With the Cold War winding down, regional conflicts that once were viewed almost exclusively in the context of the East-West competition have lost their geo-political significance. As a result, for the first time in a generation the prospect of peace now beckons in the countries of the Third World, where civil strife has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives over the last two decades.
The accord between Angolan rebels and that country's Marxist government, and the U.S.-brokered entry of rebels into the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa after the collapse of the military government there are but two examples of how quickly ancient conflicts can collapse once the big powers withdraw support.
Since arms sales by the five principal arms-exporting nations -- the United States, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union -- have fueled the carnage in the Third World, there is reason to hope that agreement among them to limit such sales will have a dramatic effect on reducing the level of hostilities. Although flawed in important respects, President Bush's plan to limit conventional weapons sales to the Middle East is a step toward that goal. The French have weighed in with a similar proposal that would apply to nations outside the Middle East as well.
A cruel irony has been that the proxy wars waged in the Third World have done little to advance the fortunes of either side in the Cold War, while devastating the impoverished nations. An agreement by the arms-producing countries to limit exports to the Third World is the first requirement for rescuing these nations from two decades of ideologically inspired destruction.