Illicit Cross Border Flows (especially SALWs) as Threats to International Peace and Security

25 Apr

The Security Council, under the presidency of the United States, held an open debate on “Threats to International Peace and Security” on Wednesday, 25 April. Ambassador Susan Rice of the US provided a concept paper prior to the debate. The focus of discussions was on illicit cross-border movements, including trafficking in persons, drugs, weaponry, technology, and other commodities, that constitute threats to international peace and security. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the debate with a statement reiterating his support for the Council’s attention on this issue noting that member states are obliged under international law to secure their borders as well as build the capacity of states that require assistance to do so. Moreover, the Secretary-General rightly stated that border strengthening cannot be done in isolation, but must be a verifiable part of all national and public institutions that deliver sustained security. In a world of increasing globalization and border porosity, this task becomes ever more critical.

Member states, in cooperation with their regional partners as well as the appropriate elements of the multilateral fora, must develop comprehensive and coordinated responses to the causes and harmful byproducts of illicit flows. Illicit flows can constitute anything from illegal narcotics trafficking, illicit arms transfers, money laundering systems, and nuclear, chemical, radiological, and other deadly substance transfers that are often critical components (and financing mechanisms) of terrorist regimes. Indonesia’s representative underscored the danger of terrorist networks exploiting gaps in border security, while France’s delegation referred to the illicit transfer of weapons of mass destruction technology as a direct threat to peace and security. The Russian delegate expressed concern over the network of Somali pirates that has seized on the lack of border control in the region freely transferring sophisticated weaponry and illegal money. The Secretary-General promised a comprehensive assessment report to be released in 6-months in order to assist member states in their battle against illicit flows. The delegate of the European Union referred to it as a “diagnostic assessment” by the UN secretariat to focus national efforts.

Before discussion on substantive issues of cooperation in securing borders or capacity-building to prevent cross-border terrorist activities, the principle that illicit flows across borders can constitute a threat to international peace and security and, therefore, fall under the mandate of the Security Council, was debated by member states. Guatemala’s delegation noted that not all illicit cross-border activities reach the threshold of “threats to international peace and security,” and, therefore, would not fall under the Security Council’s purview. Likewise, the Pakistani delegation noted that the Council must remain in strict compliance with its mandate and that all illicit activities cannot be lumped into a single category, but rather, be treated under the appropriate treaty obligations and other legal frameworks provided for under various UN organs, agencies, and affiliates, which are not necessarily found in the work of the Security Council. India’s delegation agreed that the Security Council should only intervene when illicit flows clearly demonstrate a threat to international peace and security or imposed sanction regimes. The Cuban delegate stated that discussion of illicit trafficking is not an appropriate action for the Security Council, but rather, falls under the coordinated efforts of the General Assembly, where there is universal participation, and other relevant international treaties. The United Kingdom delegation also warned against restricting the flow of goods so much so that the global economy is not given space to develop. Ambassador Wittig of Germany agreed that interconnectedness should not be seen as a threat.

Who has control over border security and the level at which member states should cooperate were issues in focus during the debate. Delegations such as Pakistan, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Azerbaijan and China made clear that securing borders is a sovereign right of all nations and falls under national authority. The delegations of Morocco, Togo, and Germany emphasized coordinated responses among member states to tackle the complex chain of agencies and responsible entities tasked with securing borders and eradicating illicit and threatening flows.  The Togolese delegate went so far as to state that border zones “go beyond the sovereignty of states.” The Japanese delegation underscored the need for coordination among the many multilateral frameworks available for combating such illicit flows—the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the 1540 Committee, relevant sanctions committees, Interpol, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  On a national level, cooperation is required among the officials of customs, immigration, and law enforcement. The German delegation noted the role of peacekeeping operations and UN police in enhancing capacities against illicit trafficking at early stages of reconstruction.

Outside of the Security Council there are indeed mechanisms for dealing with one of the most pressing issues related to cross-border illegal trafficking: arms (most especially small arms and light weapons [SALWs]. Australia’s delegate referred directly to the role of the Programme of Action on small arms (UNPoA) as well as the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in combating these illegal movements. Australia’s delegation noted that although the UNPoA is a political agreement, it should be utilized as a platform for technical assistance in preventing, combating, and eradicating the illicit trade in SALWs. Likewise, the Australians underscored the critical importance of negotiating a robust ATT that includes SALWs and ammunition in July of this year.

As is oftentimes noted by those advocates pushing for a strong humanitarian instrument in the ATT, there are more controls for regulating the trade in bananas than arms. The proliferation of illicit arms funneled across borders indubitably contributes to instability, violence, and insecurity on a local, regional, and international level. Illicit arms are one of the most pervasive threats to a dependable security sector, and illegally diverted arms from the legal market contribute to vast quantities of violence, lawlessness, and conflict. Smalls arms and illegally diverted arms can pose a major cause of concern for international peace and security and require a multi-faceted, international response through multiple points of entry. As such, we encourage the Security Council, under its mandate to protect international peace and security, as well as the already-existing processes (such as the UNPoA and the forthcoming ATT) to robustly and comprehensively address this blight.

–Katherine Prizeman

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