‘With Friends Like These…’: Misguided Rewards For Moscow’s Ambiguous Role In Iraq

At his press conference yesterday, President Bush reiterated his pleasure and underscored the United States’ gratitude for what he and other Administration spokesmen see as the constructive role being played by the Soviet Union in the Iraq crisis. This perception has evidently given fresh impetus to Bush initiatives aimed at aiding Moscow.

Two such initiatives are particularly noteworthy: (1) the decision to provide substantial U.S. technological and financial support to the USSR’s efforts to exploit currently inaccessible energy resources; and (2) the elimination of restraints on the number of Soviet "businessmen" permitted to be in the United States at any given moment. The Center for Security Policy believes that both of these actions call into question the Bush Administration’s strategic vision toward Moscow — especially since the actual record concerning Soviet behavior in the Middle East crisis is significantly less constructive than has been suggested.

"Deputy Energy Secretary Henson Moore and others in the Bush Administration bent on increasing the Soviet percentage of world oil and natural gas sales appear not to have considered the serious downside risks associated with doing so," Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., the Center’s director, said today. "Beyond the inadvisability of selling the USSR militarily relevant oil exploration and recovery technologies (for example, deep sea sonars, sophisticated seismic equipment and high-speed drill bits), there is the larger question: Do we wish to contribute to Soviet energy leverage in light of Gorbachev’s demonstrated willingness to use it for political purposes in Lithuania and Eastern Europe?"

Ken De Graffenreid, a member of the Center’s Board of Advisors and former Senior Director for Intelligence Affairs on the National Security Council staff, noted, "The decision to allow unlimited numbers of Soviets to operate in the United States on the grounds that such a presence will facilitate the growth of U.S.-USSR business relations is most ill-advised. It is common knowledge in intelligence circles that Moscow is aggressively exploiting opportunities for penetration, espionage and recruitment afforded by the West’s new openness."

De Graffenreid added, "Removing the constraint on the size of the Soviet workforce available to engage in intelligence activities in the United States can only exacerbate that situation. U.S. counterintelligence resources are already being overwhelmed by the multitude of Soviet espionage activities. In fact, this decision amounts to a license to steal for Moscow."

The Center for Security Policy takes little comfort from the President’s pledge to review and, if necessary, suspend this arrangement concerning Soviet "business-men" in the event the Soviet Union abuses it for intelligence purposes. Such abuses are not only predictable; they are already occurring! Worse yet, by agreeing to proceed down this road, the Administration is signaling that it is indifferent to the espionage risks entailed, virtually assuring that any future review of this matter will be skewed to trivialize such dangers and to validate the new policy.

The Center regards these Bush Administration initiatives as all the more unwarranted in light of the fact that the Soviet Union’s performance in connection with the Iraqi crisis has been considerably less exemplary than the U.S. government has suggested publicly. Indeed, despite the U.N. sanctions against Iraq — for which the USSR voted in the Security Council — and the Soviets’ much-ballyhooed arms embargo, the fact is that Soviet military and intelligence cooperation with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein is continuing.

According to a report in the 12 August edition of the Los Angeles Times, Soviet military advisors are providing "significant" assistance to the Iraqi government, a matter that has become a source of "behind-the-scenes friction" between Moscow and Washington. Krasnaya Zvezda, the daily publication of the Soviet Defense Ministry, reported last week that a "small group" of Soviet military specialists remain in Iraq "to complete intergovernmental agreements."(1) These cooperative arrangements typically include:

  • the servicing and maintenance of Soviet-supplied fighter aircraft (e.g., MiG-29s) and other sophisticated weapons systems;
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  • assistance in the construction and operation of a comprehensive air defense network, in particular surface-to-air missile deployments (against which American pilots would have to fly in the event of war with Iraq);
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  • providing software and guidance systems for surface-to-surface missiles (including the enhanced range "Scud-B" system judged capable of attacking targets as far away as Israel with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons); and
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  • strategic planning for military operations (possibly including the invasion of Kuwait) and assistance in optimizing the battlefield performance of client forces.

 

The Center believes that such activities are clearly inconsistent with Moscow’s putative role as a "team player" in the Iraqi crisis. Combined with the fact that the Soviet Union is already profiting handsomely in the current crisis in terms of energy and gold related earnings, Moscow’s apparent determination to preserve intimate ties with Iraq should — at the very least — temper the Bush Administration’s desire to reward the USSR with accelerated Western capital flows, energy-related assistance, and full membership in key international organizations. This common sense proposition is all the more true if, as the Center contends, such initiatives are themselves contrary to Western interests.

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1. This number is smaller than it was until recently insofar as, according to a UPI report on 12 August 1990, Iraq is allowing some 7,830 Soviet citizens in Iraq and 880 Soviets in Kuwait to leave via the Jordanian border — in stark contrast to the de facto incarceration of Western citizens, now dubbed "restrictees," in Iraq and Kuwait.

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