Lords of War :  a threat to security and justice

How the UN can disrupt the arm flows into Africa

Address to the Security Council

New York, 19 March, 2010


Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today's world, conflicts take place within rather than between nations , and are fought with light rather than heavy weapons.  Arms are acquired on the illicit market, estimated globally at $200-300m/y - namely, about 20% of the (licit and measurable) arms trade. Africa, the arms smugglers most profitable market, suffers the largest number of casualties because of it.  I am grateful to Gabon for placing this topic on the Council's agenda.

The arms are small, but the impact is big

Demand for military-grade weapons comes from (i) crime groups, (ii) combatant militias, and (iii) regimes under sanctions. Supply originates from stockpiles of (i) nations undergoing regime change, (ii) defence departments' clearance sales of obsolete weapons, and (iii) manufacturers unwilling (because of corruption?) to meet internationally agreed, domestic controls.

Let me begin with demand, which certainly concerns Africa:

(i) Crime groups derive major rewards from fire-arms:  a handful of Somali pirates can hijack oil tankers; poachers with night-sight, silencer-rifles plunder Africa's rare species; cattle raiders steal livestock of entire villages; bandits hijack aid shipments; thugs in combat uniform compel young slaves to mine rare minerals; gangs assault, rob and kidnap nationals and tourists alike, in homes and at resorts.  As a result, several countries in Africa tally the highest crime (murder) rates in the world.

(ii) By acquiring military-grade weapons, combatant militias obtain the trappings and fire-power of a military force, in the attempt to gain credibility even without a (political) cause.  Double jeopardy is caused when, and this is common, rebels fund arm purchases by trafficking drugs and other resources.

(iii) Regimes under sanctions need arms to perpetuate themselves, irrespective of domestic opposition, or/and pressure by the international community - including decisions by this Council.  Arms traffickers circumvent the embargos, handsomely rewarded by authorities that do not hesitate to bleed citizens and natural resources alike, to honour payments.

In these troublesome hands, even small amounts of arms can: (i) undermine the socio-economic progress of a nation, (ii) break the state's monopoly on the use of force, or (iii) create a tipping point in political (or military) stalemates. Think of how the drugged-up kids of the RUF held Sierra Leone to ransom for a decade, or the destruction caused by the marauding Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda for years.

In short, illicit arms fuel the violence that undermines security, development and justice.  Of the 34 countries least likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, two thirds (22) are in the midst, or emerging from conflicts, located in regions that are magnets for crime, violence and arms trafficking.

The business model of illicit arms supply

What about supply ? Small arms, unlike drugs or counterfeits, are a durable product.  An AK-47 can last indefinitely, it just needs ammunition. As a result, arms trafficking tends to be episodic, rather than a permanent flow, with a predictable pattern: from countries with large stockpiles to a region descending, or pushed, into crisis (in the Third World).

The biggest stocks have been in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Indeed, in the 1990s, these stockpiles supplied almost every conflict, particularly in Africa, from A to Z - from Angola to Zimbabwe.

A combination of factors has turned Ukraine, in particular, into a major arms supplier:  huge stocks (there are 54 firearms for every Ukrainian soldier, as against the accepted ratio of around 2:1); a surplus of large planes (over-sized Antonov and Ilyushin models). Add low regulation and high economic insecurity, and you get an environment where merchants of death (like Viktor Bout and Leonid Minin) can make millions - as portrayed by UNODC Goodwill Ambassador Nicolas Cage in the Lord of War.

How can tons of arms, in large cargo planes, move undetected? The key is corruption at source, transit, or destination. Although arms are smuggled across-borders (for example between the US and Mexico), most weapons are just shipped through commercial channels, relying on fraudulent papers and corrupt officials.

Corruption in the source country (known as Point of Departure Diversion), enables traffickers to use fake end user certificates (EUC) for legal exports.  Corruption at the "official" destination enables a legal shipment to be diverted to a different location ( Post Delivery Onward Diversion):  the tanks, weapons and ammunition on a Ukrainian ship hijacked by Somali pirates (in September 2008) were intended for South Sudan, not Kenya as the papers said.

At the "true" destination, in countries for example in the Sahel, Central, East and West Africa, weapons are bartered for drugs and natural resources (oil, precious stones, metals, and timber). As a result, arms trafficking and organized crime fuel conflicts - and vice-versa.

Implement the UN Firearms Protocol and follow the money trail

What can be done to cut illicit arms trafficking, particularly into Africa? The base line is to promote development and security, so as to reduce the demand for arms. To reduce the supply, more must be done to improve the safe-keeping and destruction of stockpiles - not least within the OSCE area.

How to curtail the illicit arms trade?  No need to re-invent the wheel.  The UN Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms (that entered into force in July 2005 to supplement the UN Convention against Organized Crime, UNTOC), provides a strong legal instrument.

It requires parties to adopt legislation to prevent gun diversion; criminalize the removal of the markings on guns; keep records necessary to trace them; prevent re-activation of disabled guns; promote cooperative regimes to monitor gun flows; prevent weapons theft; and build law enforcement capacity across borders.

And yet, there are only 79 Parties to this Protocol, half the number of Parties to the other 2 TOC protocols, and with notable absences. To cut the illicit flow of weapons, I urge you to use the Firearms Protocol to close loopholes in national legislations; tighten up regulations of weapons transport; develop regional databases on seizures; promote inter-agency cooperation within government administrations; profile suspicious shipments; and share information with other countries to verify compliance with international agreements.

But this is not enough.  Crime can best be combated by following the money trail. Arms dealers swing between licit and illicit business, covering their tracks through complex arrangements of front companies that invest the proceeds from crime. I urge you to implement Article 52 of the UN Convention against Corruption (and Art. 7 of UNTOC) that requires Parties to know their customers, and reveal the beneficiaries of funds deposited into high-value accounts.

In conclusion, arm trafficking is another pandemic.  The therapy is known, the surgical instruments available.  I hope this meeting will spur Member States to use these tools to cut the arms flows that fuel conflicts, undermine states and enrich criminals.

Thank you for your attention.