The United States is the world's biggest arms dealer. Exports of military arms and assistance totaled nearly $63 billion last year, a 34 percent jump over fiscal 1990. This is one American export industry with bullish prospects. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the poor performance of its military equipment in Iraqi hands last year mean that everybody wants to Buy American.
The justification for many of these sales vanished with the end of the Cold War. Regional disputes no longer become proxy battlegrounds for the superpower rivalry, but they can be inflamed by the international arms trade. Countries with weak economies (Slovakia being the newest player) need the hard currency arms sales can bring. Boris Yeltsin is under intense pressure to keep Russian armaments factories producing for the export trade.
America feels the same pressures. Saudi Arabia's bid to buy 72 F-15 fighter aircraft was on hold during Israel's election campaign, but it will spark vigorous congressional debate about the Middle East military balance. What may mean more, however, is that the U.S. may be too hard-up to say no.