking flight from French spaceports.
    The ties between Russia and Europe are growing all the time, right now NATO is a force against integration and is a rubber stamp tool for the US to justify invasions, or at least deal with the results.

  4. Pingback: Russian military hardware best in the world - Page 3

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