Tag Archives: UN

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

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 — http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2014/gapal1300.doc.htm).  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

Youth-SWAP Meet: Walking from the Margins to the Center of Policy

28 Sep

Editor’s Note:   For the past few weeks, Kritika Seth has been examining opportunities and resources for developing a sustainable youth initiative through GAPW.   She will share perspectives from her search in this space throughout the fall. 

Youths are best understood as those undergoing a transition from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood with an increasing awareness of the high level of responsibilities as members of a community.

Youth is often indicated as a person between the age where he/she may leave compulsory education, and the age at which he/she finds his/her first employment.  Today almost half of the world’s population (48%) is under the age of 24; of this 18% are youth. Moreover, while youth is growing in numbers, more and more of them are raised in environments that hinder their educational opportunities, increase the likelihood of unemployment, and force them to confront other burdens such as HIV/AIDS, war and other forms of violence.

In the wake of the recent and ongoing issues faced by young people all over the world, the Inter-Agency on Youth Development (IANYD) along with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) organized a unique meeting last week from September 18th to September 20th. . The structure of this meeting was different from the typical annual meeting that the two agencies conduct. In this instance, the decision was made to invite youth led organizations and networks to participate in open dialogue regarding the newly released System-Wide Action Plan on Youth (SWAP).  The SWAP is a document that teases out four thematic areas that call for our attention immediately – Employment and Entrepreneurship; Protection of rights, political inclusion and civic engagement; Education, including comprehensive sexuality education; and Health. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the SWAP is a framework document to support the World Program and Action on Youth and not replace it. Despite the urgent attention and development needed in youth affairs, the SWAP marks the first steps taken towards fulfilling a viable youth agenda.

During the three-day meeting, participants were given several opportunities to discuss and identify opportunities for engaging young people in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Youth-SWAP. There was also discussion of specific tasks that need attention, such as communication strategies, methods of partnering with other organizations and effective ways of participating in the process of youth development. In order to support all these concerns and provide a ‘reality check’, the UNFPA and INAYD team made sure to have a representative from related UN agencies: for example, the presence of the UN Volunteering Program during the discussion on participation; or the presence of the International Labor Organization (ILO) during the discussion on youth employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Despite the constant thinking and brainstorming that we were required to do, the room was constantly buzzing with good and positive energy. A horizontal flow of interaction amongst those seeking advice and those who were full of advice was an ongoing sight along with conversations that began with “you are?” and ended with “we should get coffee sometime soon.” Overall the meeting was of great value resulting in concrete recommendations such as the need to personalize the communication of SWAP for better implementation strategies and outcomes, for instance through the creation of a SWAP-specific website in order to more effectively spread the word.

It will be interesting and valuable to follow – and hopefully impact — the next steps on implementing the Youth-SWAP document and other pressing issues. As the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth concluded at the MTV reception, “if you want to walk fast you walk alone, but if you want to walk far we will walk together.”  GAPW is prepared to walk beside this process and we will regularly engage our audience in this space regarding issues affecting youth participation in global policy.

 Kritika Seth

Reinforcing Gender and Small Arms Policy Linkages

21 Sep

The issue of the gender dimensions within efforts to stem the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) has gained significant traction earlier this year and is likely to continue developing as the year progresses.

In April 2013, the Secretary-General (SG) noted in his report on Sexual Violence in Conflict instances of rape and sexual violence arising from armed groups.[i] Furthermore, the SG’s report to the Security Council on Small Arms reiterated that armed conflict can negatively impact women and men, making them susceptible to violence.[ii] The SG noted that “[a]ttention should be paid to women, who suffer disproportionately from the effects of violent conflict: an abundance of uncontrolled weapons and a context of lawlessness lead to increases in gender-based violence, which includes rape, abduction into sexual slavery and trafficking.”[iii]

It is generally known that SALW can be one of the most pervasive threats to a strong and reliable security sector and that the illicit flow of small arms, including illegally diverted arms, can contribute to the commission of violence against women as well as a source of intimidation for women’s participation in social and political life.[iv] As Global Action has noted in previous policy briefs, the illicit flow of small arms can contribute to acts of sexual violence in conflict which can pose a threat to international peace and security.[v] Additionally, “women can be weapon-carriers, especially as members of militias or armed groups from the national to the local level. Women can likewise promote a culture of guns, especially for the younger generation for which they are often responsible, and ultimately contribute to the proliferation of small arms.”[vi] Furthermore, and perhaps most important to us, the illicit flow of small arms can create security concerns hindering women’s participation in conflict and post-conflict communities, as weapons can be used to intimidate or instill fear.[vii]

Whether it is in the high level meeting expected this month in the Security Council[viii] or within work of the First Committee, or even within the purview of the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, it is imperative to reinforce the gender dimensions in efforts to control illicit arms.

Women’s participation in decision-making processes is highlighted in Security Council Resolution 1325, as it is in gender-sensitive Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs.[ix] Subsequent relevant resolutions have also reiterated gender-sensitive DDR programs and have called for targeted measures against perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict.[x] SCR 1960 has called on the SG to include names of perpetrators suspected of committing, or responsible for, crimes of sexual violence during armed conflict in his reports to the Security Council.[xi]

Additionally, the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA) binds member states to commitments to prevent and combat the illicit flow of small arms. While only in the context of the preembular paragraphs, member states acknowledge that they are ‘gravely concerned’ about the impact the illicit flow of small arms can have on women, children, and the elderly.[xii] Furthermore, the General Assembly Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, promotes women’s equal representation in disarmament and arms control processes, “in particular as it relates to the prevention and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict.”[xiii] The resolution promotes women’s participation in the ‘design and implementation of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts,” as well as in the context of preventing and eradicating the illicit SALW.[xiv]

Finally, it is also worth noting that “[t]he use of conventional weapons, including small arms, in armed conflict is subject to the limitations of international humanitarian law (IHL),” whose purpose is to protect civilians from suffering by controlling the ways and means that can be used to inflict violence.[xv] IHL is violated not simply by the use of small arms, but rather by their unauthorized use, whether by government or non-armed groups, to target civilians.[xvi] “The unregulated proliferation of SALW contributes to violations of IHL by providing abusive actors with the tools used to commit these crimes.”[xvii] It is therefore imperative that emphasis is placed on the prevention and eradication of the illicit flow of these  weapons.

This year has been significant in that early 2013 saw the adoption of two major instruments that further strengthen international commitments to pursue this policy linkage. The impact of the illicit flow of small arms on violence against women was noted in the Agreed Conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the main policy-making body on the promotion of women’s rights.[xviii] Additionally, the recent adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty made significant progress in ensuring that the gender considerations are non-negotiable aspects of binding criteria when determining the validity of arms transfers.[xix]

Moving forward, the momentum should be maintained around these issues in relevant UN Processes, of course to the extent that procedural mandates do not already overlap.  The gender dimensions within arms control and disarmament should continue to be highlighted, placing special emphasis on women’s participation in disarmament processes, ranging from decision-makers in policy discussions, to active members of security forces, to equal recipients of benefits available through DDR programs. In regards to 1325 National Action Plans, gender and disarmament dimensions should be integrated therein, in situations and circumstances where it is relevant to the security of women. Finally, one must also remember that women have a distinct and unique set of protection and participation needs which have to be addressed in relevant policies.

–          Melina Lito


[i] See A/67/929, S/2013 399.

[ii] See, S/2013/503, para. 20.

[iii] See, S/2013/503, para. 20.

[iv] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, http://www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/gender-and-disarmament-update-sept-2012.pdf.

[v] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p.2 http://www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/gender-and-disarmament-update-sept-2012.pdf

[vi] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p. 2 http://www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/gender-and-disarmament-update-sept-2012.pdf.

[vii] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p.2 http://www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/gender-and-disarmament-update-sept-2012.pdf

[viii] See, Security Council Report, Monthly Forecast, Small Arms, September 2013.

[ix] Security Council Resolution 1325 (2008) OP. 1-4, 13.

[x] Re: DDR, See SCR 1889 (2009), OP. 13, 1820 (2008), OP.10, SCR 2106 (2106), OP. 16(a); Re: targeted measures, see, SCR 1820 OP. 5, SCR 2106, OP. 13.

[xi] SCR 1960 (2010), OP. 3.

[xii] UN Document A/CONF.192/15, http://www.poa-iss.org/poa/poahtml.aspx.

[xiii] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1, OP.1.

[xiv] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1, OP.4-OP.5.

 

Fueling the Syrian Conflict From All Sides

29 May

As the conflict in Syria rages on, ostensibly slipping further and further into an increasingly grievous civil war, the European Union decided on 28 May 2013 to lift an arms embargo thereby allowing for the option to provide arms to the Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad and his government. The decision to lift the embargo was supported mainly by the UK and France. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, remarked that the non-renewal of the arms embargo comes with certain conditions—weapons can only be sent to the so-called moderate Syrian National Coalition and the affiliated Free Syria Army and can only be used to “protect civilians.” While the embargo sets the stage for weapons transfers to the Syrian rebels, there is no immediate plan to begin authorizations of weapons as the earliest possible time for such transfers would be August 2013 (after a conference is to be held in Geneva next month to negotiate a peace agreement). Nevertheless, this policy change is indeed a worrisome development in the context of a bloody, prolonged, and seemingly intractable civil conflict in a region of unsettling politics and violence. Several countries have rightly argued that more weapons will inevitably mean more death and destruction no matter to which parties to the conflict they are intended.

Particularly in light of the recent adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in the UN General Assembly (set to be open for signature next week on 3 June 2013), the dangers of transferring conventional arms to governments (or, in this case, entities) with the potential to violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law, undermine peace and security, or be used to commit acts of gender-based violence or violence against children are highly relevant to the debate over supplying arms to “stabilize” a conflict versus “exacerbating” the violence. The original intent and impetus of an ATT—preventing the human suffering associated with the unregulated and illicit arms trade—are interestingly on display in the Syria case. The human suffering apparent in the Syrian context is indisputable. The UN estimates that nearly 80,000 individuals have died in addition to the dire refugee and displacement crises and the overall disruption of livelihoods. Such violence has been committed with imported (legally and illicitly) weapons of all kinds as arms flow into and within the region. Moreover, the dangers of “legitimate” arms falling into the hands of “non-legitimate” entities are even more severe in the context of Syria given the lack of information on the rebel groups and the instability of the region writ large. The determination of which groups are the “legitimate” representatives of the Syrian people is hardly clear.

Applying the ATT to the Syrian case is not straightforward, but an interesting case study nonetheless. Export assessment criteria represent the linchpin of the ATT operability insofar as these criteria must be examined prior to any arms authorization by the exporting states party. The agreed criteria in the ATT do provide an interesting backdrop to the discussion of whether or not such export authorizations are in line with international legal obligations. Of course, a major difference (and ultimately a major complication and what would seem a “loophole” in the Syria case) that must be noted is that the ATT covers inter-governmental transfers and does not explicitly elaborate on criteria related to transfers to non-state actors. A prohibition against transfers to non-state actors was a hotly debated issue during the ATT negotiations and, ultimately, was not included in the final text. Many of the loudest objectors to the text, including many Arab states and the three states that formally objected to the text at the conclusion of the March 2013 negotiations (the DPRK, Iran, and Syria), noted the absence of this prohibition as a major oversight in the drafting. They noted that although the majority of states called for this prohibition, it was purposefully left out. Therefore, the ATT, even if it had already entered into force and the relevant parties were state parties, would not apply in this case. If instruments such as the ATT are to have a real impact, then treaty criteria must be incorporated into all export decisions and not just those which are explicitly referenced. Otherwise, a policy of criteria avoidance could be easily adopted and implemented.

In the same week that the EU lifted the embargo, the Russian government announced that it would move ahead with the transfer of anti-aircraft missiles to the sitting Syrian government as a “stabilizing factor” that would “deter” foreign intervention into the conflict. It is clear that arming either side—the Assad regime or the rebel groups—is doing little to bring the violence to an end or address the dire humanitarian crisis. The Syrian conflict has ultimately moved from a rebellion to a civil war to a regional war by proxy with external forces such as Iran and Russia eager to counterbalance moves by the EU and the US.

The insertion of more weaponry on either side has little hope for changing the political or practical dynamics of the conflict and, thus, instigating hopes for bringing forth a negotiated peace. As Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, “The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion.”

 

–Katherine Prizeman

Open-ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament Convenes in Geneva

20 May

The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to “Develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” began its first session in Geneva last week. Thus far, member states, members of civil society, and representatives of international organizations have engaged in discussions in the context of thematic panels such as “Multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments”; “Nuclear weapon free areas”; “Other initiatives and proposals”; and “Lessons learned: Transparency, confidence-building measures and verification”. While the general tone seems to be positive inasmuch as this OEWG represents a welcome opportunity to address the substantive issues around nuclear disarmament, particularly in light of the prolonged stalemate effective across the UN disarmament machinery. Nevertheless, there remains hesitation from some member states regarding diverting attention from the Conference on Disarmament (CD), abandoning the so-called “step by step” approach, and taking any measures that might alienate the nuclear weapon states (NWS).

OEWG presentations from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), academics such as Ward Wilson, and civil society representatives including those from Reaching Critical Will (RCW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have enriched the conversation through concrete and substantive proposals and reflections on the current state of nuclear disarmament. Generally, members of civil society reiterated that maintenance of the status quo is simply unsustainable and unacceptable. Ward Wilson, author of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons, offered remarks on the “mistakes” made in understanding the utility, use, and overarching properties of nuclear weapons. In particular, Wilson underscored the myth of “deterrence” as well as the notion that nuclear weapons are anything but clumsy, immoral and dangerous. Likewise, Beatrice Fihn of RCW, a member of ICAN, reminded delegations that while the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a “landmark” agreement representing the only binding, multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament by the NWS, this commitment lacks a timeframe or any other concrete requirement beyond the obligation to simply “pursue negotiations.”

Issues stemming from a “Ban Treaty,” as opposed to a comprehensive treaty complete with disarmament obligations and a verification regime, were also addressed. Thomas Nash of Article 36, also a member of ICAN, outlined in more detail what a proposed “Ban Treaty” would require. Nash stated that such a treaty is envisioned by its proponents as “a step in a process—the ban would be an additional tool towards a nuclear weapons free world” noting that elimination usually follows prohibition. Furthermore, Nash identified three “framings” for a ban on nuclear weapons—fulfilling existing disarmament obligations, particularly those codified in Article VI of the NPT, building on nuclear weapon free zones, and banning all forms of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Additionally, much attention has been rightfully paid by civil society to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the refocusing of the disarmament debate on this humanitarian initiative that has been reinforced through joint statements at the NPT Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) in May and the UNGA First Committee last October.

While the substance of the panelists is important in its own right, the general exchange of views among member states revealed continued reluctance to fully embrace comprehensive proposals for moving forward on nuclear disarmament. Moreover, many delegations are still loath to engage in a process perceived as “alternative” to the CD. Ambassador Mehta of India, representing a nuclear weapon state outside of the NPT regime, was clear in her general statement that nuclear disarmament can only be achieved “by a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral framework that is global and non-discriminatory,” as well as reached by consensus. Likewise, Ambassador Hoffman of Germany supported the notion that “a big bang creating a world without nuclear weapons is highly unlikely” and, therefore, “building blocs” were needed to make practical progress towards this larger objective. Ambassador Hoffman went so far as to say that it is “simply not true” that the “step by step” approach has not yielded results and that the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol are examples of successful results. The delegation of Sweden agreed that the “most viable” way forward was a continuous process of adding agreements and commitments to existing ones to build a “stronger international regime.” Such a regime, the Swedish delegation argued, would require the nuclear possessor states’ participation. This is a position in stark contrast to that of ICAN and other civil society advocates who believe that a treaty negotiated by non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) would be a ‘game changer’ regarding the legal framework governing nuclear weapons and, thus, have an impact beyond those states that would be most likely to formally adopt it in the first instance (impacting the nuclear possessor states—the NPT NWS as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan).

In contrast to those delegations that continue to cling to the perceived indispensability of a “step by step” approach, the delegation of Ireland strongly (and in our view rightly) spoke out against this approach in its general statement debunking the myth that the “step by step” approach is the only logical way forward. The delegation questioned the narrative of ‘sequencialism’ proposed by other states noting that such “steps” are neither identified nor clearly explained. The Irish delegation also called for an appraisal of conceptual terms during the OEWG, as well as a robust review of the practical implications of such proposals and concepts. Ultimately, unwavering commitment to a sequential approach has not, as the delegation of Germany insisted in its statement, yielded results at the level necessary for achieving genuine nuclear disarmament. More specifically, in terms of the “successes” identified by Ambassador Hoffman, there is much to be desired. The NPT’s credibility has been increasingly questioned due in large part to the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East as well as the lack of tangible progress with regards to Article VI obligations. The levels of frustration around the inability to fulfill the items laid out in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, most especially the 22 items that related to disarmament, are only growing (as evidenced by the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the recent NPT Prep Com session). Furthermore, while negotiation of the CTBT is welcome, its seemingly permanent status in “entry-into-force limbo” is hardly impressive and the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol have a distinct non-proliferation bias.

Precisely what the OEWG will yield, beyond the resolution-mandated report that it must submit to both the upcoming session of the First Committee in the fall and to the CD, is unclear. Nevertheless, the Irish delegation was correct in stating that reiterating proposals and concepts is not enough. Rather an emphasis on “taking forward” negotiations and assessing the practical implications of approaches are vital to the success of the OEWG. If the obligation to develop proposals to “take forward” multilateral disarmament negotiations is not vigorously pursued throughout these OEWG sessions, it will be difficult to label them a success, as opposed to a lost opportunity.

 

–Katherine Prizeman