Archive | June, 2014

Without a Trace:   Eliminating the Danger of Unmarked Weapons

27 Jun

Editor’s Note:   GAPW is pleased to welcome our latest intern from West Point, Cadet Keith Miller.   Keith has joined us for several important UN events, including the recently concluded Biennial Meeting of States on Small Arms.  In this his first post, Keith explores options for secure, durable tracing of small arms and light weapons. 

In the wake of the consensus on the outcome document of the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States on Small Arms (BMS), I found myself digging deeper into the actual mechanisms proposed by the focus of the BMS, the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA), specifically the International Tracing Instrument (ITI).  It requires that “all marks required under this instrument are on an exposed surface, conspicuous without technical aids or tools, easily recognizable, easily recognizable, durable, and, as far as technically possible, recoverable”.  The main form of identification recommended within the ITI is a numeric or alphanumeric serial number, combined with some form of other geometric symbol, stamped into a component of the weapon.  This post will explore the viability of such an identification system using the guidelines established by the ITI.

The ability to trace illicit small arms and light weapons sales is a key component of the eventual elimination. When a cache of illicit weapons is discovered, there are usually no records as to how the weapons were procured.  However, if there is a universal system by which weapons can be traced, then forensic analysts can use that system to begin piecing together the history of the weapon, tracing it from its manufacture, through multiple legitimate sales and transports, until the weapon eventually vanishes from legal records and enters the illicit arms trade.  From there, investigators can begin determining the events that led to the loss or diversion of the weapon. This search can then lead to the arrest and prosecution of those involved in the illicit sale of arms and in time the elimination of the global trade in illicit weapons.

I began by exploring what I thought was a TV myth concerning the durability of an imprinted serial number.  (According to some popular American crime dramas, an enterprising criminal could remove a weapon’s serial numbers to hinder the progress of investigators.)  In searching for alternatives, I discovered several discussion pages focused on potential ways to remove weapon serial numbers, as well as some ways that a serial number, once removed, might be recovered.  However, the number of techniques that are available, especially to well funded transnational crime organizations and other violent non state actors, could easily overcome the ability to recover stamped serial numbers, invalidating them as a suitable tracking instrument according to the guidelines laid out in the ITI, since they lack true durability and recoverability.

An alternative to serial numbers is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking.  In this method of weapons tracing, a small chip implanted in the body of the weapon emits a specific radio frequency which can be linked to all records concerning the weapon in question, including date of manufacture, previous owners, sale dates, and other relevant information.  This quick access to in depth information would be of great use to forensic investigators attempting to learn more about the history of illegally obtained weapons.  It can also be used to ensure physical security for armories and other weapon storage facilities.  Such a system was implemented by the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security in 2010, which allows both weapons and personnel to be automatically recorded when moving in and out of an armory, as well as restrict unauthorized access to and removal of weapons.  This system could certainly meet concerns posed in the BMS concerning physical security of weapons stockpiles.  However, an RFID chip based system does not meet the ITI’s guideline regarding any markings being conspicuous with the use of specialized tools, since tracing the chips will require the use of detectors scanning for the required frequencies.

Additionally, there are two issues that arise which may compromise an RFID based system of tracing.  The first is the potential for the RFID chip to be removed.  Depending on its location within the weapon, it could be possible for criminals and terrorists to remove these chips while maintaining the functionality of the weapon, therefore preventing the retrieval of any information regarding the weapon.  This possibility threatens both the durability and recoverability requirements put forward by the ITI.  Another threat to an RFID based system is the possibility of cloning an RFID chip.  By following online instructional videos or using open source products already available, it is possible to detect and copy the frequency being emitted by different RFID chips.  This technology could then be used to change the frequency of an illegally diverted weapon to match the RFID signature of a legal weapon, thereby making proper identification and forensic analysis incredibly difficult.  These possible issues severely limit the ability of RFID chip based systems to meet the ITI’s desire for both durability and recoverability.

A third and slightly less orthodox method of weapons tracing can be derived from analyzing the radiation given off during the decay of radioactive isotopes.  As different isotopes decay, they emit gamma rays of a very specific type.  This radiation can then be detected using fairly simple equipment, analyzed, and paired with its source isotope.  In a global weapons tracing system, each nation that produces arms would be assigned a specific isotope, which has its own specific radiation signature.  All weapons produced would be inculcated with trace amounts of the radioactive isotope assigned to the country in which they are being produced. While detectable, the radiation would likely not have any observable effects on humans, given the limited amount or radiation actually being emitted.  The distinct radiation signatures would allow forensic analysts to determine at a minimum the country of origin of the weapon. While this does not provide nearly as much information on individual weapons as a serial number or RFID based tracing system, it is much less prone to tampering.   Certain isotopes can remain detectable for several thousand years, allowing for the continued tracing of weapons long after their initial manufacture and sale.  Additionally, there is no readily available way to distort or remove this radiation signature, which fulfills the ITI’s desire for durability and removes any real need for a recovery mechanism.  This method of tracing could also be applied to the tracing of ammunition.  The lack of reference to the future tracing and control of ammunition in the outcome document of the BMS was a major concern for many of the countries in attendance.  Ammunition is also not covered in the ITI.  However, by adding these trace amounts of radioactive material to the ammunition, it would be possible to determine country of origin, which could be valuable in any future attempts to root out and stop weapons traffickers.

However, using radiation signatures has its own drawbacks.  Firstly, it cannot provide as much detailed information as a serial number or RFID based tracing system.  The only definitive information that can be drawn from the radiation signature would be the country of manufacture, which, while useful, cannot provide an accurate history of the weapon.  Additionally, a radiation based system does not meet the ITI’s requirement that the system be conspicuous without technical aids or tools.  There could also be an issue with the public perception of irradiating weapons and ammunition, due to the negative stigma associated with the term “radioactive”.  Although there is very little chance of any effects from such a tracing system, it may require a degree of public education in order to pass legislation in various countries in order to globally implement such a system.

In sum, no one system that has been discussed in this article completely fulfills the requirements established by the ITI.  Imprinted serial numbers, while easily visible and individualized, can be easily removed with the correct equipment. RFID based systems can provide additional security capabilities in weapons storage and quick access to record, but RFID chips can also be hacked or duplicated in order to prevent proper identification.  Lastly, radiation signatures do not provide nearly as much information as the other tracing systems, but they are much more resistant to tampering by weapons traffickers.  Radiation signatures also have the potential to allow for the tracing of ammunition.  It is likely that some combination of these different systems could be used to create a comprehensive tracing instrument which would be of great value in the fight to eliminate the global illicit weapons trade.

Cadet Keith Miller, West Point

No Water, No Peace

24 Jun

Editor’s Note:  Sulekha Prasad comes to us from Rutgers University with extensive experience in gender and development issues.  She has been following post-2015 development priorities at the UN, notably the intersections of food, water and human security. 

At the recent UN event “Civil society perspectives on the Post-2015 agenda” organized by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the European Union representative asserted that “[development] goals need to be universal and no longer the goals meant for the developing world.” While precise objectives and means of universal attainment regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remain elusive, accountability for those goals remains of paramount importance. How can UN member states ensure that the most effective, measured actions are taken to eliminate on a global scale inequality of access to poverty reduction measures and resources such as water while protecting the environment?

We learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the need for holistic responses to cross cutting and inter-linked goals is imperative, but this insight has been unevenly applied with the SDGs. For example, proposed SDG Goal 6, “Secure water and sanitation for all for a sustainable world,” lacks a standard of measurement, which makes accountability for that standard challenging. Currently, the right to water gives a private ‘holder’ legal permission to use water for any number of purposes including, but not limited to, agriculture, storage, sale, hydroelectric power, or treatment plants. Holders currently reserve the right to retain and use water for private purposes as much as the law permits. In response to this seemingly unaccountable model that limits access, UN member states proposed SDG Goal 6.3, to improve water quality by significantly reducing pollution, eliminating dumping of toxic materials, and improving wastewater management as well as recycling and reuse. While this attempt at measurement is a sensible response to the urgent need for responsible usage of a precious resource, it does not provide accountable restrictions on current ‘holders’ mainly due to the frameworks heavy reliance on what some social scientists call “measuring the immeasurable.”

When the human rights community and member states discuss the right to water, the conversation shifts between a civilian’s right to water access and the rights of a “legal holder.” According to human rights advocates, there is a lack of accountability protecting citizen’s rights to water access over and against private rights to water control. There is also the challenge of trying to ‘measure’ a resource that is challenging to measure: assessing both water quantity and quality from ground water and other sources remains a formidable challenge to SDG 6 and other SDGs dependent on water security.

Available evidence substantiates the claim that water access is heavily politicized and yet tied invariably to economic, social and environmental well-being. Indeed, the discourse and trajectory of water rights carries with it the threat of further compromising local, state, and international security. In 2000, Hazarajat, Afghanistan experienced violent conflicts over drought-depleted local resources. In the same year locals of Cochabamba, Bolivia experienced extreme violence and conflict over the privatization of their water supply. In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, local farmers engage and experience conflict and violence over water access, while private ownership of the Cauvery (Kaveri) River between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu continues to result in daily clashes. Moreover, India’s 37.7 million annual deaths is in part a direct consequence of water borne diseases. On another continent, Darfur, Sudan experienced 400,000 deaths in part over diminishing water supplies and access to other resources.

Water-related resolutions that define and guide access may be one of the most strategic ways that the UN and member states can effectively prevent future conflict and even war that have water scarcity at their origins.  The possibility of fair and accountable sharing of water resources both locally and internationally could be used as a spring board for launching other ways of ensuring peace and security when scarcity threatens.

Solutions to developmental problems cannot always be measurable, but they can be made accountable. There is no denying that there are proven techniques that help state officials mange water supplies, but they do not adequately address rapid urbanization, the legal state of water rights, and difficult to measure ground water sources. In addition they do not adequately acknowledge threats to communities caused by over-reliance on measure such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the thematic concerns of Human Development Measurement Index (HDMI). Excessive fidelity to such measures may have caused considerable damage to peace, security and governance, and thus it is imperative that we develop more fair, effective, and accountable means to ensure access to water and other key resources.

One possible solution may be to seek and install more accountable leadership; leaders who do more than keep an ear to the ground, but daily, practice self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, and empathy for the needs of families and communities for social, economic and environmental progress. Another aspect to this solution would be to communicate individually with women in local communities to assess the extent to which a particular water-focused resolution would be effective in their respective areas. Lastly, an increase in women-led initiatives and women’s political participation with power to create and implement measures for effective water policies might go far to providing the water security we all seek.

In an era characterized by a lack of climate health and increased pollution of existing waterways, access to water is a growing global concern with grave implications for human security.   If we want to keep the peace for coming generations, access to fresh, clean water is indispensable.

Sulekha Prasad, GAPW

Text Message: The BMS Draws to a Close

23 Jun

Editor’s Note:   This essay was one of GAPW’s contributions to the Small Arms Monitor organized by Reaching Critical Will. Access to all essays and all monitors is available at:

Thanks to determined leadership by Ambassador Tanin (Afghanistan) and the Bureau of the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS), as well as the willingness of states to ‘walk away’ from some Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA)-related policies dear to their hearts, consensus on a BMS outcome document was reached at around 5PM last Friday.

While we tend not to regard textual consensus as major feature inspiring implementation of PoA objectives, it was nevertheless heartening to see this fine group of diplomats come away with an outcome worthy of applause.  As GAPW has noted from the beginning, as much as diplomats seem to enjoy wrestling with and negotiating text, the purposes of the PoA are likely to be better served through an examination of successfully multi-lateral efforts already undertaken within the key activity frameworks endorsed by the PoA.  As Qatar seemed to imply on behalf of the Arab Group, the consensus sought at this BMS is as much about the value of the PoA itself as about the specifics in the outcome document. Such a document has uses as a window on state priorities, but it is unlikely in itself to force serious reassessment of or increase levels of commitment to PoA implementation.  That motivation will come from elsewhere.

Sometimes what is not said in these documents is more important that what is said.  Australia, CARICOM and others noted issues that were neglected, or omitted altogether – Security Council resolutions, security sector reform, the role of UNSCAR, border-related issues, and of perhaps greatest concern, ammunition.  In addition, there were also closing statements by Israel, Canada, the US and the EU distancing each from language linking self-determination and actions to eliminate small arms.

Nevertheless, the ‘good mood’ largely persisted in the room during the course of the week, in some cases through long meetings that challenged diplomats and civil society to forsake World Cup matches. This was both satisfying and a credit to BMS leadership, including the widely-praised Anthony Simpson.  As Venezuela noted with pleasure, ‘there is still a disarmament process which can still achieve consensus.’  Indeed, this might be the single most powerful message that this BMS sends out to a weapons-weary world.

Clearly, with or without this text, the PoA seemed destined to move forward.   States and civil society will continue to identify small arms-related security problems.   Capacity support will be solicited and offered.   We will continue to seek technology for marking, tracing and physical security of stockpiles that can stay one step ahead of those who seek to undermine its benefits.  We will continue to highlight PoA norms and face squarely the challenges (noted by Egypt, Indonesia and others) of implementation based on national and regional priorities.

And we will continue to count victims of needless gun violence; victims of small arms trafficking, of unrestricted flows of mostly second hand weapons, of arms manufacturers pushing weapons like dealers push heroin, of rabid gun lobby groups who refuse to acknowledge, as my late, gun-using father once said to his then gun-possessing sons, that gun rights are at best a relatively minor part of the myriad rights and responsibilities that make up a great country.

What this BMS made clear is that, as welcome as consensus on text is, there is only so much momentum that text alone can build.   The real momentum, the real hope for the victimized and the fearful, is in the many stories of success that the PoA has leveraged; the borders that are more secure, the streets that are safer, the gang members and insurgents who have been disarmed, the illicit ordinance that has been sent up in flames.

China warned on Friday that there is so much further we need to travel to remove the scourge of weapons-related violence.   It is through stories of progress as much as through textual norms from which the impetus to continue on this challenging and life-saving journey will come.

Dr. Robert Zuber


Extremism and Terrorism Response – Tools that Need Sharpening

22 Jun

Over this past week there have been a number of UN events aimed at reviewing global policy towards eliminating terrorism.  Obviously traditional approaches such the role of the intelligence community and state based military responses are key component of this discussion. Also of interest however were suggestions for a range of tools that can be used as complimentary measures for dealing with terrorism. These approaches seem to have the advantage of supporting good governance without losing focus on terrorism. In addition, these tools can help successfully address terror threats without strengthening military and intelligence capacities in countries where these institutions are not accountable or are actually a threat to democratic development.

Two themes that came to the fore were how the criminal justice system can be used in combating terrorism and how development and engagement strategies can help mitigate extremist rhetoric.

The latter topic was examined by the missions of Burkina Faso and Denmark as well as the Global Centre for Co-Operation, with a special focus on West African countries and the Sahel.  The meeting focused on the need for multilateral, multi-scale approaches that would help take more conventional development aid programs and orient them toward combating extremism. A key part of this effort, it was argued, was directing more resources towards women and youth. These groups were deemed particularly vulnerable to radical ideology and are target groups for recruitment. Suggested examples for these sectors include skills training, cultural activities and sports programs.

Beyond normal development aid it is also possible to create new programs that help to counter extremist rhetoric. Examples noted include implementation of inter-faith events, cultural exchanges, more creative use of local radio, and de-radicalisation programs in prisons. These initiatives all serve very specific policy ends and can be funded from within current aid packages although further negotiation is needed to increase the range and effectiveness of these programs.

Development itself is not a magic bullet for dealing with extremism, but must be complemented elsewhere. Civil society groups attending the session pointed to how early warning systems are being used effectively to monitor and assess the ‘temperature’ of political rhetoric.  One particular areas of concern:  Calls for the suspension of “terms limits” for government leaders in West Africa and the Sahel, they warned, are creating significant political instability and swelling the potential for increased extremism.

Another UN session organized by the Pakistani Mission explored judicial-legal contributions to countering terrorism. Institutions associated with law and courts are not always seen as useful in preventing terrorism, but rather as a reactive tool to investigate and prosecute once terrorist acts have been committed. This session showed ways that legal systems can be used within a broader policy framework to prevent terror incidents in the first place. One innovation highlighted methods to help encourage more effective communication between intelligence agencies and civil authorities, for instance in building frameworks to ensure inter-agency information privacy and processes to ensure that integrity of evidence. Unregulated, these systems tend to hinder effective joint action among diverse government agencies. Better co-operation can more effectively address some of the unsavory activities that enable terrorism, such as money laundering.

Also stressed was the need for trustworthy, transparent, accountable police services. One positive example cited was in Afghanistan where police engagement with communities regarding less serious security threats (such as traffic safety) has helped build the trusting relationships needed to counter larger threats, including terrorism.

Training was also cited as being very important for the criminal justice system as a whole. Potential avenues for innovation include the need for judges to understand the international law implications of their decisions; the police to have a more robust engagement with regard to the human rights aspects of their work; education focused on how to conduct safe, lawful surveillance; and the importance of assisting women to find their rightful places within the still male-dominated security sector.

None of this precludes the importance of traditional military-intelligence requirements for the combating of terrorism. The approaches outlined above however help prevent the overuse of more traditional solutions — the proverbial “hammer” that creates a “nail” out of every aspect of terrorism prevention.  Given more political will, innovative thinking, clever legal craft and some spin on traditional development activities, counter-terrorism and extremism measures can be improved without undermining measures to ensure more effective governance.

Benji Shulman, GAPW

The UN and the Rights of the Palestinians – A need for more balanced, cohesive communication

14 Jun

Editor’s Note:  This is the 2nd Blog Post from Benji Shulman from South Africa.  Benji is spending the summer with GAPW working on the implications for conflict of climate change and environmental degradation.  As someone also involved in Jewish-Islamic relations in his country, Benji will also reflect from time to time (as he does here) on how the UN navigates the complexities of Middle East politics, culture and human rights. 

This blog reports on the 361st meeting of UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The meeting was attended mostly by Arab states and key members of the Non-Aligned Movement and included a feedback session by committee members and a report back by the office of the Special Rapporteur.

The session focused on reports from various meetings, processes and outcomes of the committee. Updates on the diplomatic front were also given, with a special, positive emphasis placed on the recent Palestinian Unity deal between Hamas and Fatah (See related GA statement —  Key issues raised over the course of the meeting were the status of the West Bank barrier, prisoners and prisons, conditions in Palestinian areas, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian participation in other UN committees, and upcoming events commemorating the 2014 UN year of solidarity with the Palestinian People.

The mandate and configuration of the committee was generally favorable to the Palestinian perspective with an absence of Israel-supportive voices in the room. Given this, the outcomes of this committee would likely be considered partisan by onlookers, with more focus and encouragement for current unilateral diplomatic and related efforts being undertaken by the Palestinians than on the encouragement of bilateral negotiations and engagements between the opposing parties.

From a peace and security perspective there are several items worth noting. The first is the progressively milder and more measured language being used by Palestinian diplomatic representatives in this committee. This restraint should be more widely encouraged by the committee. In particular the policy community in Palestine and international Palestinian support groups might not share or even know about the official political stances being taken in their name at the UN, something that would also apply to Israel and its support groups.

The diplomatic corps also need to make sure that their affiliated missions worldwide are conscious and more supportive of the more moderate policy positions being articulated in these UN committees. For example the Palestinian embassy in South Africa, under the late Ambassador Ali Haliemah, was careful to avoid endorsing extremist groups that would undermine the Palestinian state position even if those groups claimed to  be acting on behalf of the Palestinian cause. Since his unfortunate death the Palestinian embassy in South Africa has endorsed events and groups which would be considered at odds with the stated policy positions of the Palestinian representatives at the UN committee and even with those positions the embassy has shared with the South African government.

Going forward clear and consistent communication on policy will be required so that potentially positive diplomatic outcomes do not needlessly confront obstacles from local actors or implicate embassy staff in acts of extremism. This will be especially important in light of the recently announced unity government of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which as noted was much lauded at the UN meeting. The Palestinian representative dealt only briefly with the issue of conflicting viewpoints between these two parties. The consistent emphasis at the meeting on the goal of a peaceful two- state solution seems considerably at odds with Hamas’s continued aggressive non-recognition of Israel. It remains to be seen which of the two perspectives — or which combination of the two — will become mainstream Palestinian policy.

The other issue that piqued significant interest is the status of Jerusalem on which the committee reported extensively including aspects such as construction, evictions, legal perspectives and religious issues. One point of contention during discussion was the characterization by some of Jerusalem as an “international security issue.” Whilst the area continues to be a hot spot for tensions, it has generally been calmer than other locales including much of the West Bank or indeed many other parts of the Middle East. It is important for discussion to reflect this relative calm given the generally high potential for unrest in the city because of it elevated levels of religious fervor. It has however been demonstrated that these risks have the potential to be mitigated as the recent visit of Pope Francis to the city and the region suggests.

Treating the current status of Jerusalem as a ‘peace and security threat’ seems excessive. One of the risks associated with the unilateral (and sometime inflammatory) actions currently being undertaken by both the Palestinians and Israelis is the continuing threats of violence resulting in part from a lack of negotiations. Currently however violence is not the norm in Jerusalem and it is important to be careful not to create the conditions for a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The potential for dangerous religious tension in the city can in fact be diminished by the international community, by Israel and by the Palestinians, through encouraging inter-faith engagement, clamping down on religious incitement, guaranteeing unimpeded access to all holy sites, and through related confidence-building measures.

Benji Shulman, GAPW

Winning At Russian Roulette – A Student’s Thoughts on Nuclear Containment and the Future of Global Conflict

7 Jun

Editor’s Note:  The following is by Carly Millenson, who spent a year in the GAPW office working for Women in International Security.  Carly has written previously on what she sees as major security and other threats to her generation.  She is soon off to school at Princeton.  

Most games have many players, but only one winner. Russian roulette has several winners and only one very unlucky loser. When it comes to nuclear diplomacy, if someone pulls the trigger when the chamber is loaded, we all lose. So far we’ve been lucky, but like any smart gambler we’re best off quitting while we’re ahead. Already, the number of states armed with nuclear weapons has risen to eight or nine, depending who you ask. Other nations are working to develop nuclear capabilities, and still other are “the turn of a screw” away from acquiring nuclear weapons, should the need arise. As the number of states with nuclear capabilities grows, so too does the risk of a deadly accident occurring.

Tensions reaching a breaking point, a bluff gone wrong, a tragic misunderstanding – any of these scenarios could lead to the breakout of nuclear conflict on a regional or global scale. As the number of players increases, so too does the risk of a conflict or misunderstanding leading to the use of nuclear weapons. Of course, no one believes that nuclear conflict is beneficial for global security or stability. However, unfortunately conflicts between states frequently occur and when nations fight people die. Weapons intended as a warning can easily end up being deployed in such a tense situation. As the number of nuclear armed states grows, the possibility of nuclear weapons being used during a conflict becomes close to a near certainly according to The Dangers of A Nuclear Iran, an article in Foreign Affairs by field expert Eric S. Edelman. As an international community we have already accepted the use of guns and conventional bombs in warfare. Furthermore, despite strenuous condemnation of the use of such brutal tactics, chemical weapons were deployed in Syria and may exist elsewhere. Is nuclear warfare something that is almost destined to occur?

This question seems almost ridiculous. The answer – an emphatic no – has been instilled into international political culture since Cold War days. However, it merits analysis. Some believe that nuclear containment is a losing battle and that it is pointless fight against the rising tide. According to proponents of this viewpoint, we would do better to accept the fact that like machine guns and fighter planes, nuclear devices will not remain elite, little used weapons forever. Some even feel that by evening the playing field nuclear proliferation may prevent conflict. However, unlike conventional and perhaps even biological, or chemical arms, the effects of nuclear devices are incredibly long term, lasting long after the conflict that sparked their use has ended. Thus, once a weapon is deployed future generations will have to deal with the result of that fateful decision long after the rationale behind it is no longer applicable to the global situation. A large-scale nuclear conflict could wreak havoc on an unimaginable scale and even smaller nuclear conflicts or nuclear terrorism would take horrific toll and would forever destroy what remains of the accepted rules of combat. Perhaps it is inevitable that a nuclear conflict will occur, but if there is even a slim chance to prevent even some of this carnage, isn’t it our duty to seize that option?

Assuming that the use of nuclear weapons is not in any way acceptable, and urging that the international community do everything in its power to stand against such use; this in itself accomplishes nothing. The glaring unspoken question that seems to permeate current events today seems to be how much we care about containment? The problem with secret military bases is that they are secret, and thus intrinsically hard to effectively regulate. Sanctions, while certainly effective do not guarantee that promises to halt nuclear weapons construction are true. Thus, we return to the central question – are we willing to live with nuclear warfare and if not, how far will we go to protect future generations from the catastrophic effects of such a conflict? It’s a complicated matter, and one that the global community needs to resolve together. We can keep passing around the gun and hope for the best, or we can empty our own chamber while doing more to keep the gun from others.

Carly Millenson, Former Program Manager, Women in International Security, New York





Amplifying Women’s Voices in Ukraine

5 Jun

Editor’s Note:  This is the first post from Danielle Peck, who comes to GAPW from the University of Wyoming.   Danielle will take leadership for some of GAPW’s program work in the areas of youth development and human rights, and she will be writing in this space from time to time. 

At the recent (pre-election) panel discussion “Invest in Women for Peace: Conflict Prevention and Women’s Participation in Ukraine,” part of the speaker series for Women, Peace and Security, panelists Natalia Karbowska and Gregore Pop-Eleches highlighted the unsettling situation facing women being excluded from the political processes taking place in the Ukraine.

Karbowska began the panel with an example detailing how talk of war in other states often includes the gender perspective, which looks at the impact of gender on people’s opportunities, interactions and social roles during war. Ukrainians as well as the international community have yet to apply the gender perspective on the current situation in Ukraine. Karbowska explained that when Ukrainian women fight to be heard, they are told that their opinions are important but that they can be heard later. Women, not only from the Ukraine should be asking, “When is this later that you speak of?” Women all around the world have been silenced for many generations, too many generations. I say, enough is enough. While it is 2014, women are in need to be heard now especially in countries like the Ukraine that are attempting to implement serious reform.

While NGOs and Parliament are implementing reforms to help overcome crisis and fight corruption, they often still do not sufficiently incorporate a gender perspective or promote women’s participation in political processes. Karbowska explained further, “During this moment in time, many important developments within social policy are being made. Ukrainian women are at risk of losing their own rights; they are at risk of losing their only rights and permanently.” Women need to be involved not only to secure but also to protect their liberty. She also stated that organizations and programs that include women are often the first shut down due to budget cuts. The National Action Plan on gender equality is one of those programs at risk. The narrow window of opportunity for Ukrainian women to finally and fully be heard is closing.

The National Action Plan on gender equality to improve the situation and status of women was first approved in 1997, and then later modified in 2001 to not only improve the situation of women, but to implement gender equality in society. Many positions were implemented all over the state to ensure its success. One major goal of the plan was to significantly raise the female representation within the highest positions by 2015. The National Action Plan not only incorporates a list of goals and tasks to accomplish gender equality, but it supports other programs that support the interests of women. Karbowska referred to the National Action Plan as an essential tool to guarantee women’s involvement in the political decision-making process.

Pop-Eleches focused his presentation more on the divide between East and West Ukraine, which helped explain where and possibly why Ukrainian women’s voices are having the least impact. Due to the lack of mass media in the country, the East and West gather different perspectives from the surrounding countries’ media sources, which can lead, as a result, to a different perception of political reality.  Women from eastern Ukraine are the least represented within the state. As shown in the recent election, there was a high voting turn out everywhere except for regions in eastern Ukraine where polling stations were shut down by pro-Russian separatists. Even though statistics of women’s participation in the election have not yet been revealed, Karbowska explained that in past elections male voters outnumbered women two to one.

Taking all of the above into consideration, what can be done to assure Ukrainian women’s political participation? The international community ought to support Ukraine’s National Action Plan on gender equality. Funding and budget advising should be given to increase the program’s success. The international community should also support other grassroots woman’s civil society organizations in the country. Pressure and education about the importance of including women through media attention, and UN and other state capacity assistance to the Ukrainian parliament and government are both needed. The Ukraine is going through an unsettling period of political reform at this moment in time and cannot afford to ignore the voices and talents of its women. A nation whose policies represent only the interests and positions of men is a nation that, in reality, is only half a true society.

Danielle Peck, GAPW Intern

Land-Locked Developing Countries – Minimizing Vulnerability, Maximizing Integration

2 Jun

Editor’s note:  The following is from Benjamin Shulman who is serving this summer in a joint position with GAPW and our partner Green Map System.   Benji is from South Africa, is a geographer by training, and has deep interests in the Middle East and in security-climate relationships.  Here, Benji looks at the unique economic and related challenges faced by Land-Locked Developing Countries, an important dimension of our security and media work. 

The Kingdom of Lesotho has two unusual geographic traits among the family of nations. Firstly it has the world’s highest ‘low point,’ which is to say that its lowest point (which in most nations is the sea) is quite high up in the Maloti mountain range which makes up the bulk of its territory. The second is that Lesotho is the world’s only country that is surrounded entirely by one other country (South Africa) with no access to the sea.

These two rather unusual characteristics are outliers but they illustrate the geographic realities faced not just by Lesotho but by a whole range of other states known Land Locked Developing Countries (LLDC’s).  This category of states was the focus of a session recently at the United Nations with key players in attendance including diplomats from interested and affected countries, as well as presenters from the UN-OHRLLS, UNCTAD, the World Bank and UN-DESA. The discussion was held with one eye on the upcoming second UN conference on LLDC’s which is scheduled for November 2014 in in Vienna, Austria.

As the session made clear, LLDCs have all the markers characteristic of a developing country but have the defining feature of also not having access to the sea. This factor poses additional constraints to their development. Issues such as isolation, regional integration challenges and production and marketing limitations are particularly pertinent to this group of countries.   These factors can easily lead to more fragile economies that are especially vulnerable to external shock factors such as price fluctuation and global financial instability.

Although LLDC’s form a band of often economically small and vulnerable states this does not mean that they have no impact on global stability.  Take for example in 1998 when the South African Development Community (SADC) intervened to quell unrest in Lesotho resulting in loss of life and considerable damage. Economic vulnerability along with other social and historic factors indicates that these states have sometimes significant potential to cause instability well beyond their land-locked borders.

The UN discussion on LLDC’s was heavily tilted towards two subjects, namely the threat of external “shocks” that may affect these countries and the potential for developing reliable information systems that could be useful in increasing resilience to such shocks. On the other hand, there was very little attempt to integrate cultural assessments, human resource development or any direct security concerns. On the issue of trade, one of the more problematic issues was how to integrate LLDCs into the regional and global economy. By their nature LDCC’s are reliant on their neighbours to transport incoming goods and services. On the one hand this means having to maintain carefully cultivated diplomatic ties with nearby states while simultaneously having to grapple with possible exposure to any instability in the internal political dynamics of their neighbors. This is compounded by the number of states bordering LLDC’s which is on average nearly double those of other countries. This complex regional geo-political situation has meant that these states have often found it challenging to find politically and logistically smooth pathways into the international economy. Even if they are able to achieve integration there is the additional risk that negative external shocks coming from the international system may significantly dampen the benefits of increased trade and economic growth.  This is especially true when you consider that many LLDC’s are single commodity exporters for which fluctuating prices are a considerable worry.

There was also much talk at the UN meeting of creating a “vulnerability index” for LLDCs which could be used both as early warning system and as a policy analysis tool.  The idea however is still in its infancy and there are a number of problems that an academic project of this kind might confront. Trying to figure out what metrics and measurements should be used, deciding how they could be made consistent across all country contexts, and proper sourcing of potential data sets are just some of the key stumbling blocks that still need to be resolved.

During the interactive portion of the session, there were some pertinent remarks made by diplomats representing LLDCs. They pointed out that many of the problems associated with this group of states are also mirrored in the Small Island Developing states and should thus be addressed in concert. In addition there were some complaints that there is no real incentive for states to move from their present “developing” designation as this comes with aid benefits and other assistance which is lost once a state “graduates” to another status. It was suggested during the discussions that these ‘graduating’ states might continue to receive specific technical assistance suited to their context similar to what is already provided to developing countries more broadly. This would provide inexpensive and effective interventions that could contribute to lowering the risks that these countries face as they seek economic integration and transition to more developed stages.

 Benjamin Shulman, GAPW