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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Jeff Abramson

U.S. Is Largest Arms Exporter in a Changing Market


April 2023
By Ethan Walton and Jeff Abramson

The United States remains the largest and growing exporter of major conventional weapons systems, according to an annual survey by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Ukrainian forces are seen in March at their artillery position in Zaporizhzhia during the war between Russia and Ukraine. In 2022, Ukraine was the third-largest importer of weapons systems tracked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) Although the report’s authors are cautious in predicting the future, their findings appear to show shifts in the global arms trade, in part driven by the war in Ukraine, that will result in more weapons flowing to Europe and a diminished role for Russia in the coming years.

The United States accounted for 40 percent of all major arms exports during 2018–2022, up from 33 percent during 2013–2017, compared to Russia’s 16 percent share, the report said. The report focuses on five-year comparisons and uses its own metrics to standardize values across weapons systems platforms.

Continuing a trend noted in earlier reports, arms imports increased in Europe, rising 47 percent over the period, while global trade declined by roughly 5 percent. Given the many commitments by the United States and countries in the region to replenish weapons stocks that have been transferred to Ukraine, it is logical to expect even higher imports in the future in Europe. (See ACT, April 2022.)

During a Feb. 16 virtual event hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade, Pieter Wezeman, a co-author of the report, questioned whether Europe should rapidly rearm given that Russia appears less militarily capable than expected “or whether there are other ways to deal with that Russian threat.”

Ukraine, which in prior years barely registered on the global arms import trade chart, was the third-largest importer of the weapons systems tracked by SIPRI in 2022. Still, the value of its imports was lower than might be expected as the SIPRI approach emphasizes high-value weapons such as fighter jets, which countries supplying Ukraine largely withheld during the reporting period.

But in mid-March, Poland and Slovakia announced plans to provide MiG fighter aircraft to Ukraine, despite concerns that the transfer would escalate the war. Those same concerns had kept Western countries from providing the fighter jets earlier. Whether significantly more fighter jets, including U.S. and European versions not derived from Russian designs, will also be sent to Ukraine is likely to be one of the most watched issues in the arms trade over the coming months.

Since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has pledged more than $33 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden has indicated repeatedly that Washington will stand by Kyiv, but the topic has become more controversial as the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign heats up. In responses to Fox News released March 13, for example, both former President Donald Trump and potential Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (Fla.) indicated that they are not as supportive of such assistance to Ukraine.

The war is also expected to keep Russia on a downward arms trade trajectory. Although Russia still accounts globally for the second-largest percentage of major exports, its 16 percent share in 2018 to 2022 is significantly less than the 22 percent in the previous five-year period. A prolonged war in Ukraine will likely force Russia to use its own weapons rather export them. Meanwhile, Washington and its allies are expected to continue pressuring importers to not deal with Moscow, which has relatively few outstanding international orders for weapons systems, according to the report.

India, the world’s largest importer of major weapons systems, sustains an evolving relationship with Russia. Over the past five years, it received 31 percent of Russia’s global arms exports, but those comprised only 45 percent of India’s total imports, down from 64 percent in the previous five years. India has taken a middle stance on the war in Ukraine, rhetorically supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty but continuing significant imports of Russian oil.

As New Delhi emphasizes self-reliance in its defense industry and separate ties with the West, its approach and role in the arms trade is changing. France overtook the United States as India’s second-largest major weapons systems provider, accounting for 29 percent of imports, including 62 combat aircraft and four submarines. The United States accounted for 11 percent of India’s imports. In January, the two countries established a strategic partnership on critical and emerging technologies to collaborate on artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and defense industrial capacities.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest importer, purchased more than three-quarters of its major weapons systems from the United States. Within the Middle East more broadly, the United States provided 54 percent of imported major weapons systems. Whether a new Biden administration conventional arms transfer policy that appears to more highly value human rights will lead to a decline in weapons systems transfers to the region, home to many autocratic regimes, is as yet unclear.

Other recent developments may also dramatically change regional demand for weaponry. On March 10, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen diplomatic relations in a deal China helped mediate. A day earlier, The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia was seeking more U.S. weapons systems and assistance with civilian nuclear capabilities as a price for normalizing relations with Israel. A potentially less tense Middle East could result in fewer weapons systems heading to the region, but there could be an increase in transfers driven by a U.S. desire to limit Chinese and Russian influence and to promote Israeli-Saudi relations.

Over the past five years, Chinese exports have declined from 6.3 percent during 2013–2017 to 5.2 percent during 2018–2022. China was not a significant exporter to the Middle East. It sent 80 percent of its major weapons systems transfers to Asia and Oceania, with more than half going to Pakistan, according to the report.

A new report appears to show shifts in the global arms trade that will result in more weapons flowing to Europe and a reduced role for Russia.

New U.S. Arms Policy Boosts Human Rights Focus


April 2023
By Jeff Abramson

The Biden administration announced a long-anticipated policy that more fully emphasizes human rights concerns among a list of priorities for U.S. engagement in the international arms trade.

U.S. Marines conduct post-flight inspections on an AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. A Biden administration decision to approve the sale of a version of the helicopter to Nigeria has been controversial because of the country’s human rights record. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jered T. Stone)Administration officials did not explicitly identify how the new policy would impact controversial arms sales to specific countries, such as Israel or Nigeria, but it pointed to Ukraine as a model for the types of partners it seeks.

Known as the conventional arms transfer policy, this presidential directive is not binding in itself, but instead “establishes the executive branch’s priorities and rationale for adjudicating the export of conventional arms,” according to National Security Memorandum-18 released Feb. 23.

In a section dedicated to human rights, the policy states that the United States will not transfer arms when it assesses that it is “more likely than not” that they will be used to commit an array of human rights abuses. It also indicates that a recipient’s previous actions will be considered in making that judgment and that future developments can lead to reassessment and possible cessation of weapons transfers.

The new policy replaces the 2018 Trump administration policy and earlier versions that applied a more difficult standard to meet for denying an arms transfer request, requiring government officials to prove they had “actual knowledge” that weapons would be misused. Some critics also had faulted the Trump policy for not explicitly acknowledging past or future behavior in arms transfer decisions. (See ACT, January/February 2021; May 2018.)

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new policy. In a statement on Feb. 27, he said that it “represents a meaningful step forward in ensuring the United States does not contribute to human rights abuses through its arms exports.”

During a March 9 event hosted by the Stimson Center, administration officials did not specify which countries might no longer receive arms under the new policy. But Mira Resnick, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security, pointed to a decision by the Biden administration in 2021 to suspend specific deliveries to Saudi Arabia because it was “more likely than not that those precision-guided munitions would contribute to unacceptable civilian harm.” (See ACT, March 2021.)

The policy also places a new emphasis on security sector governance. Resnick pointed to Ukraine’s improvements in anti-diversion and anti-corruption policies since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and the eastern region of Ukraine as critical in enabling Washington now to transfer billions of dollars in weapons systems and other support so Ukraine can defend itself against renewed Russian aggression.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern about the new approach politicizing what had been “an effective policy” under the Trump administration. In a statement Feb. 24, they also said that the U.S. defense industry “is struggling to meet the demand for weapons our country and allies need.”

Like the conventional arms transfer policies of most previous administrations, the Biden policy does not explicitly rank priorities. It does include among its objectives to strengthen the “manufacturing and defense industrial base and ensure resiliency in global supply chains.” Resnick cited exploring new ways to provide “competitive financing” as an example of this. She indicated that one way to support U.S. industry could be to allow countries to pay over time, as some other countries do, rather than in advance as is current U.S. practice.

In 2021, an administration official indicated that the new policy would be used to review “the proper relationship of the United States” to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which had been signed during the Obama administration but rejected during the Trump administration. (See ACT, October 2021.) Resnick said the administration was still determining its “proper position” on the ATT. She added that the United States was the world’s largest arms exporter and would “continue its global leadership” on “opposing the irresponsible and illicit transfer of conventional arms.”

 

The Biden administration announced a policy that more fully emphasizes human rights among a list of priorities for U.S. engagement in the international arms trade.  

Ukraine Landmine Use Under Scrutiny


March 2023
By Jeff Abramson

The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged a report by Human Rights Watch alleging that Kyiv used banned anti-personnel landmines and said the report would be “duly studied.” But the ministry did not specifically deny or admit any violations of the Mine Ban Treaty.

TM-62 anti-vehicle mines found last year during a mine clearance mission near Bervytsia, a village liberated from Russian forces, in the Kyiv Region of Ukraine. (Photo by Evgen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)Ukraine “took note” of the report, “which will be duly studied by the competent authorities of Ukraine,” the ministry said in a Jan. 31 statement. It insisted that Ukraine “fully implements its international obligations while Russian occupants commit the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

Ukraine is one of 164 states-parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, which bars the use of “victim-activated” anti-personnel landmines that detonate due to the presence, proximity, or contact of a person, and mandates their destruction from national stockpiles.

The report documented multiple instances of the use of banned rocket-fired anti-personnel PFM mines, also called “butterfly” or “petal” mines, around the city of Izium in 2022. The use occurred while the area was under Russian control and was in delivery range of Ukrainian forces who were seeking to regain the territory.

Human Rights Watch called on Ukraine to investigate the landmine use and noted that, in 2021, Ukraine had reported a stockpile of more than 3 million mines that had yet to be destroyed under its treaty obligations.

The report also flagged earlier findings that Russia used landmines in many locations in Ukraine, but noted that its researchers have not verified any claims of Russia using PFM mines.

Ukraine, in its most recent response and in statements at the treaty’s annual conference last year, reiterated support for the treaty and criticized Russian use of landmines. Russia is not party to the treaty, and its use of landmines in Ukraine has resulted in a spike in annual casualties caused by the weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2023.)

On Feb. 3, the president of the Mine Ban Treaty, Thomas Göbel of Germany, issued a statement that he is engaging with Kyiv and is “confident that we can continue to fully rely on Ukraine’s cooperation in this respect, as announced by Ukraine in its reaction to the report.”

The United States said it welcomed “Ukraine’s announcement it will investigate these allegations, and we appreciate Ukraine reaffirming its commitment to respect its obligations and commitments under international law,” the Voice of America reported on Jan. 31.

The United States, which is not a party to the treaty but has a policy of not exporting banned landmines anywhere other than to the Korean peninsula, has been providing Ukraine with Claymore anti-personnel mines that require an operator to detonate them. Such “command-detonated” mines are not prohibited by the treaty.

 

The Ukraine Foreign Ministry said it would study a report alleging that Kyiv used banned anti-personnel landmines but did not deny violating the Mine Ban Treaty.

Mine Use Continues as Ban Treaty Marks Anniversary


January/February 2023
By Jeff Abramson

Member states of the Mine Ban Treaty, marking the convention’s 25th anniversary, renewed their condemnation of the weapons, which are still being deployed by some countries despite the prohibition and the great harm inflicted on civilians.

A Ukrainian team worked to clear mines and unexploded ordinance from the side of the main road leading to Kherson City, Ukraine, in November. Kherson was the only regional capital to be captured by Russia following its invasion on Feb. 24.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)According to the Landmine Monitor, Russia has used at least seven types of anti-personnel mines since it invaded Ukraine in February, leading to at least 277 civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year, a nearly fourfold increase in Ukraine over 2021.

The Monitor, in a report Nov. 17, also identified an escalation in landmine use by Myanmar, especially around infrastructure such as energy pipelines and mobile phone towers. The report has listed Myanmar, a nonstate-party to the treaty, as using landmines every year since it first began publishing in 1999.

It also identified new use of landmines by nonstate armed actors in at least five countries, including the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and Myanmar.

During the treaty’s annual meeting of states-parties Nov. 21–25 in Geneva, delegates adopted language similar to past years that “condemned the use of anti-personnel mines anywhere, at any time, and by any actor, including by armed non-State actors.”

In an opening statement, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said that “[t]he use of anti-personnel mines is unacceptable and violates key principles of international humanitarian law.”

At the meeting led by Alvaro Ayala, Colombia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, landmine clearance extensions were granted to Afghanistan, Argentina, Ecuador, Guinea-Bissau, Serbia, Sudan, Thailand, and Yemen. Under the treaty, countries have 10 years to clear areas contaminated by landmines, but may seek extensions that set new deadlines.

Eritrea again failed to request an extension to its deadline, which had passed on Dec. 31, 2020. Delegates instructed the new president of the treaty, Thomas Göbel, Germany’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, to engage with Eritrea to resolve the issue by March 31 or refer it to the UN secretary-general. If that occurs, it would be the first time Article 8.2 of the treaty was exercised, bringing in the secretary-general to resolve compliance concerns.

In its statement to the meeting, Ukraine said Russia had used the mines as “a weapon of terror,” initially to hold captured territories and later “throughout the arable lands, in the houses, gardens etc.” prior to withdrawing from them. It also said Russia had in August “openly blackmailed the whole world, declaring that they laid mines at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plants and are ready to blow it up and turn into a scorched desert.” (See ACT, September 2022.)

More than 30 treaty members still have contaminated areas to clear, with many now having deadlines later than 2025. For those still with deadlines in 2025 or sooner, the Monitor assessed that only two were on track to do so. At the treaty’s 2019 review conference, members set the global goal of completing landmine clearance by 2025.

Despite the challenges of new use by a small number of nonstate actors and contamination remaining in more than 50 countries globally, the treaty is still widely considered a success, with 164 countries, including every NATO member except for the United States, as states-parties. Those parties collectively have destroyed more than 55 million stockpiled landmines.

The treaty was adopted on Sept. 18, 1997, and opened for signature that Dec. 3. Events to celebrate these anniversaries took place in many countries. In a Dec. 2 statement commemorating the treaty, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson drew special attention to retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a long-time treaty champion, saying that “he has helped us all envision a world free from the scourge of these weapons. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to continuing work toward this future.”

In June, the Biden administration reversed a Trump-era policy that permitted potential use of anti-personnel landmines globally, instead limiting them to the Korean peninsula, and indicated it would like to eventually join the treaty. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

Member states again condemned landmines, which are still being deployed by some countries despite the treaty’s prohibition.

Explosive Weapons Declaration Endorsed


December 2022

More than 80 countries have endorsed a political declaration that aims to reduce the harm to civilians caused by attacking towns and cities with explosive weapons.

The text of the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians From the Humanitarian Consequences Arising From the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas was finalized in Geneva in June under the leadership of Ireland and adopted at a ceremony in Dublin on Nov. 18.

Irish officials confirmed that 82 countries endorsed the declaration, including the United States and 23 other NATO members. The declaration recognizes the devastating harm to civilians from bombing and shelling in towns and cities and commits signatory states to take action to address harm to civilians. (See ACT, July/August and November 2022.)

Speaking on behalf of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said, “This political declaration marks a milestone in collective efforts to better protect civilians.” The secretary-general’s message also stated, “Parties to conflict and states must avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and work to remove conflict from urban areas altogether.”—JEFF ABRAMSON

Explosive Weapons Declaration Endorsed

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