Who makes Iraq's missiles?

September 12, 1990|By The New York Times

IRAQI President Saddam Hussein probably gives some of his foreign "guests" real hospitality. They're the Brazilian engineers who have been helping Iraq develop ballistic missiles. Brazil disclaims any knowledge of their activities and wants them to quit work and leave, to comply with the U.N. trade embargo with Iraq. But they haven't left.

The Bush administration has communicated its official displeasure to Brazil, just as it has asked Moscow to withdraw its 193 military advisers from Iraq. But as recently as two weeks ago, in a dangerously thoughtless decision, it approved shipment of missile casings to Brazil.

The administration cannot hope to persuade the world to maintain a tight embargo on trade with Iraq, particularly in arms, until it stops aiding Brazilian missile-building programs. President Bush can still hold up the shipment of missile casings and can also block the export of supercomputers that can be used to perfect missiles.

Beyond that, he needs a tough new policy to curb the spread of missiles, as well as chemical and nuclear warheads, by working with European allies, the Soviets and others to tighten export restrictions.

Brazil has long followed a laissez-faire policy on arms sales, with the rationale that arms are a profitable export and a spur to technological advance. This "Have guns, will travel" attitude has made Brazil the largest third world arms seller.

When its missile-marketing to Libya in 1988 drew Washington's wrath, Brazil curbed its sales. But the U.S. did little to discourage Brazilian arms exports to Iraq during the Persian Gulf war, or since. It continues to allow U.S. companies to sell Brazil missile components and technology, ostensibly for commercial satellite launches, though critics warned the technology would end up in Iraq.

To curb just such technology transfers, the U.S. and six weapons-producing allies set up the Missile Technology Control Regime in 1987. They restricted sales of rockets but did not always force their own manufacturers to comply, and in some instances even allowed dubious sales like that of the missile casings to go ahead.

The gulf crisis now demonstrates the urgency of doing more to stop indiscriminate high-tech arms sales.

As the current crisis makes painfully clear, a world united against aggression cannot allow those who sold Iraq advanced missile technology to continue this deadly practice. The motto must be: Let the sellers beware.

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