Just as the end of the Cold War has forced a major policy review of international and regional security objectives, a major re-evaluation of U.S. arms transfer and export control policy is also underway. Much of U.S. arms transfer policy over the past four decades revolved around helping to arm friendly countries whose neighbors were within the Soviet sphere of influence. This policy sometimes resulted in arming one faction in a civil war against another. In cases ranging from Vietnam to Nicaragua and Angola, the U.S. simply armed whichever side lacked a Soviet sponsor.
Export control policy is also in transition, but at a slower rate than the market that it attempts to regulate. In this unruly world, with regional animosities and ethnic rivalries reasserting themselves, there are also more arms exporting countries, thus complicating efforts by supplier countries to control arms sales.
Some argue that it is now appropriate for arms producing countries, on moral grounds, to sharply reduce their participation in the arms market. However, in the major arms exporting countries (the U.S., Europe, and Russia), the more pressing issue is the growing tension between, on the one hand, the imperative to avoid contributing to regional arms races and arming people who might turn out to be adversaries in the future, and, on the other hand, the desire to help friendly countries defend themselves, as well as to retain high quality jobs, maintain a defense industrial base, and hold down unit costs of systems procured for one's own military.