"Moscow's developing bilateral security relations with Latin American governments have become a matter of some concern for Washington," the study says. It contains both official reports and information leaks about Russia's contacts with Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, and Mexico on past and future deliveries of Russian weapons, including fighter and transport planes, helicopters, missiles, air defense systems, tanks, armored personnel carriers, launches, submarines, and even small arms.
According to the study, "it cannot be denied that at a certain point Moscow's military sales may have gradually altered the geo-security landscape of much of the Americas. These results are not likely to please Washington policymakers." The report also cites figures from the Congressional Research Service, showing that between 1998 and 2001, Russia supplied $300 million worth of arms to Latin America, and $600 million worth between 2002 and 2005. Congress forecasts a growth in Russian weapons deliveries to the region in the next few years. The question is, why all this is taking place in the United States' "backyard," as Washington has always described countries south of the 30th parallel?
The answer is not as obvious as it may seem at first sight. It is not only that some South and Central American countries have leaned leftward in recent years, with so-called "popular leaders" coming to power, above all in Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. It is also that they believe Washington's policy in the region is selfish and has nothing to do with maintaining mutually beneficial relations of partnership with its southern neighbors. In addition, the harsh control always exercised by the United States over Latin American governments and their foreign policies and economic development has eased somewhat lately.
Washington is now having problems in the Middle East, and the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan shows no sign of letting up. Iran, refusing to obey UN Security Council resolutions, is also showing defiance. Nor has it been plain sailing in relations with NATO strategic allies, with France and Germany coming out against the occupation of Mesopotamia. The cozy picture of a unipolar world is beginning to fall apart.
What is more, Washington's run-of-the-mill techniques of exerting pressure on unfriendly regimes in South America by applying economic sanctions are not working. Neither in Venezuela, nor even in Colombia, where Washington has always felt at home. The United States' refusal to supply spare parts for F-16 fighter jets in service with Venezuela's air force prompted President Hugo Chavez to ask Russia to sell him the latest Russian multi-role Su-30MK fighters.
Surely Moscow could not refuse this request. Arms exports are for Russia not only a way to profit from and re-equip its defense sector, but also business pure and simple. These transactions stem from a desire to earn money for economic development and make the country's army more defense-capable. Rosoboronexport, Russia's only arms dealer that exports and imports military equipment and defense services, says that Russian arms deliveries to Latin America are not aimed to oust the U.S. from this market. They have little if any effect on the balance of forces in the region, where the United States continues to prevail. This is easy to see if you open any reference book with a breakdown of the military equipment and weapons in service with any regional army, air force, or navy, including the renowned publication The Military Balance 2006-2007.
Moreover, arms exporters say, there is nothing personal about this work; it is just business. Any other country would do the same were it in Russia's place, especially the United States, whose exports are displacing Russian arms in Eastern and Central Europe, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Outdated American arms are being foisted on these countries at high prices. Washington is pursuing the same policy towards Georgia and Kazakhstan. The American company Raytheon, for example, is trying to clinch a deal with Kazakhstan on upgrading its air defense forces. Warships made in the United States are already plying the waters of the Caspian Sea under the Kazakh flag. They are few and far between, it is true, but the fact remains that U.S. military equipment has managed to get into a land-locked sea. It is not, therefore, surprising that Russian weapons should have penetrated Latin America. Business is business.
If the United States fails to defer to Russia's business interests in the former Soviet Union, why should Russia take into account its business and, to be blunt, its selfish interests in South and Central America? Reciprocity in business and partner relations has not been banned yet. On the other hand, it is not Moscow that is forcing its weapons on Caracas, Buenos Aires, Managua, Rio de Janeiro, and other capitals. They themselves want to buy Russian arms, perhaps because they are just as good and in some cases even better than American ones. They are no less effective in combat than what is made in the United States, and they are sometimes much cheaper. The main point is that Moscow, unlike Washington, does not link its arms business to the political views of a country's government. The new Russia has learned from the mistakes of the U.S.S.R.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not represent the opinions of the editorial board.