A Regional Arms Race
Arms Intelligence Analysis Report
The continued military tensions between Georgia and its neighbors and the related arms build-up should also be considered in the context of the growing military ambitions of its neighbors. The southern Caucasus is full of dormant conflicts. Since 2005, Azerbaijan increased its spending on arms by 70%, ostensibly to protect itself in its dispute with Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The projected revenue from the BTC pipeline has allowed Azerbaijan to buy jet fighters, helicopters, tanks, guns and other artillery in expectation of a military ‘solution’ to its row with Armenia. Armenia has also seen more militarization, as Russia moved its own military infrastructure remaining from the USSR from Georgia to Armenia. The increased military spending by all countries in the region on ethnic-nationalistic grounds combined with the energy and security needs of the West have left the region volatile. Georgia has also made a risky military gamble. Since president Saakashvili came to power in the so-called ‘Rose revolution’ of 2003, Georgia has made a tenfold increase in military spending.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that in 2007, Georgia saw the largest average growth rate of military spending in the world. In an effort to ingratiate itself with the United States, Georgia has deployed troops to Iraq, increasing its contribution from 850 to 2000 in 2007, making it the third largest contingent in the country. The US has also provided military aid and training to Georgia, promoting its inclusion in NATO. Georgia has also purchased armament from Israel, including high profile weaponry such as an Elbit Systems unmanned aircraft, or ‘drones’. France and the United States have also supplied other equipment, largely aimed at improving the characteristics of existing Georgian hardware – inherited from the Soviet Union.
The Israeli ban on arms sales to Georgia, hints that the latter will be looking for other suppliers. Presumably, Georgia’s neighbors, Azerbaijan and Armenia, will be looking for similar equipment. Among the various US defense contractors, General Dynamics, which makes tanks, ammunition and Rockwell Collins, one of the principal suppliers of night vision technology, could see increased demand for their wares in the Caucasus. Of course, the political fallout of Georgia’s Ossetian campaign is still unclear and any arms purchases will be considered accordingly. For the US, Georgia can serve as a base to pressure Russia in concert with similar strategies in the Baltic States. Russians, however, while confirming the threat, view Georgia’s militarization as part of an effort to threaten regional minorities such as the Ossetians and Abkhazians who look to Russia for support.
Should the West sell more military equipment to Georgia, Russia, might respond by offering Iran, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries more advanced armaments than it was previously willing to sell, including the anti-aircraft S-300 missile, an effective insurance policy against a possible aerial attack from the US (or Israel). This is because, even as Russia has agreed to a ceasefire with Georgia, it cannot trust the Saakashvili government so long as it continues to pursue NATO ambitions. Had Georgia been a part of NATO, fellow members, in accordance with Article V of the organization – “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” – would have been obliged to take action…against Russia. Fully aware of the risks of angering Russia, the major energy supplier to the EU, Germany, Italy and Hungary vetoed Georgia’s inclusion in NATO last March.
As for the resurging ‘arms race’, the Georgia crisis played a pivotal role in endorsing the US ballistic ground based missile defense system in Poland, involving so-called ground-based missile interceptors (GBI). Russia’s swift military reaction to Georgia’s attack on Ossetia has ostensibly removed any objections to the deployment of the GBI on Polish territory. Boeing has been in charge of the GBI project’s technical development, for which the company obtained an initial USD 1.6 billion. The project also involves subcontractors Orbital Sciences Corporation, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. The United States claims the GBI’s are intended to protect Europe from Iranian attacks; however, Iran is nowhere near development of platforms able to convey nuclear warheads to Europe – much less nuclear warheads. Clearly, the intended target is Russia, which does have nuclear capability. While, the systems are presented as having a defense role only, Russia does not see it this way, prompting more spending of its oil sales bounty on armament.
Even as the Defense dept. has encouraged dropping the most expensive military projects – notably the Lockheed Martin F-22 and the Future Combat Systems – a multi-billion dollar program involving electronic equipment and hardware for the Army contracted to Boeing – because of the small ‘militia’ nature of current warfare, a Cold War would revive the need for large scale and advanced platform to contend with Russia’s sophisticated defense systems. Even the Navy’s DDG 1000 Zumwalt stealth destroyer project led by Northrop Grumman would receive a boost from a new ‘cold war’. The Navy had originally wanted to buy over 30 of these vessels, costing an initial USD 3.2 billion per unit. By July 2008, the projected costs were considered prohibitive by Congress, which has only allotted sufficient funds to build one unit. Congress may yet be convinced that more Zumwalt class ships are needed to confront a more powerful Russia.
There can be no doubt that the defense industry has much to gain from the re-emergence of a well armed and powerful enemy such as Russia. The US Defense secretary has also shown skepticism toward military procurement request for expensive and ultra-sophisticated military platforms such as the Zumwalt or the F-22 Raptors, unsuitable to fighting militias and guerrilla groups; nevertheless, defense lobbyists may prove more convincing in obtaining funds for these aircraft if the enemy a military power of Russia’s scale. Yet, while Russia’s military spending has increased under Putin’s and Medvedev’s leadership, it is nowhere near Soviet levels, and it remains only a fraction of the United States (USD 30 billion vs. USD 500 billion).
US military spending shall ultimately depend on Washington’s intentions. Will it risk angering the Kremlin by continuing to arm and advise Georgia and other countries, formerly in the Russian sphere of influence, risking Russian retaliation on oil supply, Iran and North Korea? Will Obama or his successor lobby for Georgia’s membership in NATO, against the wishes of many European allies, wisely concerned about Moscow’s reaction? Should the answer to any of these questions be ‘yes’, the result will be a resurgence of the Cold War.
- NATO Expands Presence in Caucasus As Broader War Looms (blacklistednews.com)
- U.S. Uses NATO for Black Sea Military Buildup (boilingfrogspost.com)