A similar situation is taking place in France, where passions are running high around the planned delivery of weapons and a nuclear power plant to Libya. In both cases, the commercial and political benefits are being weighed against the threat of nuclear proliferation and concern about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear arms.
With whom is it OK to trade in such commodities, and on what terms? These have always been relevant questions.
The U.S. Congress warned President George W. Bush that in September, after their return from summer recess, they would submit to both the House and the Senate a bill that would block supplies of certain weapons to the Saudis. They explained that Saudi Arabia did not behave like an American ally; rather, it supplied militants and suicide bombers for the war in Iraq and funded terrorist activities all over the world.
These comments were made about one of Washington's key partners in the Arab world. The United States is hurling the same accusations at its number one enemies: Syria and Iran. What is the difference between a friend and a foe?
It is true that terrorists are coming to Iraq both from Saudi Arabia and Syria. Many of the militants captured in Iraq have Saudi passports. But this does not mean that the kingdom's government supports them. (There is no evidence that Syria is backing them, either). Quite the contrary, the Saudis are interested in fighting terrorism.
But there are private funds helping the Islamic extremists in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world. After September 11, 2001 the Gulf governments became much more cautious in their attitude to such funds and generally changed their attitude to the extremists, who are now primarily a major headache for them. Extremists are a problem for the entire Muslim world, rather than just the Saudis.
Does this mean that it is necessary to ban the sale of weapons in the Middle East?
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a telling comment on this subject. He told the Israelis that the Saudis and other moderate Arab countries would be able to get the weapons elsewhere, including from Russia, if America did not supply them.
The logic is understandable: it is better to try and control which weapons are sold and where, or put the sales under international supervision, say, the IAEA, rather than cede the market to other countries.
But Moscow is following the same logic in cooperating with Syria and Iran. Many arguments may be cited to explain the difference between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or Syria and Iraq, but they are largely politically motivated. The entire Middle East, or rather the Muslim world, is in the same boat. Weapons supplied to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan or the Palestinian National Authority may end up in terrorist hands just like weapons sold to Syria and Iran. There is no guarantee that if Russia leaves this niche tomorrow, it won't be occupied by American or European defense companies.
The impossible becomes possible all too often. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a former swore enemy of the West accused of supporting terrorism, can now be seen hugging French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He also hosted Tony Blair when the latter was British prime minister. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wouldn't mind visiting Libya. As a result, major Western oil companies have come back to that country; large-scale arms deals and the construction of a nuclear power plant are in the offing.
Obviously, all this has happened because Tripoli changed its foreign policy, abandoned the development of weapons of mass destruction and stopped lashing out at the West. But Gaddafi is the same man; yesterday, he profited from certain things, whereas now he stands to gain from others. Time and circumstance will dictate what he will be interested in tomorrow.
Or take an example from another region: North Korea. Today the world community, including the United States, is discussing ways of helping that country, but only yesterday Washington was calling it part of the Axis of Evil.
Everything is relative: friends and foes, and rules for trade in weapons. The United States supplying arms to Iran and Syria does not seem like such a fantastic notion, and as we see, regime change is not at all necessary. If such trade is profitable and politically feasible, why not go for it?
We could go on and on about whether arms trafficking is ethical at all. But if it cannot be stopped, let it be controlled as much as possible by respectable salesmen, be they the United States, France or Russia. Otherwise, as Robert Gates rightly noted, the niche may be occupied by completely different players.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.