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The Political Economy of East–South Military Transfers

Robert M. Cutler, Laure Després, and Aaron Karp

Abstract: This article analyzes, consecutively, arms transfers from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its East European allies to the developing countries (stressing the economic motives of buyers and sellers that influence the supply of and demand for those arms), the East Europeans’ role in East–South military relations (particularly their contribution to technical assistance and personnel training), and the cooperation of the USSR and the East European countries in military production. The analysis demonstrates that the international political economy and world-system approaches complement one another, and the principle for their reconciliation is established. Conclusions are drawn from the analysis concerning Eastern Europe’s military relations with the Soviet Union, which are reconceptualized on the basis of the empirical work presented. The significance of changes in those relations for the future course of global military-industrial development is briefly explored.

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Contents: 
  1. Introductory Remarks
  2. Economic Determinants of Soviet Arms Exports
  3. Eastern Europe’s Role in East–South Military Transfers
  4. Soviet–East European Coordination of Military Production
  5. “International Political Economy” or the “World-System”?: A False Opposition
  6. Conclusion: Soviet–East European Military Relations and Global Military-Industrial Development
  7. References
Suggested citation for this webpage:

Robert M. Cutler, Laure Després, and Aaron Karp, “The Political Economy of East–South Military Transfers,” International Studies Quarterly 31, no. 3 (September 1987): 273–299, available at ⟨http://www.robertcutler.org/ar87isq.htm⟩, accessed 24 September 2017 .


[ page 273 ]

The Political Economy of East–South Military Transfers

[0. Introductory Remarks]

Most work on military assistance given by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its East European allies to the less-developed countries (LDCs) approaches the subject from the standpoint of global strategy, either through studies of

[ page 274 ]

bilateral military relations (e.g., Soviet arms exports to a given Third World country) or through the compilation of aggregated arms-trade statistics. This article adopts a perspective grounded in the evolution of the international economic order. It investigates the specifically economic factors that affect Soviet arms trade with the Third World and that explain why Eastern Europe’s military assistance to the Third World has shifted from arms transfers to technical assistance. The analysis illuminates how changes in Soviet–East European military cooperation have affected East European competitiveness in the global arms market.

Traditional scholarship on Soviet–East European relations can be divided into two major schools of thought, the hierarchical and bargaining models. Each of these presents a different interpretation of conventional arms production and trade by Eastern Europe. The hierarchical model views the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) and the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) as instruments of Soviet control and alliance management, enabling the USSR to ensure the execution of its policies and the efficient mobilization of East European military resources for that purpose. According to this model (implicit in Remington, 1971; Checinski, 1975; Hutchings, 1983), Moscow needs East European arms production to maximize the size of WTO forces but restrains its allies from acquiring any significant independent capabilities. Military procurement in the Soviet bloc, in this view, is strictly standardized, and production is based on an alliance-wide division of labor. Arms transfers occur exclusively at Soviet behest and principally for Soviet purposes. Any benefits to Eastern Europe are only incidental.

According to the bargaining model, on the other hand, the WTO behaves much like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). East European countries vie with the Soviets and one another to maximize their political opportunities and economic welfare. They compete for sales both within the WTO and in the Third World, where they compete with Western suppliers as well. According to this model (implicit in Wolfe, 1965; Erickson, 1982; Campbell, 1984), the governments of the East European countries bargain explicitly as well as tacitly with Moscow over the size of their militaries, the sophistication of their arsenals, and the output of their mili tary industries. The East Europeans use arms exports to promote a variety of national interests, including the health of their domestic arms industries, while striving at the same time to maximize imports of Soviet and Western military-industrial technology that they can then use to develop the widest possible range of their own indigenous weapon systems.

Both the hierarchical and bargaining models offer important insights into Soviet–East European relations. The analysis that follows will show that the bargaining model is more appropriate for explaining arms production in the East European countries, while East European arms transfers correspond more closely with the hierarchical expectations of Soviet initiative and guidance. But neither of these traditional models adequately explains recent developments in either arms production or arms transfers. A unified explanation must be sought elsewhere. A perspective that emphasizes universally applicable economic principles such as comparative advantage can bridge the gap that prevents the hierarchical and bargaining models from providing a comprehensive explanation of these contemporary developments.

The three parts of this article illustrate three levels at which economic phenomena can be analyzed in the study of world politics. The first part considers the behavior of a single state actor, the Soviet Union, invoking the tradition of classical economics through an analysis of supply and demand to explain variations over time in Soviet

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arms trade with the Third World. The second part of the article shifts the discussion to the East European countries and their participation in military transfers to the Third World, including technical assistance and arms. This part of the analysis treats overall patterns of relations between the East European countries on the one hand and the Third World countries on the other. It draws implicitly on the world-system analytical perspective by considering each group principally as an aggregate entity, though noting their internal differentiation where appropriate.

The analysis of differences within the WTO bloc comes to the fore in the third part of the article, which analyzes Soviet–East European coordination of military production. This analysis delineates basic elements in Soviet–East European relations that motivate patterns of Soviet behavior, exposited in part one, and of patterns of East European behavior, exposited in part two. It pays special attention to differences in behavior between the Soviet Union and its East European allies, and among the latter individually. As such, it focuses on sources of change (see Krasner, 1982b: 186–89) in the region-specific international regime that governs the intra-WTO division of labor concerning military exports and technical assistance to the Third World. The third part of the article concentrates on how that regime explains differences among the East European countries’ patterns of military transfers and the differences in those patterns over time. It thus illustrates the application of the international political economy approach to the analytical task at hand.

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Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

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