News Briefs

W. African Pact on Small Arms Enters Into Force

Andrew Fisher

Signaling further progress on controlling the transfer of small arms and light weapons in Africa, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced Nov. 20 the entry into force of the Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials, three years after it was opened for signature in 2006.

In a statement at the ECOWAS Council of Ministers meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, ECOWAS Commission President Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas said the convention “provides for a ban of arms transfer by member states, with possibility of exemption for legitimate defense and security needs, law enforcement and participation in peace support operations” and prohibits “without exception, arms transfer to non-state actors without the approval of the importing country.”

The ban came into force following the Sept. 29 ratification by Benin, which joined Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo as a party to the treaty. The other members of ECOWAS are Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. Under the terms of the 2006 treaty, it enters into force on the date of deposit of the ninth instrument of ratification.

The convention replaces a 1998 political commitment to a moratorium on the import and export of small arms.

New CTBT Station Draws Iranian Rebuke

Meri Lugo

Calling the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) a “security and espionage treaty,” an Iranian official said in early December “it is clear” that the purpose of a recently constructed seismic monitoring station in Turkmenistan is “to monitor Iran.”

Abolfazl Zohrehvand, an adviser to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, made the comments to Iranian state news outlet IRNA; they were reported by the Associated Press Dec. 9.

The seismic station, which operates continuously, was recently completed near Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, a few kilometers from the Iranian border. As part of the International Monitoring System (IMS), it is one of 337 planned monitoring stations around the world designed to verify the CTBT by detecting nuclear tests. More than 250 stations  have already been built and certified and are actively transmitting data, according to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which is responsible for building the monitoring network.

The Ashgabat station is now undergoing testing and is expected to be certified in 2010.

In a Jan. 4 e-mail to Arms Control Today, CTBTO spokesperson Annika Thunborg said Iran “is a very active member of the CTBTO and participates in all its meetings.” All CTBTO member states “have equal rights when it comes to receiving all information registered by the [IMS],” she said.

The construction and establishment of the Ashgabat facility did not differ from those of any other IMS station, Thunborg added. The type and location of the station “were decided already in the treaty negotiations in the mid 1990s in which Iran partook,” she said.

Currently, Iran has three IMS stations within its borders—one certified and two in the testing stages.

Defense Trade Treaties Remain in Committee

Jeff Abramson

Although the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed more optimism than his predecessor about moving forward on two defense trade cooperation treaties, the pacts remained stalled in the committee after a Dec. 10 hearing. The 2007 treaties with Australia and the United Kingdom provide a framework for licensing exemptions for preapproved defense projects and firms; proponents argue that the accords will help speed development and deployment of counterterrorism and other technology.

But, at a May 2008 hearing on the treaties, then-Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) asked for greater detail on how the treaties would be implemented. Some of the questioning focused on changes that might be needed in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. (See ACT, November 2008.)

Since then, the Department of State submitted draft regulations, which Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) noted as progress in his opening remarks at the December hearing. Kerry said he intends “to move forward in drafting and passing a resolution of advice and consent to ratification.”

Lugar raised numerous questions about the schedule for completing the draft regulations, how the treaty would be enforced, and congressional involvement in monitoring arms trade and implementation of the treaty. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro and Associate Deputy Attorney General James A. Baker said they would try to have additional written answers and revised regulations by mid-January.

Poland, U.S. Sign Agreement for Missile Site

Volha Charnysh

Poland and the United States signed an agreement Dec. 11 to station some 100 U.S. soldiers on Polish territory to install and operate a set of short- and medium-range missile interceptors. According to the U.S. Department of State, the status of forces agreement (SOFA) “will facilitate a range of mutually agreed activities including joint training and exercises, deployments of U.S. military personnel, and prospective Ballistic Missile Defense deployments.”

The signing of a SOFA is a prerequisite for stationing U.S. troops abroad. According to a Dec. 11 report by RIA Novosti, the first troop rotation is expected to arrive in Poland by the end of March 2010 and will service Patriot missiles.

The December agreement strengthens the national security of Poland, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said. The Polish news agency PAP quoted Klich as saying that the agreement would enable the United States to meet its commitments under the Declaration on Strategic Cooperation, which was signed Aug. 20, 2008. The declaration allowed parts of a U.S. missile defense system to be stationed in Poland.

The SOFA comes three months after the Bush-era missile defense system plan in Poland and the CzechRepublic was modified. (See ACT, October 2009.) Under the new plan, the United States would deploy a mobile, land-based version of the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) in central Europe and ship-based SM-3s in the North and Mediterranean seas. The troops to be stationed in Poland under the SOFA are a part of that plan.

Two More Countries Ratify Cluster Convention

Jeff Abramson

Belgium and New Zealand deposited their instruments of ratification to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in December, becoming the 25th and 26th states to do so, while Cameroon became the 104th signatory state. The treaty was opened for signature in December 2008 and will enter into force six months after the 30th state ratifies it. The pact bans the use of nearly all cluster munitions and obligates states to destroy stockpiles, conduct clearance efforts, and take steps to help victims. (See ACT, December 2008.)