When Saddam Hussein stormed into Kuwait, he brought an arsenal unsuited to a Third World country, especially one that had just broken the bank in an eight-year war with its neighbor. In the words of Batman's nemesis, the Joker, "Where does he get those toys?"
The world weapons market is such that if a despot like Saddam needs toys of destruction, he can easily get them, even if he is a hot-tempered bully without a friend in the world.
During the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet Union regularly supplied Iraq with arms, as did France. Beyond that, Saddam kept the source of his cache to himself. In fact, the third largest supplier of weapons to Iraq has been Brazil, which picks its customers about as wisely as Saddam uses the merchandise.
In the past, Brazilian arms dealers have sold to Libya, China, Honduras, Saudi Arabia and just about anyone with a hankering to join the arms race.
Brazil has refused to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons. Two years ago, we reported that Brazil had its own healthy nuclear research program.
Since 1988, when Iraqi debts piled up and some of its weapons bills to Brazil went unpaid, the Brazilian government stopped sanctioning arms sales to Saddam. In reality, Brazilian weapons experts, including some government employees, who were doing development work for Iraq, simply moved to Baghdad to continue their tasks. They are working on the Piranha missile system, similar to the Sidewinder missile.
The team of scientists is headed by the former director of the Brazilian military research group called Aerospace Technical Center, or CTA. Other members of the group came from the big Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, Embraer, according to Brazilian press reports and diplomatic sources.
The combination sets off alarms in the U.S. government. Iraq is in the market for computer technology for its weapons systems, and IBM is negotiating the sale of supercomputer technology to none other than Embraer. Iraq has on its payroll alumni from one company, Embraer, with access to state-of-the-art supercomputer technology, and a government agency, CTA, which has proved it can launch a rocket.
Experts from the Defense, Commerce and State departments have put their heads together to decide whether IBM should get an export license to sell supercomputer technology to Embraer. The discussion has already passed the point of justifying the sale and is now in a second phase to assure the technology does not fall into the wrong hands once it gets to Brazil.
IBM officials told our reporter Paul Zimmerman that they were simply responding to a request for technology from a reputable aircraft company, Embraer. The responsibility for deciding whether that's a bad idea falls on the U.S. government, which has to approve the export license.
Despite the invasion of Kuwait, negotiations for the sale of the supercomputer technology have not been interrupted. U.S. officials involved in the talks say the relationship between Embraer, CTA and Iraq has been blown out of proportion and that Embraer is a "world-class company."