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ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Jeff Abramson

U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

News Source: 
Forum on the Arms Trade
News Date: 
October 16, 2018 -04:00

Posted: October 18, 2018

Cluster Munitions Ban Marks Progress

Four more countries complete elimination, as states-parties increase to 104.


October 2018
By Jeff Abramson

Delegates of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, meeting Sept. 3–5 in Geneva, once again condemned any use of the weapons and celebrated successes in the decade since the treaty opened for signature.

Human Rights Watch has said there is evidence that Sudan dropped cluster bombs on civilian areas of Southern Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains in February and March 2015. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)The annual meeting ended a half day early without controversy as states welcomed the March accession of Sri Lanka and Aug. 31 ratification by Namibia, which will become the 104th state-party when the treaty enters into force for it in February. Conference President Carlos Morales Dávila, Nicaragua’s deputy permanent representative to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva, also congratulated Croatia, Cuba, Slovenia, and Spain for reporting completion of the destruction of their cluster munition stockpiles.

Research published by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor program before the meeting found that 99 percent of stocks declared by states-parties had already been destroyed, a collective total of 1.4 million cluster munitions and more than 177 million submunitions. Under the treaty, states have eight years to destroy their cluster munitions. Thus far, no state has missed its deadline.

As it documented beginning in 2012, the program reported ongoing use of cluster munitions by the Syrian government. Fewer incidents were confirmed in 2018, however, likely a result of difficulty in obtaining information and a change in the Syrian civil war as governmental forces recaptured more territory. Fewer casualties from such munitions were cited, with 187 recorded in 2017 in Syria, down from 860 in 2016, although the report said the total was certainly higher “as available data does not capture all the casualties that occurred.”

The report also identified cluster munitions use in Yemen during the latter half of 2017 by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting the Houthi, with such use beginning in 2015. None of the countries involved in the use of cluster munitions in that conflict are parties to the treaty.

As in prior years, states-parties adopted a final report that “condemned any use by any actor” of cluster munitions.

In a video message, Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, called the convention an example of “disarmament that saves lives.” She said that the treaty has “had a concrete impact on the ground,” lauding stockpile destruction efforts and progress on clearance of contaminated land. According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, at least 93 square kilometers of contaminated land were cleared in 2017 and at least 153,000 submunitions destroyed, an increase of 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from 2016.

More than a dozen nonsignatories to the treaty attended the meeting, but the United States continued its approach of not attending. Although it is the world’s largest financial contributor to land clearance efforts, Washington insists that cluster munitions remain relevant military tools. In November 2017, the United States altered a policy that was to take effect at the end of this year barring the use of cluster munitions that result in a more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance rate. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Next year’s meeting of states-parties is planned for Sept. 2–4 in Geneva, to be led by Aliyar Lebbe Abdul Azeez, Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva. In 2020, Sabrina Dallafior Matter, the Swiss ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, will preside over the treaty’s second review conference.

Posted: October 1, 2018

ATT Tackles Diversion, Not Controversy

A special focus was placed on weapons diversion.


October 2018
By Jeff Abramson

States-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are working to improve implementation even as they continue to avoid controversial conversations about specific arms transfers.

Morning commuters and delegates arriving for the fourth conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), held in Tokyo, were met by campaigners holding “missing” posters illustrating real-life cases of weapons that have been diverted into the illicit trade. (Photo: Control Arms)During opening remarks Aug. 20 at the fourth conference of ATT states-parties in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono identified as “two imminent challenges” the universalization of the treaty and its effective implementation. In doing so, he welcomed the addition of five new treaty members since the 2017 conference of states-parties, bringing the total to 97 once the treaty takes effect in November for Brazil, the most recent to ratify.

The treaty establishes common standards for international trade in conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. Measures include required consideration of whether transferred arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, as well as reporting on national implementation measures and annual arms transfers.

To address implementation issues, a special focus was placed on weapons diversion. During the five-day meeting, treaty members endorsed a three-tier approach to sharing information and welcomed documents on relevant existing instruments and possible measures to prevent and address diversion.

Reporting remains a challenge. The Control Arms coalition’s ATT Monitor found that 73 percent of states-parties had met their obligations to submit an initial report on national implementation measures. As of June, 48 states had submitted separate, annual arms transfer reports out of 89 required to do so for a 54 percent reporting rate, a decline from the previous year’s 65 percent.

States agreed to continue a working group on transparency and reporting and endorsed an outreach strategy to improve compliance with reporting requirements.

As with previous annual conferences, states generally avoided discussion of controversial arms transfers, particularly ones to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (See ACT, October 2017.) Those countries are leading a coalition fighting the Houthi in Yemen that has been criticized for frequently striking civilians and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. States that are still supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition risk going down in history as being complicit in war crimes in Yemen, Amnesty International said in a Sept. 17 statement.

Next year’s conference of states-parties is planned for Geneva on Aug. 26–30 and will be led by Jānis Kārkliņš of Latvia.

Posted: October 1, 2018

Trump Resists Arms Sales Restraint

Critics seek to thwart the Trump administration’s arms policies over issues such as U.S. weapons that are killing civilians in Yemen.


September 2018
By Jeff Abramson

An unusual mix of issues from the bombing of a school bus full of children in Yemen to alarm about possible 3D printing of untraceable guns is fueling controversy over the Trump administration’s promotion of conventional arms sales and military support. Yet, the administration seems poised to resist opposition to its practices coming from Congress and elsewhere.

Yemeni children raise protest signs during a demonstration in the capital Sanaa on August 12, after an air strike by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led military coalition hit a school bus and reportedly killed more than 40 children in the northern Houthi stronghold of Saada. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)Even before the Aug. 9 bombing in Yemen using U.S.-supplied weapons killed more than 50 people, including more than 40 children, congressional leaders were seeking answers to their questions about the propriety of U.S. military support for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that has frequently hit civilians and civilian infrastructure in its fight against the Houthi forces.

Following a string of congressional battles on arms sales and assistance (See ACT, April 2018.), Congress included a provision in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the secretary of state to certify within 30 days that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are complying with U.S. laws on weapons use and “taking appropriate steps to avoid disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

But President Donald Trump indicated his belief that he may not be bound by the requirement. In his Aug. 13 signing statement on the authorization legislation, Trump explicitly listed the provision as one among many that “encompass only actions for which such advance certification or notification is feasible and consistent with the President’s exclusive constitutional authorities.”

A separate action related to international arms regulation garnered widespread domestic opposition and drew a temporary restraining order from a U.S. district court judge in Washington state. In 2015 the State Department ordered an organization called Defense Distributed to remove online instructions for the 3D printing of firearms because such digital files created an export that is controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Despite winning court challenges to its authority, the State Department settled the case on June 29, and it published a notification on July 27 that Defense Distributed would be exempt from licensing requirements.

During July, opposition to the settlement included a legal challenge to block the administration’s actions filed by 19 states and the District of Columbia. Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted a temporary restraining order July 31 that led Defense Distributed to take down its online publications and the State Department to remove the exemption. The Justice Department filed a brief Aug. 15 calling on the judge to lift the injunction, but on Aug. 27 he extended the order as a preliminary injunction.

A separate administration effort might result in the same deregulation of 3D firearm printing, but the results are not expected until next year. The public comment period closed July 9 on proposed changes to how semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition are regulated. (See ACT, June 2018.) The transfer of such weapons from the State Department-controlled U.S. Munitions List to the Commerce Department-led Commerce Control List drew more than 6,000 comments, many of them negative.

Leading gun control and human rights organizations weighed in against the proposal, including Amnesty International USA, which wrote that the changes increase “the risk that irresponsible brokers of small arms and light weapons could evade regulation, and arms will be diverted to states or non-state actors with poor human rights records.”

The final rule is not expected until 2019, but the Commerce Department would not be expected to block online publication of 3D printing instructions under the circumstances of the Defense Distributed case. The Commerce Department would be expected to protect a commercial copyright, but Defense Distributed is actively working to publish material online rather than seeking such protection.

In addition to the provisions in the defense authorization law, members of Congress are taking other steps to circumscribe the administration’s actions involving sales of weapons for use in the Yemen war. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on June 28 he could not support the sale of precision-guided munition kits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, of which Congress officially has not been notified.

Menendez said he is “not confident” that the weapons sales will help drive the parties toward a political settlement. “Even worse, I am concerned that our policies are enabling perpetuation of a conflict that has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” he wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced on Aug. 1 that he would place a hold on the nomination of R. Clarke Cooper to be assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs unless the administration changes its policy on 3D gun printing. Cooper would be in charge of the department’s Directorate for Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), the office that published the short-lived exemption for Defense Distributed.

Tina Kaidanow, the acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, broadly defended the administration’s approach at a public event Aug. 8. In describing the implementation plan for the Trump administration’s conventional arms transfer policy, she focused on the economic benefits of a more aggressive governmental push to sell arms.

Although Kaidanow mentioned that human rights and nonproliferation objectives remain a part of U.S. conventional arms transfer policy, the plan’s three main elements are directed at increasing arms exports. Those elements include proactively ensuring that “U.S. products can win in the competitive global market place,” organizing governmental action to support that, and producing “conducive environments…to foster the efficient operations of U.S. defense trade.”

“What this initiative makes clear,” she said, “is that, under this administration, there will be no more active advocate for U.S. sales than the U.S. government itself.”

Posted: September 1, 2018

Illegal weapons: A global guide

News Source: 
IRIN
News Date: 
April 3, 2017 -04:00

Posted: August 14, 2018

How would reforming conventional arms transfer policy bolster national security?

News Source: 
Defense News
News Date: 
August 13, 2018 -04:00

Posted: August 13, 2018

State Department Officials on Arms Transfer Policies

News Source: 
C-SPAN
News Date: 
August 8, 2018 -04:00

Posted: August 10, 2018

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