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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Conventional Arms Control

U.S. Sets ‘Stringent’ Drone Sales Policy

April 2015

By Jefferson Morley

The U.S. government will impose “stringent conditions” on the sale or transfer of U.S.-made military drones to other countries, the State Department announced Feb. 17, saying in its summary of the policy that the process would include a “strong presumption of denial” for licenses to export the largest and deadliest drones.

Although news stories reported the Obama administration had “opened up” the possibility of sales to “friendly and allied countries,” analysts questioned whether the policy marked a significant change from past practices on unmanned aerial systems, as drones are more formally known.

“This is not, certainly, an open door…by any means” for the sale of unmanned systems, said Joel Johnson, analyst for the Teal Group, a Washington firm that monitors the defense industry, in a March 17 interview. “From an industry perspective, the policy signals that there is a process in place that is something other than the previous ad hoc review [of proposed sales]. But it also shows [export of military drones] is still a sensitive area for the government.”

The popularity and notoriety of military drones has surged in the past decade as the U.S. government has deployed them against suspected Islamic militants in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Washington has faced harsh criticism for the resulting civilian casualties.

An MQ-9 Reaper sits at Hurlburt Field in Florida on April 24, 2014. (U.S. Air Force)

Some U.S. allies seeking to adopt the same technology have been blocked from buying U.S. drones. Washington approved sales of armed drones to the United Kingdom in 2007 and France in 2011, according to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. But in those years, the Obama administration rejected requests for armed unmanned systems from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, he says.

“There is a huge demand for these systems,” said Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a March 17 interview. “Everyone wants to use these systems very much the way the U.S. has been using them.”

Washington apparently wants to keep it that way. The new policy requires recipient countries to agree to four principles for “proper use,” the Feb. 17 summary says.

Purchasers will have to agree that the systems will be used “in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” They will have to assure the United States that the drones will be deployed “only when there is a lawful basis for use of force under international law, such as national self-defense.” In addition, recipients will have to guarantee that the drones are not used to “conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic population.” Finally, drone users will have to agree to require technical and doctrinal training “to reduce the risk of unintended injury or damage.”

The U.S. government itself might not meet those criteria, more than one critic noted. “There are many serious concerns about how the US currently interprets ‘national self-defense,’” observed Sarah Knuckey, an associate clinical professor of law at Columbia Law School in a post for the Just Security blog.

The new policy cites the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which mandates a “strong presumption of denial” for the transfer of the largest unmanned aerial systems that carry missiles. The MTCR, a nonbinding agreement of 34 countries that has been developed since the 1980s to regulate the ballistic missile trade, also covers slower-moving drones, according to the State Department. The MTCR states that international transfers of unmanned systems with a range of more than 300 kilometers and a payload of more than 500 kilograms should be approved only on “rare occasions.”

“We’re going to have to watch the next half dozen sales [of armed drones] to know what the policy means in practice,” said the Teal Group’s Johnson.

One possible customer under the new policy is the Netherlands. On Feb. 6, the State Department approved the Dutch government’s request for approval of the $339 million purchase of four Predator-B drones and associated equipment and training from General Atomics, a San Diego firm. Described as “arms-capable,” these drones could be weaponized without difficulty, according to a General Atomics spokeswoman. Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told Cabinet colleagues March 6 that the Netherlands currently does not need to arm the drones, but she did not rule out the possibility, according to NL Times, a Dutch news site..

Under the new policy, the sale or transfer of a U.S.-made weaponized drone must advance four goals. It must enhance “the operational capabilities and capacity of trusted partner nations” and increase “US interoperability with these partners for coalition operations.” Any export of armed drones also must ensure “responsible use” and ease “stress on US force structure.”

“What happens if a country doesn’t adhere?” asked Rachel Stohl of the nonpartisan Stimson Center in a March 18 interview. “We don’t know. They’ve codified what was an ad hoc process, but it would be nice to know more.”

The State Department’s Feb. 17 announcement codifies the interagency process for approving the export of armed drones. Analysts doubt that the new policy will enable many more countries to purchase the deadliest unmanned systems.

At Last: Global Arms Trade Treaty Enters Into Force

A decades-long struggle to forge binding international rules on the trade of nearly all conventional arms transfers reached a milestone this month when the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) formally entered into force on December 24. The ATT was opened for signature in June 2013 and since then the treaty has rapidly garnered more than 125 signatures, including all NATO countries (except Canada) and U.S. allies, such as Israel and South Korea. More than 60 states have ratified the treaty as of this month. The landmark accord, which required 50 ratifications to become international law, establishes...

Nations Prepare for ATT Obligations

December 2014

By Jefferson Morley

When the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) enters into force Dec. 24, a longtime dream of international civil society—regulation of the world’s weapons market—will become reality. That is when the difficult work begins, treaty proponents say.

Panelists participate in an event on the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations on April 2. The treaty will enter into force December 24. (Control Arms)“Most states won’t be ready to implement the ATT when it enters into force,” predicted Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center in a Nov. 17 interview. “And the ones that are ready can do more.”

The treaty, approved by the UN General Assembly in April 2013, is the first global, legally binding agreement to regulate the global market in weapons. More than 50 countries have ratified the treaty and must apply the treaty’s criteria when making decisions about the transfer of weapons ranging from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft, and warships. The treaty forbids transfers that support terrorism, organized crime, war crimes, genocide, or human rights abuses.

Another 68 countries, including the United States, have signed the treaty, but not ratified it.

The ATT’s two biggest initial obligations, according to Stohl, are the establishment of a national control system for the import and export of arms and the creation of a national control list of weapons whose transfer will be scrutinized under the criteria established by the treaty. Countries must file their first report on the import and export of arms by May 31, 2015, according to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, and their first report on implementation of the treaty by the end of 2015.

A survey of 44 countries that have signed or ratified the ATT, conducted by Stohl and arms analyst Paul Holtom, found that almost all of them have control lists.

The survey found wide disparities in how countries regulate arms transfers. Although 86 percent of the respondent countries said they issue an annual report on arms exports, for example, only 68 percent said they produce an annual report on arms imports.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Stohl said. “Arms-producing countries will have different needs than nonproducing countries. We’re looking to find out what the best practices are.”

The ATT preamble emphasizes “the need to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion,” but the treaty does not specify how countries should achieve this goal.

Countries can choose among measures such as preshipment checks, verification of end users, and improvements in dock security and port security, Stohl said. All countries have to “decide what will work best for them,” she said. According to Stohl, there will not be a global “denied persons list” or “approved brokers lists,” but “it makes sense for each country to share that kind of information.”

Participating countries held preparatory conferences for implementation of the ATT Sept. 8-9 in Mexico City and Nov. 27-28 in Berlin to discuss, among other issues, the treaty’s reporting requirements.

The scope of the ATT’s reporting requirements is “basically identical” to that of the main categories of the UN Register of Conventional Arms, Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said at the Mexico City meeting. One difference, she noted, is that the ATT requires reporting on transfers of small arms. Data on such transfers are considered voluntary “additional background information” in the reporting for the register.

The Obama administration has not reported on U.S. efforts to prepare for the treaty because of a January 2014 congressional ban on expenditures “to implement the Arms Trade Treaty until the Senate approves a resolution of ratification” for it.

The administration has not issued a timetable for submitting the ATT to the Senate.

As the global treaty to regulate the arms trade enters into force, all 50-plus participating nations will have to issue public reports on the import and export of weapons within a year.

Cooperative Threat Reduction for Conventional Weapons Expertise

December 2014

By William T. Liimatainen

Scientist redirection—the process of shifting employees of foreign weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs to peaceful endeavors—has long been an important piece of U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs. Its goal has been to reduce the potential for scientists and engineers employed in WMD programs to disseminate their knowledge to other countries or to nonstate actors.

By assisting in the transition of WMD experts to peaceful employment, scientist redirection programs reduce the likelihood that these individuals will be targets of efforts to buy their expertise. In their simplest form, these programs provide a sense of hope for the future because the desperation associated with sudden unemployment can be a strong incentive for participation in nefarious activities.

That point applies to those employed in conventional and unconventional weapons programs. A little more than a decade ago, thousands of individuals with expertise in manufacturing dangerous conventional weapons suddenly lost their jobs in Iraq. The rise of violent nonstate groups that used improvised weapons suggested a link to the unemployed conventional arms manufacturers. CTR redirection programs have not included experts from conventional weapons programs, and the Iraqi experience illustrates why that needs to change.[1]

Lost Jobs, Lasting Implications
Rebels prepare a homemade rocket launcher during clashes with government forces near the airport on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 27. (ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)Earlier this year, in a televised interview, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described the role that former employees of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Commission (MIC) continue to play in producing improvised weapons for terrorist groups in Anbar province.[2] The interview is one of many sources on the subject, all too familiar in the Middle East but largely ignored by those in the West. There is a reason that the term “IED,” the acronym for “improvised explosive device,” is now nearly as recognizable as “WMD” and why improvised weapons, of which IEDs are a subset, have been used on such a large scale in large pockets of the Middle East since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A decade ago, almost 50,000 individuals who had worked in Saddam Hussein’s conventional weapons manufacturing programs lost their jobs when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S.-led postwar entity responsible for Iraq’s governance, transferred them to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance with drastically reduced salaries and few prospects for the future.[3]

This development left many Iraq watchers wondering how the CPA could justify putting so many Iraqis with dangerous knowledge out of work. As a violent insurgency gained a foothold in the aftermath of the invasion, observers familiar with Iraqi weapons production programs became increasingly concerned that individuals with conventional arms production expertise would find new employment opportunities with violent nonstate actors who would pay for their services. Although it was not immediately clear at that time what had led to the mass unemployment of MIC personnel, later analysis suggested that a main reason was that the Department of Defense, rather than the Department of State, had been given responsibility for postconflict operations in Iraq. The Defense Department had conducted little postwar planning for Iraq, but the State Department had generated an entire study that anticipated many of the challenges that would emerge during the postwar period. The State Department plans included a discussion on postwar treatment of Iraq’s MIC employees.

The ‘Future of Iraq’ Study
Long before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the State Department launched its Future of Iraq Project. Led by a State Department employee and supported by influential Iraqi expatriates, the study examined the problems that were likely to confront postwar Iraq. Germane to this article are the analysis and recommendations by the Defense Policy and Institutions Working Group, which recognized quickly that the MIC employees would warrant special attention during the postwar period. The working group accurately foresaw the need to move the employees to peaceful endeavors. “Many institutes and factories of the Military Industry will be destroyed when the liberation of Iraq from the present regime is complete. But its members and scientists will still be there. It is important to see that the Iraqi Military Industry transform itself to civil use. Scientists that can produce Mustard Gas can very well produce medicine. And experts in Rocket technology can one day build aeroplanes and trains.”[4] As the working group noted, many MIC employees had the skills to make this transition feasible (fig. 1).

Given the State Department’s awareness at that time of the need to shift MIC personnel to civilian manufacturing jobs, it would have seemed unlikely that Iraq’s arms manufacturers would be overlooked. Yet, in the months immediately preceding the 2003 invasion, two factors combined to eliminate the potential for conversion of Iraq’s defense industry and the redirection of MIC personnel to peaceful endeavors, as advocated in the Future of Iraq study. First, U.S. National Security Presidential Directive 24 broke with tradition and put the onus of postconflict operations in Iraq on the Defense Department rather than the State Department. The directive, which was issued in January 2003, provided little time for the Pentagon to prepare adequately for an undertaking as massive as the postwar governance of Iraq, a task unfamiliar to the uniformed military and one better suited to other government agencies.[5]

The directive, however, did not by itself seal the MIC’s fate. Shortly after the Defense Department was given this postconflict responsibility, the director for the State Department’s Future of Iraq study, Tom Warrick, was brought in to assist General Jay Garner, who had been selected to head the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (the CPA’s predecessor). Garner reportedly had been impressed with the detailed analysis contained in the Iraq study and sought to tap into the available expertise. Unfortunately, when it became known that Warrick did not support the Pentagon plan to install Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial leader of the Iraqi National Congress, as the new leader of Iraq, he was fired, reportedly at the direction of senior Defense Department officials. With its director gone, the Iraq study stood little chance of being used to guide postwar planning. Suddenly, the future for former MIC employees looked uncertain.[6]

For nearly a year after the U.S. invasion, the MIC was simply ignored. During that period, looters rendered many MIC facilities inoperable. In addition, they carted away large amounts of material suitable for IED production from defense industry establishments. For example, looting at the Al Qaqa State Establishment received a great deal of press coverage, as truckloads of explosives were reportedly removed from that facility alone.[7] When the CPA finally got around to conducting site visits at MIC facilities, it found many of them to be no longer viable. The results of these site visits were used to inform the publication of CPA Order 75, dealing with the “realignment of military industrial companies.” As a result of this order, almost 50,000 individuals were reassigned to the Ministry of Finance with a drastically reduced salary and little hope for the future.[8]

As MIC personnel became essentially unemployed after the invasion at a time when an insurgency was mounting, the State Department implemented a scientist redirection program for a limited number of Iraqi WMD experts.[9] Clearly, there was a need for such a program. No active unconventional weapons program existed in Iraq prior to the invasion, but there was certainly residual expertise retained in the public sector. Although a small number of WMD experts were the object of efforts to prevent proliferation, nearly 50,000 individuals with knowledge of conventional arms manufacturing were almost completely overlooked. To judge from Maliki’s interview earlier this year, it seems that even today, more than a decade later, MIC employees continue to lend their weapons manufacturing expertise to violent groups.

Looking Forward
The fiscal year 2015 budget request associated with the Defense Department CTR program suggests that U.S. nonproliferation programs are anything but a growth industry. Under the Obama administration’s budget request, the CTR program would receive significantly less than what it had received for each of the previous two years.[10] If one considers only what the CTR program was originally created to do more than 20 years ago, along with the extent of the program’s achievements to date,[11] the reduced budget is probably justifiable. After all, as one account puts it, the CTR program was created “to deal with yesterday’s strategic weapons,” and yesterday’s threats have largely diminished. That diminution is due largely to long-standing efforts to reduce the former Soviet Union’s WMD arsenal, as well as to the passage of time.[12]

WMD stockpiles in the former Soviet Union are no longer what they once were. Moreover, the prospect of proliferation of WMD expertise out of those countries today is much lower than it was nearly a quarter of a century ago, as former WMD scientists are presumably now either well into retirement or deceased. Nevertheless, an argument could be made that CTR programs now are more important than ever, requiring a considerable increase in funding. The strategic threat posed by the potential for large-scale WMD proliferation out of former Soviet bloc countries has been replaced by a new threat. This threat, as described above, is one the CTR program might not have been originally intended to address, but is one to which the program is ideally suited to respond.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2009 on the future direction of CTR programs appears to support this argument.[13] The NAS report, which Congress requested in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008,[14] recommended that CTR programs should be “expanded geographically” and “updated in form and function” in order to “enhance U.S. national security and global security.” The report also said that future CTR initiatives would need to be more responsive and flexible and that they would face “very different security challenges than those that inspired the original program nearly 20 years ago.”[15]

Notably, nowhere does the NAS report imply that future CTR initiatives need to be restricted to dealing with WMD threats. This seems to leave the door open for the CTR program to respond to the threat posed by unemployed conventional weapons manufacturers, whether in a postconflict or failed-state environment.

Considering the amount of money spent on IED countermeasure technologies, upgrades to armored vehicles, and the creation of new organizations such as the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, it might be prudent to invest in the expansion of CTR initiatives to encompass experts in the manufacturing of conventional weapons. Such an expansion clearly would not be a panacea that would shut off the access of violent nonstate actors to dangerous arms production knowledge. For those ideologically inclined to lend their expertise to violent nonstate groups, expanded CTR initiatives will do nothing. Yet, by offering an alternative to individuals who would provide such expertise solely to care for their families, an expanded CTR program may provide a viable option.

Preparing for the Next Iraq
Some may argue that Iraq was a unique situation and that it is unlikely a similar scenario will emerge in the future. Yet, it is not difficult to imagine that the Iraqi situation, in which mass unemployment of conventional arms manufacturers coincided with the rise of an insurgency, could arise in another country sometime in the future. Recent history suggests that a market already exists for those with such skills and that the market may extend beyond Iraq’s borders.

Iraq may not represent the only country where unemployed conventional arms manufacturers have provided their services to violent nonstate groups during the last decade. Several accounts have emerged on the large-scale, organized efforts made by nonstate groups in Libya and Syria to manufacture improvised weapons. Reporter C.J. Chivers has provided accounts from both countries, describing the establishment of networks of makeshift workshops to produce improvised weapons.[16] It is not clear, however, whether experts from the conventional arms industries of either country have played a prominent role in such production or if the expertise originated from Iraq’s MIC personnel. Media reports occasionally suggest that people with weapons-making backgrounds are lending support,[17] but the reports do not define the scope and scale of the problem.

Another potential objection to CTR expansion is that producing improvised weapons is not nearly as technologically challenging as producing nonconventional weapons. One does not need a doctorate in engineering to build a roadside bomb; instructions are available on the Web. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to characterize many of the improvised weapons encountered on Iraq’s battlefield as easily reproduced by anyone with Internet access. IEDs come in many forms; a review of a wide range of publicly available sources reveals the increased sophistication of improvised weapons used by nonstate groups over time. For example, triggering devices underwent modification in Iraq in response to use of electronic countermeasures by the United States and other members of the coalition.[18] In another example, the Islamic Army of Iraq bragged about its ability to manufacture an improvised surface-to-air rocket capable of bringing down coalition helicopters.[19] There is no shortage of reporting that suggests that many of the improvised weapons employed in Iraq were produced by skilled arms manufacturers.[20]

Some may question the feasibility of expanding the CTR program to include programs for manufacturing conventional weapons on the grounds that the scale of the effort would be too large to be viable, citing failed attempts at defense conversion in the former Soviet Union. In former Soviet countries, there were thousands of facilities and millions of employees that constituted the military industrial complex. In fact, a 1997 report by the General Accounting Office suggested that one of the major obstacles to defense conversion in the former Soviet Union was the sheer size of the effort (9 million to 14 million people in 2,000 to 4,000 enterprises).[21] As noted above, in Iraq, there were roughly 50,000 employees and a few dozen state-owned enterprises. Defense conversion and redirection in Iraq might not have been as difficult in Iraq if coalition forces had protected MIC facilities from looting and if the CPA had solicited input from senior scientists and engineers on shifting MIC facilities to civilian production.

Increased reliance by nonstate actors on improvised weapons over the past decade suggests that the international community is having some success in controlling illicit arms shipments. Nonstate actors would not be relying on improvised weapons if factory-produced arms were readily available. Given what now is known about nonstate actor dependency on improvised weapons, it is time to consider building on past successes by expanding the scope of CTR scientist redirection initiatives. Such initiatives might originally have been intended to combat the proliferation of nonconventional weapons and associated expertise out of the former Soviet Union, but similar undertakings probably would be effective in preventing conventional arms manufacturers from working with violent nonstate actors.

These recommendations come during a period of fiscal austerity and at a time when U.S. leaders are confronting a host of national security threats. As the 2009 NAS study stated, “[G]enerating action throughout an overburdened U.S. government at a time of budget cuts and change require[s] an agility seldom found except in time of great urgency.”[22] More than 20 years ago, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) drafted legislation that had a major impact on preventing WMD proliferation. Today, strong leadership is needed to limit the ability of violent extremist organizations to acquire expertise in manufacturing conventional arms. Expanding the existing CTR program is a sensible way to achieve that important goal.

William T. Liimatainen is a Department of Defense employee with experience studying foreign production of conventional weapons and the global arms trade. He holds a master’s degree in military art and science from the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government or any of its agencies.


1. As with the term “improvised explosive device,” it has been difficult to formulate a definition of the broader term “improvised weapon.” For the purposes of this article, an improvised weapon is one whose explosive ingredient, initiation, triggering, or detonation mechanism, or delivery system has been produced outside of an arms production factory or modified from its original function. See Paul Gill, John Horgan, and Jeffrey Lovelace, “Improvised Explosive Device: The Problem of Definition,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 34, No. 9 (2011): 732-748.

2. William T. Liimatainen, trans., “Al-Maliki Accuses Former Military Industrialization Officers of Leading Al Anbar Battles,” February 12, 2014, http://www.kitabat.com/ar/print/23023.html (in Arabic).

3. “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 75: Realignment of Military Industrial Companies,” April 20, 2004, http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/20040420_CPAORD_75_Realignment_of_Military_Industrial_Companies__with_Annex_A.pdf. 

4. Defense Policy and Institutions Working Group, U.S. Department of State, “The Future of Iraq Project,” May 24, 2002, p. 47, http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB198/FOI%20Defense%20Policy%20and%20Institutions.pdf.

5. For an analysis of the presdiential directive, see Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, “In the Wake of War: Improving U.S. Post-Conflict Capabilities,” 2005, p. 9, http://www.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/Post-Conflict_Capabilities.pdf.

6. Charles Ferguson, No End in Sight: Iraq’s Descent Into Chaos (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008).

7. “Tons of Iraq Explosives Missing,” CNN, October 25, 2004, http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/10/25/iraq.explosives/.

8. Peter D. Smallwood and William T. Liimatainen, “Securing WMD Expertise: Lessons Learned From Iraq,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2011.

9. Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, “Redirection of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Experts Short-Term Program,” December 18, 2003, http://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2003/27409.htm.

10. See Office of the Comptroller, U.S. Department of Defense, “Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Estimates: Cooperative Threat Reduction Program,” March 2014, http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2015/budget_justification/pdfs/01_Operation_and_Maintenance/O_M_VOL_1_PART_2/CTR_PB15.pdf.

11. Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, “Fact Sheet: The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program,” June 2014 http://armscontrolcenter.org/publications/factsheets/fact_sheet_the_cooperative_threat_reduction_program/.

12.  Committee on Strengthening and Expanding the Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, “Global Security Engagement: A New Model for Cooperative Threat Reduction,” 2009, http://www.fmwg.org/sitefiles/nas%202009%20report%20-%20global%20security%20engagement%20-%20a%20new%20model%20for%20cooperative%20threat%20reduction.pdf (hereinafter NAS report).

13. Ibid.

14. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Pub. L. 110-181, 122 Stat. 3 (2008), sec. 1301-1308.

15. NAS report.

16. C.J. Chivers, “Syria’s Dark Horses With Lathes: Makeshift Arms Production in Aleppo Governorate, Part I,” The New York Times “At War” blog, September 19, 2012, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/syrias-dark-horses-with-lathes-makeshift-arms-production-in-aleppo-governorate-part-i/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0; C.J. Chivers, “Hidden Workshops Add to Libyan Rebels’ Arsenals,” The New York Times, May 3, 2011.

17. Luke Harding and Ian Black, “Syrian Rebels Add Explosives Expertise to Guerilla Tactics,” The Guardian, July 31, 2012.

18. John Ismay, “The Most Lethal Weapon Americans Faced in Iraq,” The New York Times “At War” blog, October 18, 2013, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/the-most-lethal-weapon-americans-faced-in-iraq/.

19. “The Islamic Army in Iraq Present a New Missile,” Middle East Media Research Institute Special Dispatch, No. 1344 (November 2, 2006), http://www.memri.org/report/en/print1930.htm.

20. Ismay, “The Most Lethal Weapon Americans Faced in Iraq”; Stew Magnuson, “Bomb Making Skills Spread Globally,” National Defense, June 2007; Micheal Eisenstadt and Jeffrey White, “Assessing Iraq’s Sunni Arab Insurgency,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy Policy Focus, No. 50 (December 2005), http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/html/pdf/PolicyFocus50.pdf.

21. U.S. General Accounting Office, “Cooperative Threat Reduction: Status of Defense Conversion Efforts in the Former Soviet Union,” GAO/NSIAD-97-101, April 11, 1997.

22. NAS report, p. vii.

Scientist redirection programs, which help find peaceful employment for former weapons scientists, have focused so far on nonconventional arms. That needs to change.

Former Foe Vietnam Cleared for U.S. Arms

November 2014

By Jefferson Morley

The U.S. government will allow the sale of certain types of lethal weapons to Vietnam for the first time, the State Department announced Oct. 2. “This policy supports Vietnam’s efforts to improve its maritime domain awareness and maritime security capabilities,” a State Department official said in an Oct. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

A Chinese coast guard ship (right) challenges a Vietnamese coast guard ship near the site of a Chinese oil rig being installed in disputed waters in the South China Sea off the central coast of Vietnam on May 14. (Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images)The announcement followed a protracted confrontation between Vietnam and China last summer over the introduction of a Chinese oil rig into a part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. In May, the State Department criticized the move as “provocative,” saying that “this unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region.”

As the Chinese and Vietnamese navies jousted for position around the oil rig, ships from the two countries rammed each other, resulting in injuries, according to news reports. Although China withdrew the rig in July, relations between China and Vietnam remain tense.

“Never before have we seen a greater risk for miscalculation and incidents that may escalate to military conflicts than in the past few months,” Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s foreign minister, told a New York audience Sept. 24. A week later, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pham and informed him that Washington’s long-time ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam was being partially lifted.

Vietnam’s maritime defense capabilities are “minimal,” according to Richard Aboulafia, an analyst for the Teal Group, which monitors the arms trade. With only four maritime surveillance aircraft, Vietnam is most likely to ask the United States for refurbished P-3 patrol planes, Aboulafia said in an Oct. 17 interview.

Whatever Vietnam requests in the way of lethal maritime security items will be on the U.S. Munitions List, the U.S. official said in the Oct. 17 e-mail. Transfers will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the State Department and other U.S. agencies for compliance with the Arms Export Control Act, the Obama administration’s conventional arms transfer policy, and related considerations, the official said.

The U.S. government will allow the sale of certain types of lethal weapons to Vietnam for the first time, the State Department announced Oct. 2.

France Delays Arms Delivery Decision

November 2014

By Jefferson Morley

The controversial sale of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia remains in limbo after the French government dropped its original deadline for a decision.

A man demonstrates on September 7 in the western French port of Saint-Nazaire against the decision of the French government to delay the delivery of the Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia. (Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images)On the eve of the NATO summit in early September, French President François Hollande announced he was delaying the scheduled delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers because of Russian intervention in Ukraine. At that time, Hollande said he had two conditions for approving delivery of the ship—a cease-fire in Ukraine and a political settlement that resolves the country’s crisis. He said he would make a decision in “late October.”

Germany and the United Kingdom had called on France to cancel the contract, which is worth 1.1 billion euro ($1.4 billion), so as not to bolster Russian military capabilities. According to news reports, France may have to pay a substantial penalty if it does not fulfill the contract, which was signed in June 2011.

In an Oct. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a spokesman for the French embassy in Washington pointed to remarks Hollande had made the previous day in Milan. In those comments, Hollande reiterated his conditions for approving the delivery of the first carrier, saying that the cease-fire “needs to be fully respected in Ukraine and the crisis resolution plan…needs to be fully implemented.”

The spokesman said that no date has been set for Hollande’s decision.

The controversial sale of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia remains in limbo after the French government dropped its original deadline for a decision.

Cluster Munitions Plague Ukraine, Syria

November 2014

By Jefferson Morley

The use of cluster munitions has spread to battlefields in Ukraine and Syria, according to groups seeking to ban the weapon.

In a report released Oct. 20, Human Rights Watch documented the use of cluster munitions in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in more than a dozen urban and rural locations. “While it was not possible to conclusively determine responsibility for many of the attacks,” the report said, “the evidence points to Ukrainian government forces’ responsibility for several cluster munition attacks on Donetsk,” the largest city in eastern Ukraine.

In 12 incidents, Human Rights Watch said cluster munitions killed at least six people and injured dozens. The group’s investigators and a reporter from The New York Times found evidence in early October of Russian-made, surface-fired 220-millimeter Uragan (Hurricane) and 300-millimeter Smerch (Tornado) cluster munition rockets.

A man passes by the remains of an Uragan rocket lying in front of a burning house in Donetsk, Ukraine, on October 5. Uragan rockets can be used to deliver cluster munitions. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)The Ukrainian government denied responsibility. “The Ukrainian military did not use weapons prohibited by international law; this applies to cluster munitions as well,” a spokesman said Oct. 21, according to RIA-Novosti.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors the Ukraine conflict zone, said it had received no evidence that government troops had used cluster bombs, according to an Oct. 22 Reuters report.

Cluster munitions are rockets or bombs that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller munitions. After launch, the container for these submunitions disperses them over a wide area. The submunitions, while designed to explode when they hit the ground, often fail to do so, remaining explosive and dangerous to anyone who touches them.

The Kiev government has not acceded to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), joined by 114 countries. The treaty bans the use of cluster munitions because of the danger they pose to civilian noncombatants.

In Syria, the government’s cluster munitions have killed at least 1,600 people in the past two years, by far the deadliest use of the weapon in a decade, according to the annual report of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), issued in August. Of the reported victims, 97 percent were civilians. Syria is not a party to the CCM.

Syrian forces exploded at least 249 cluster munitions, covering 10 of Syria’s 14 provinces, according to the ICBL-CMC report. The groups found that at least seven types of Russian- and Egyptian-made cluster munitions have been used in Syria, including air-dropped bombs, dispensers fixed to aircraft, and ground-launched rockets, as well as at least nine types of explosive submunitions.

Not since the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 have dispersed small explosives injured or killed so many people. According to a 2003 Human Rights Watch report, the invading forces used nearly 13,000 cluster munitions, containing an estimated 1.8 million submunitions, in three weeks of major combat. UNICEF estimated that more than 1,000 children in Iraq were killed or injured by U.S.-made cluster munitions in 2003.

The ICBL-CMC report also noted the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine last year, but said its researchers could not determine whether the Ukrainian government or the rebels were responsible.

The use of cluster munitions in Syria and Ukraine “will only prolong the humanitarian consequences of these devastating conflicts in the years to come, with very little, if any, military benefits,” said André Sobral Cordeiro of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry at the annual meeting of CCM parties in San José, Costa Rica, in September.

Twenty-five countries condemned Syria at the meeting, while another 17 countries condemned the recent use of cluster munitions but did not cite Syria by name.

The use of cluster munitions in Syria and Ukraine has not yet reached the level of use in Laos and Lebanon, the two countries in the world most contaminated by the weapons.

Laos remains by far the world’s most contaminated state as a result of the U.S. military dropping more than 270 million submunitions on the country between 1964 and 1973. Lebanon is second, primarily as a result of Israel’s war against the Shiite militia Hezbollah in July-August 2006, when Israeli forces used as many as 4 million submunitions.

Eleven people have been killed and 31 injured by cluster munitions in Lebanon since 2006, according to a report issued by the Mine Advisory Group, a UK organization that seeks to ban landmines and cluster munitions.

Casualties have been reported in Laos, but researchers say there are no reliable tallies of the numbers.
Laos and Lebanon, which are parties to the CCM, also did the most to dismantle and destroy the weapons in 2013, according to the ICBL-CMC report. Together, the two countries accounted for 82 percent of the submunitions destroyed worldwide in 2013 and 72 percent of the land cleared.

Watchdog groups say governments in Damascus and Kiev are using indiscriminate explosives against rebels and that most of the victims are civilians.

U.S. Forswears Landmines Except in Korea

By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States announced on Sept. 23 that it would not use anti-personnel landmines (APLs) “outside the unique circumstances” of the Korean peninsula and would not “assist, encourage, or induce others to use, stockpile, produce or transfer” APLs anywhere beyond the peninsula. 

According to the State Department, the decision opens the way for the destruction of a significant portion of the estimated U.S. stockpile of 3 million APLs, except for those deemed necessary for the defense of South Korea. U.S. forces are stationed there to help guard against a North Korean attack. 

The newly announced measures “represent a further step to advance the humanitarian aims of the Ottawa Convention and to bring U.S. practice in closer alignment with a global humanitarian movement that has had a demonstrated positive impact in reducing civilian casualties” from APLs, the White House said in its Sept. 23 statement. The 1997 Ottawa Convention bans the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, or transfer of APLs, as well as assisting or encouraging other states in those activities.

The announcement comes on the heels of a June statement in which the United States said it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention, including replacements for such munitions as they expire in the coming years. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) During a Sept. 23 telephone briefing, a senior administration official said the policy applies to all parts of the word, including the Korean peninsula.

According to the White House statement, the United States will continue to look for ways to “be compliant with” and “ultimately” to accede to the convention while ensuring that it can meet its defense commitments to South Korea. Officials speaking during the Sept. 23 briefing said that the Defense Department has been asked to produce a study on options to accomplish this.

Mine-ban advocates, including the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, welcomed the announcement. In a Sept. 23 statement, the campaign called it a “positive step.” 

In a Sept. 23 press release, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the announcement “a crucial step that makes official what has been de facto U.S. practice for a decade and a half. The White House has recognized what our NATO allies declared long ago: These inherently indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians have no place in the 21st Century, and those who use them should be condemned.”

Leahy said the decision “brings U.S. policy closer to the international landmine ban treaty. It mirrors my legislation in 1997, cosponsored by 57 U.S. senators, including key Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate today.”

The United States announced on Sept. 23 that it would not use anti-personnel landmines (APLs) “outside the unique circumstances” of the Korean peninsula...

Arms Trade Treaty Set to Enter Into Force

By Jefferson Morley

The Arms Trade Treaty cleared its last hurdle to becoming international law when seven nations announced ratification on Sept. 25 in a ceremony at the United Nations. The pact to regulate the global market in conventional arms, now joined by 53 countries, is set to enter into force on Dec. 24.

Under the terms of the treaty, it enters force 90 days after the 50th state deposits its ratification document.

In a statement read by Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended Argentina, the Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Portugal, St. Lucia, Senegal, and Uruguay for ratifying the treaty, which he called “a robust, legally binding commitment to provide a measure of hope to millions of people around the world.”

The European Union welcomed the prospect of the pact’s entry into force. “When effectively and widely implemented, the Arms Trade Treaty will make trade in conventional arms more responsible and transparent, thus reducing human suffering and tangibly contributing to international peace, security and stability,” the EU said in a statement.

The 17-page treaty requires all participating states “to effectively regulate the international trade in conventional arms, and to prevent their diversion” and to establish and implement “national control systems.” The treaty covers eight categories of weapons ranging from battle tanks and combat aircraft to small arms and light weapons, as well as ammunition and components.

The treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly on April 2, 2013, by a vote of 154-3 with 23 abstentions. It was opened for signature on June 3, 2013.

The United States signed the treaty in September 2013, but the Obama administration has yet to submit the measure to the Senate for approval. 

Under the terms of the treaty, a conference of the states-parties “shall be convened…no later than one year” after the treaty’s entry into force.

The Arms Trade Treaty cleared its last hurdle to becoming international law when seven nations announced ratification on Sept. 25 in a ceremony at the United Nations. 

ATT Moves Closer to Entry Into Force

Jefferson Morley and Daniel Horner

Nine more states ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in June, bringing the total number of ratifications to 41.

That leaves the treaty needing nine more for the 50 required for entry into force. Eight countries—Australia, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, Luxembourg, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Samoa—deposited their instruments of ratification in a ceremony at the United Nations on June 3, the first anniversary of the ATT’s opening for signature. Sweden ratified the treaty on June 16.

The UN General Assembly approved the ATT on April 2, 2013, by a vote of 154-3, with Iran, North Korea, and Syria in opposition. The treaty regulates the cross-border trade in conventional arms ranging from small arms and light weapons to fighter aircraft and naval warships.

Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on behalf of the United States last September. U.S. officials say the White House intends to submit the ATT to the Senate for approval, but no date has been set. Last October, 50 senators sent an open letter to President Barack Obama declaring they would never vote for the treaty.

In a June 10 interview, Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said, “We don’t really expect the U.S. to ratify any time soon.” Kerry’s signing of the treaty at the UN was “powerful,” she said.

The pact needs to include the major arms exporters and importers to be “fully effective,” she said. She noted that China, India, and Russia have not signed the treaty. Those three countries were among the two dozen that abstained during the April 2013 vote.

Nine more states ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in June, bringing the total number of ratifications to 41. 


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