Arms Aid to Fragile States Can Backfire

Global Geopolitics & Political Economy / IDN

By Eva Weiler | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

STOCKHOLM (IDN) – The need for security forces in a fragile state to be adequately trained and equipped is recognized as a precondition for stability and development. However, supplying arms to security forces in fragile states can contribute to armed conflict and instability, warns a new report by the eminent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

"The risks associated with supplying arms and ammunition to fragile states include the risk that the arms will be diverted to actors seeking to undermine stabilization efforts; the risk that the arms will contribute to the renewal or intensification of armed conflict; and the risk of corruption in the transaction," argues the study Transfers Of Small Arms and Light Weapons to Fragile States: Strengthening Oversight And Control.

The report notes that a number of European Union, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) states have undertaken risk mitigation measures, sometimes in cooperation with recipients as part of security sector reform (SSR) programmes.

These measures include supporting multilateral notification systems for arms transfers; increasing control and oversight of the delivery of arms and ammunition; ensuring good standards for stockpile management, marking on import and surplus destruction; and improving the recipient states’ standards in arms procurement.

But the challenge for the international community is to ensure that fragile states receive the arms that they require, while limiting the negative impacts on conflict dynamics, stabilization efforts and governance, cautions the report co-authored by Mark Bromley, Lawrence Dermody, Hugh Griffiths, Paul Holtom and Michael Jenks.

The paper focuses on international transfers of conventional arms supplied to the national security forces of eight fragile states in the period 2002-12: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia and South Sudan. While many of these states were affected by armed conflict during this period, this factor did not determine their inclusion in this study, authors of the report say.

Although Afghanistan and Iraq are the most notable examples of the risks associated with the supply of arms and ammunition to nascent security forces in fragile states, similar issues have been highlighted in the six other states. The paper identifies lessons learned from these cases for application in ongoing and future efforts to support security forces in fragile states such as Libya and Mali.

The study further outlines the risks entailed in supplying arms and ammunition to fragile states, using examples from the eight case study countries. In many of the examples, member states of the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or the Organisation for Economic Co operation and Development were providing financial and technical support for SSR programmes at the time the arms transfers took place, finds the report.

"However, EU, NATO and OECD states are often unable to directly supply equipment due to constraints imposed by their national laws and regulations or their lack of appropriate materiel. As a result, the supply of arms, ammunition and military equipment is often carried out by states that pay less attention to the risks of diversion or misuse and are therefore more ready to issue an export licence. In other cases, the problems associated with accessing and delivering materiel has meant that transfers can involve private suppliers, brokers or transport providers that have also been involved in transfers to embargoed destinations," says the report. It explains that those EU, NATO and OECD states that do supply arms and ammunition to security forces in fragile states also take measures to mitigate risks.

Risk mitigation

The authors also examine risk-mitigation measures that have been used in several of the eight cases studied, noting their strengths and weaknesses, and consider ways to build on lessons learned.

Overcoming the legacies of conflict while providing equipment and training for national security forces was a common challenge found in all the fragile states examined in the study. "There were also evident dilemmas of choosing when to deliver arms and ammunition to nascent security forces so as not to contribute directly to conflict dynamics, and of avoiding providing items that risk being misused or diverted after delivery," notes the report.

For each arms transfer, an overarching question was whether it would contribute to or threaten security. If states that are providing military equipment, training or other forms of support for a fragile state’s security sector have troops on the ground in the fragile state, these troops can provide oversight and perhaps control over the delivery and subsequent use of the arms.

However, the study confesses that in many cases such close oversight of the delivery process is neither practically feasible nor politically desirable. It therefore says: "For states that are interested in assisting the stabilization processes in fragile states, and can therefore also be considered to be potential suppliers of arms and ammunition, finding ways to limit the risk that a transfer will contribute to conflict, instability or poor governance is paramount."

This entails making difficult decisions to meet urgent needs and requires access to reliable and up-to-date information when making risk assessments and confidence that the right elements are contained in the procedures for making such assessments.

Steps that can be taken to mitigate risks of misuse or diversion after delivery include: (a) training programmes; (b) clauses in delivery agreements imposing conditions on storage or the supplier directly providing assistance in safe storage; (c) clauses in delivery agreements requiring destruction of surpluses; and (d) assistance in calculating the quantities of arms and ammunition that should be delivered relative to the recipient’s legitimate security needs.

Most of the examples presented in the report highlight the need for multilateral measures on the supply side to minimize the risk that arms transfers will contribute to conflict, instability and poor governance. The notification system connected with certain UN arms embargoes and the sharing of information by some major arms suppliers via the Wassenaar Arrangement are two existing examples.

However, these practices could be strengthened for states that are recognized as having high risks of conflict or instability. But such an approach impinges on the national sovereignty of the recipient state and so is sensitive, as shown by the responses of sections of the governments of the DRC and Somalia to the UN arms embargo notification system.

"Therefore, where possible, suppliers should consider not only sharing information among themselves but also consulting with fragile states to exchange information on recipient holdings, storage conditions and needs. Information on export licences granted and denied, shipments made and, where applicable, brokering and transit could be exchanged between suppliers and between suppliers and recipients in a timely manner for high-risk cases," urges the study.

It adds: Steps could also be taken to strengthen and implement nascent recipient state information-exchange mechanisms, particularly those attached to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on Small arms and light weapons (SALW) and the Kinshasa Convention. Although particularly sensitive, sharing information on watch lists of brokers and transport providers could also help limit diversion risks. Providing assistance on such issues to recipient states could also help to eliminate some of the concerns identified above, argues the report. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 4, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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