At the end of 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a powerful “fireside chat,” a fitting backdrop to the visit to Europe this week by his successor, George W. Bush.
In his radio address, Roosevelt summoned a reluctant America to sacrifice to produce the arms urgently needed by freedom-loving people in Britain and elsewhere at risk of being overrun by Nazism and other forms of tyranny. He called the United States “the great arsenal of democracy.”
In his travels, Mr. Bush will meet with leaders of a number of countries whose national survival in World War II depended critically upon the industrial output of democracy’s indispensable arsenal. He will try to restore with these allies relations strained in recent years by disagreements over liberation of Iraq and other matters.
Unfortunately, the president’s “fence-mending” efforts with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French, German and British counterparts seem likely to founder over these states increasingly becoming arsenals for tyranny.
Take Russia. Since the end of the Cold War, the old Soviet military-industrial complex has been kept a going concern largely by selling its products to Communist China and other regimes unfriendly to freedom.
Mr. Putin’s Russia has approved sale of a vast array of advanced aircraft, missile systems, submarines, other seagoing vessels and armored equipment. Worse yet, the Russians have in many cases transferred not only end-items but manufacturing know-how, enabling the Chinese to produce even more such sophisticated equipment in the future ” for its own use and for sale, in turn, to other despotic regimes.
Mr. Putin’s list of client tyrannies does not end with China. Just last week, he reaffirmed his decision to allow the Iranian mullahocracy to complete construction of a Russian-designed and -supplied nuclear power plant at Bushehr. In this, he blithely dismissed U.S. and other concerns the Iranian regime will use this facility to amass fuel for nuclear weapons.
Mr. Putin has been no more responsive to appeals to forgo sale of advanced surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian despot, Bashar Assad. Such weapons may well end up in the hands of the terrorist Hezbollah organization that enjoys safe haven and sponsorship from Syria and its patron, Iran. This would greatly escalate the risk of conflict between Israel and Syria and the possibility Russian-made weapons will be used in efforts to shoot down American pilots operating in and from Iraq.
In addition, the Kremlin has recently agreed to sell as many as 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles to one of this hemisphere’s most worrisome, and ambitious, despots: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Mr. Chavez will use these arms to equip his allies in fomenting anti-American revolutions throughout Latin America ” including, notably, in Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas seem poised to retake power.
If Mr. Bush’s Russian interlocutor is indifferent to appeals for greater restraint in such sales to freedom’s enemies, so it appears are France’s Jacques Chirac, Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and Britain’s Tony Blair.
The Three EU Musketeers seem determined to end the arms embargo the European Union imposed on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre, thereby allowing Europe’s military-industrial capacity also to be put in the service of China’s evermore offensively oriented armed forces.
The sorts of technology transfers that could flow from the EU’s arsenal to the Chinese are particularly troubling, insofar as they would complement nicely the formidable weapon systems already provided by Russia. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Daniel Blumenthal and Thomas Donnelly pointed out Sunday in an Outlook article in The Washington Post: “The missing pieces of the People’s Liberation Army puzzle are exactly the sorts of command and control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that the Europeans are getting ready to sell.”
The negative consequences of such sales for U.S.-European relations are hard to exaggerate. Chinese military doctrine posits the inevitability of conflict with the United States. Preparations by Beijing are not compatible with mere self-defense or even threats to Taiwan. China’s blue-water navy capabilities, long-range ballistic and cruise missiles and space-control technologies would, if combined with command and control and other equipment designed to NATO standards, be much more threatening and greatly increase the odds such gear will be used in the future to kill Americans.
In his “Arsenal of Democracy” address 65 years ago, Roosevelt warned his countrymen: “Frankly and definitely there is danger ahead ” danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.” He argued America could prevent “the danger” from afflicting us directly only by arming the British and others already fighting the fascists.
Today, it is no less important we confront the danger to us from actual or prospective enemies, armed this time by those we previously helped secure their freedom.
President Bush may be reluctant to remind his hosts in Europe this week that they are “either with us or against us.” But if they serve as arsenals for tyranny, the Europeans and Russians should understand Americans will clearly see them for what they are: “Against us.”
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.