Letter: Bush sets China a bad arms-sales example

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The Independent Online
Sir: President Bush's decision to support the sale of 150 F-16 fighter aircraft to Taiwan has several disturbing implications for international peace and security, particularly in the Middle East. China's consequent threat to withdraw from talks among the five permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council on tighter arms export controls is deeply regrettable, but entirely predictable. Why should they, or the Russians, forgo exports when the US and UK are showing so little restraint?

Mr Bush has again placed short-term domestic electoral and commercial interests above the need for tighter international control over transfers of advanced conventional weaponry. This mirrors the massive wave of transfers he has approved to the Middle East in the past two years, a wave that the UK is also riding. Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the US has received Middle Eastern orders worth pounds 14bn, the UK pounds 2bn.

While the P-5's efforts to agree on guidelines to govern arms transfers has made limited progress, Mr Bush's decision to sacrifice them threatens to unleash a wave of ballistic missile exports by China to countries such as Iran and Syria. The consequences for the Middle East peace talks in particular and regional security in general are potentially disastrous.

The P-5 is due to meet later this month in the latest round of arms export control talks. It should use this opportunity to reverse the trend of destabilising arms exports, by agreeing to a rigorous code of conduct on arms transfers.

This should include stopping transfers of destabilising weapons to regions of tension, and the introduction of mandatory consultation among the P-5 members before any transfer takes place. Without such measures, the task of changing the pattern of arms exports, that enabled Iraq to threaten international peace and security, will prove impossible.

Yours faithfully,


Research Director