Conversion of arms industries in Central Europe

by Steven W. Popper

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This paper discusses the problems associated with converting the arms industries of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland to civilian production and the potential role for the West in assisting in the process. Arms production in Czechoslovakia has been located largely in the region of Slovakia, home to one-third of the Czech population. Sixteen percent of Slovakia's industrial work force is in the arms industry. This is a potent political problem for reduction and conversion planners--one exacerbated by intense political conflict between Czech and Slovak governments and by Slovak nationalism. While Poland and Hungary also possess arms industries, the issues of reduction and conversion are unlikely to prove as awkward as in the case of Czechoslovakia. There is a role for Western government assistance in the conversion process. A consistent package of relatively small-scale initiatives could help to restructure local economic institutions and provide an attractive environment for private commercial initiatives. With the shrinking arms market offering little economic relief to troubled Central Europe, the United States should assist these governments in turning away from the production of such goods without allowing itself to be put in the position of compensating Central Europe for lost arms export revenues.

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