/** disarm.armstra: 948.0 **/
** Topic: (Latin America) Some in Latin America Fear End of U.S. Ban Will Sti **
** Written 9:54 AM Aug 3, 1997 by firstname.lastname@example.org in cdp:disarm.armstra **
From: David Isenberg <email@example.com>
Subject: (Latin America) Some in Latin America Fear End of U.S. Ban Will Stir Arms Race
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- As the armed forces of Latin America celebrated the Clinton administration's decision on Friday to permit the sale of advanced weapons that were restricted for decades, many other government officials and military analysts expressed concern that the move could spark a regional arms race in which countries feel under pressure to buy sophisticated weapons they neither need nor can afford.
"It's a matter of keeping up with the Joneses," said a senior Argentine civilian defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If these new weapons become available and your neighbor acquires them, no one in your house is going to sleep well at night unless you get the same level of security."
Argentina initially opposed a relaxation in the United States ban, saying sharp budget cutbacks have reduced its ability to pay for advanced weapons. But Argentine military officials, who also spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Saturday that the lifting of the ban would only strengthen their argument that after years of reductions they need a major increase in weapons spending to remain competitive.
In Chile, Argentina's cash-rich neighbor to the west, military officials were said to be elated over the removal of the weapons ban, especially since the decision comes at a time when the air force plans to spend $400 million this year to buy about two dozen new jet fighters.
Chile had considered buying Swedish JAS-39 Grippen and the French Mirage 2000-5 fighters, but military officials there have said they would prefer the American-made F-16.
Indeed, the Lockheed Martin Corp., an American weapons contractor that makes the F-16, had lobbied heavily for the administration to lift the ban, particularly because Chile was about to close the bidding process to supply its new fighter planes.
"This is certainly great news for the purchaser, and the Chilean Air Force must be on top of the moon with this news," Raul Sohr, an independent military analyst, said in a telephone interview from Santiago, Chile. "But personally, I find it a bit distressing that the States is putting an end to a policy that has served this region so well for decades. This is the beginning of an arms race. There's no denying that."
Sohr said that although both Argentina and Brazil have reduced military spending in recent years, he expected them to come up with the money for the advanced planes, radars, tanks and other weapons that the United States is now making available.
"The reasons for lifting this ban are purely commercial and political," Sohr added. "The United States wants the economic benefit of selling these weapons and also the political influence that goes along with servicing and supplying them."
Some experts cited Peru's recent purchase of a squadron of Russian MIG-29s at an estimated cost of $350 million as a factor in persuading the administration to lift the ban imposed by President Carter in 1978, when many Latin American nations were under military dictatorships.
In Argentina, Horacio Jaunarena, an opposition congressman and a former defense minister, said he believed that selling such advanced weapons to Latin America would result in an arms buildup.
"To avoid an arms race, the effort has to come from the countries that are selling the weapons," he said. "But I understand that United States citizens are asking themselves, why don't we sell arms when other countries, such as Russia, Belgium or Germany are doing it."
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
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