(Photo Source -US Government)
As a Russian newspaper reported on Tuesday, the Russian Federation has agreed a major new arms sale to the military government of Burma. The deal, purportedly worth in the region of $570 million USD, will involve Burma's military junta taking ownership of 20 Mikoyan Mig-29 Fighter jets. While the Russian Government has recently suggested that it will work towards a major new nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, this latest news indicates the great degree of importance that the Russian Government continues to place on an unecumbered arms export trade. Engaging with this dynamic is central to US policy with regards to resolving the Iranian nuclear stand-off, but more broadly, is also critical in accurately predicting future Russian actions with regards to co-operation with the United States on broader issues of international human rights efforts.
In late October, the Obama Administration announced that it would reverse Bush Administration policy and move to support a global arms trade agreement at the United Nations. This agreement would in theory, eliminate the transfer of arms to governments like that of Burma, which hold particularly poor records in respecting basic human rights. Russia, along with states like Iran, Syria and Cuba, is in firm opposition to this potential agreement and from a basic realist standpoint, it is not hard to see why. Alongside multi-million dollar arms agreements with the Burmese Junta, the Russian Government also holds lucrative arms deals with other states that have less than glowing international reputations. Alongside major arms transfers to Iran, a state that as I noted last week, is risking regional war in the Middle East, the Russian Government also holds major arms agreements with Venezuela. While it is tempting to regard Hugo Chavez as a comical character, his continuing support for narco-terrorists in Colombia is a major hiderance to peace in that country and to stability in Latin America.
There are thus clear conclusions that we can draw from an examination of Russian arms export policies.
Firstly, regardless of the recieving state, Russia is unlikely to support any limitation on its arms exports unless, the Russian Government is given what they regard as a significant enough reason to do so. For example, the Obama Administration's ability to gain even basic Russian talk of potentially supporting tougher sanctions against Iran, required the major American concession of the cancellation of the inter-continental missile defense system in Europe. Secondly, while Russia may indeed be willing to sign a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, this treaty should not be taken as a willingness on the part of the Russian Government to give greater concern to issues such as international expansion of human rights.
At least in the near future, Russia's arms export policy will continue to operate along principles of a basic cost-benefit analysis. A cost-benefit analysis in which economics hold high value. Essentially unless in the Russian Government's eyes, the political opportunity costs of a potential arms deal are so great that they cannot be ignored, Russia's primary concern will continue to fixed on the acquisition of Mr. Green.