Foreign Policy Blogs

Interpreting Alliances and Arms Sales

Yesterday, President Hugo Chávez continued his travels overseas, spending the day in Russia. During his time there he announced that Venezuela will recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. A brief war with between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 led to the separation of these two regions. More information is available in today’s NYT article, “Chávez Backs Moscow on Rebel Regions”.

This serves as further evidence that Chávez is drawn to countries who in some way or another oppose the United States and might counter its authority. These nations include, for example, Libya, Iran, and Belarus. The Venezuelan president also hopes to reduce US influence in Latin America, but by building a strong relationship with Russia is he just replacing one foreign power with another?

This alliance with Moscow is also based on the procurement of weapons, as “Russia and Venezuela have in recent years signed agreements worth over $4 billion for deliveries of fighter jets, helicopters, automatic weapons, among other systems.”

Will this lead to an arms race in South America? An MSNBC article describes this distinct possibility. In 2008, weapons purchases on the continent rose 30% over the previous year, to a total of $51 billion. Despite new purchases, however, Venezuela dedicates a lower percentage of its GDP (5.2%), to defense spending than its neighbors, Colombia (9.3%) and Ecuador (10.7%).

And how does the United States compare? The US remains far and away the largest arms distributor in the world. Last year it sold $37.8 billion worth of hardware, making up 68.4% of global sales. If one considers the political stance of the weapons recipient, it might be possible to critique Russian support for an increasingly autocratic Venezuelan regime. On the other hand, who were some of the largest arms-purchasers from the United States? They include Saudi Arabia, India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Brazil, Iraq, South Korea and Morocco. Not all of these nations are known for their political openness.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.