Debating NATO arms sales to Russia

Robert Farley responds to my post on NATO arms sales to Russia:

I can certainly understand the logic of the argument that arms sales should create dependence, which should lead to reluctance on the part of Russia to irritate the West. However, there are problems both logical and empirical. First, “France” and “the West” aren’t identical; it may be possible to engage in certain adventures that bother Washington, but not Paris. Second, I’m not sure about the empirical question. We can certainly identify cases in which an arms transfer relationship did not prevent war. Type 42 destroyers, for example, fought on both sides of the Falklands War.

Robert makes a fair point in noting that France is not the same as the West. However, I was making a larger point here, one that goes beyond just the Mistrals and just France. If Russia continues to conclude major arms deals with NATO states (with the Mistral being the largest so far, but not the only), then over time the Russian military would become more closely tied to NATO, which would do two things.

1) Increase interoperability, allowing for greater cooperation for common ends — such counter-terrorism or anti-piracy operations. This seems to be a relatively uncontroversial point.

2) Reduce the likelihood that “Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests.” This is obviously a judgement call and open to debate. I was thinking along the lines of the commonly made argument that European dependence on Russian energy sales makes European states (such as Germany) less willing to provoke Russia. One might argue that weapons are not the same as natural gas in terms of the effect they have on states’ foreign policies. And obviously there are other factors that would come into play.

The physical object represented by a particular platform or weapon system doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the policy line represented by military cooperation between two states. After the Iranian revolution, for example, Iran still used US-made weapons and equipment, such as the F-14, but further cooperation was out of the question. Over time, these planes have deteriorated and become less and less useful.

But absent a radical change in government or policy, it seems to me that Russian arms purchases from NATO states would over time create a situation where Russia becomes dependent on these states for both additional equipment and for maintenance of weapons already purchased. Russian leaders clearly hope that this is just a temporary phenomenon, during which they can absorb Western know-how and start building advanced weapons systems domestically against in the near future. I have my doubts that this will happen any time soon. Russian dependence on Western military technology is most likely here to stay for at least a decade, maybe longer. And that will make Russian leaders think twice before taking military action that will lead to an end to such exports.


2 thoughts on “Debating NATO arms sales to Russia

  1. Interesting. So how do you envisage the end of Western military exports to Russia? “West” is, afterall, a very big place. To me it seems that the possibility of the UNITED response from the West, denying Russia the chance to seek exports elsewhere, if a single country does decide to block them, is even less likely than the revival of the Russian military industrial complex. It would take a full blown invasion of the EU or NATO state to provoke that kind of response and in that kind of decesion-making, an inconvinience of restrictions on military trade has very low ranking in terms of priority.

  2. The British jet engines purchased by the Soviet Union at the end of WWII, the Nene and Derwent, were particularly important to the Soviet aircraft industry, but didn’t make them dependant on the British to further develop engines.

    The simple fact is that the Russian military industrial complex has taken a 20 year break and in lots of areas it needs money spent to get it going.

    To not buy foreign technology is to make the catch up much harder, much more expensive, and will lead to a significant technology gap that might persist for quite some time.

    Buying new technologies however means skipping a lot of work that has already been done elsewhere.

    And having said all that who else does it all on their own?

    The “west” is a large entities of competing rivals whose governments have shared interests… the power and prosperity of the US.

    It doesn’t mean that everything the US uses is american designed.

    Barretta of Italy designed their Armys’ standard pistols, their AT4 rocket launchers are Swedish, their tanks armour is British, their tanks guns are German, their tanks coaxial machine guns are Belgian. The tank gun of their previous generation tank was British. (105mm).

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