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“[My time at ACA] prepared me very well for the position that I took following that with the State Department, where I then implemented and helped to implement many of the policies that we tried to promote.”
– Peter Crail
Business Executive for National Security
June 2, 2022
Arms Control Today

Putin Calls Up Reservists, Renews Nuclear Threat


October 2022
By Carol Giacomo and Shannon Bugos

Despite stunning setbacks in the war against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated the fight, announcing a mobilization of 300,000 military reservists and brandishing new threats of using nuclear weapons.

Police officers detain a man in Moscow on Sept. 21 during protests against the military mobilization of 300,000 men announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of an effort to replenish forces deployed to fight Russia’s war on Ukraine. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)Although Russia expanded its unprovoked war on Ukraine with an invasion on Feb. 24, Putin now seeks to reframe the military campaign as a defense of Russian sovereignty against Western nations that are attempting to “weaken, divide and ultimately destroy” Russia. “The citizens of Russia can rest assured that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be defended—I repeat—by all the systems available to us,” he said in the official Kremlin translation of a speech on Sept. 21.

“This is not a bluff,” he said.

Hours later, U.S. President Joe Biden used his address at the UN General Assembly in New York to push back. Referring to Russia, Biden made clear that what has happened is that “a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor” and aims to “[extinguish] Ukraine’s right to exist as a state.”

Biden condemned Putin’s comments as “irresponsible nuclear threats” and warned him against following through, repeating the Reagan-Gorbachev admonition that “[a] nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Biden also promised that “we will stand against Russia’s aggression,” but assured the assembled leaders that “we do not seek another Cold War.”

Putin has issued several previous threats to employ nuclear weapons against any perceived outside interference in Ukraine, but some U.S. officials and independent experts interpreted the latest threats as blunter and more serious. (See ACT, March and April 2022.)

After U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sept. 25 that the United States had warned Russia there would be “catastrophic consequences” if it used nuclear weapons, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov the next day said that Washington needs to “calm down and cease to inflate the situation [thus] bringing it closer to a dangerous line.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian regions under Russian control—Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk—conducted referendums on joining Russia. On Sept. 30, Putin signed decrees annexing the regions as part of Russia in violation of international and Ukrainian law.

After Putin’s address, Andrey Baklitskiy, a nuclear expert with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, tweeted that Putin’s “statements go beyond the Russian nuclear doctrine, which only suggests Russian first-use [of nuclear weapons] in a conventional war when the very existence of the state is threatened.”

“Putin adds ‘territorial integrity’ and very abstract protection of people, independence, and freedom,” he wrote, adding, “Coming from the person who has the sole decision-making power regarding Russian nuclear weapons, this will have to be taken seriously.”

A senior White House official, briefing reporters in New York on Sept. 21, said “the language and formula [Putin] used today is quite similar to how he’s spoken before” about a potential nuclear weapons use. But the official added, “We don’t see anything in terms of specific information, signals, or moves that would indicate” that any moves with nuclear or unconventional weapons is imminent.

In a Sept. 18 interview with CBS 60 Minutes, Biden refused to detail how the United States would respond to Russian nuclear use, offering only that, “It’ll be consequential. [Russia will] become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been, and depending on the extent of what they do, will determine what response would occur.” According to previous media reports, the Biden administration is focusing primarily on non-nuclear responses, such as sanctions and conventional strikes. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, warned on Sept. 13 that Putin may “strike back now in really unpredictable ways that may even involve weapons of mass destruction,” such as nuclear weapons. She recommended that if this happens, the United States should not respond in kind.

“We’ve been concerned from the outset of this crisis with Putin rattling the nuclear saber that he might put in play for a nuclear demonstration strike,” Gottemoeller said in an interview with the BBC. She said the strike could be “a single strike over the Black Sea or perhaps a strike at a Ukrainian military facility.”

In the Sept. 21 briefing, the White House official described the latest Russian moves as “an act of weakness” resulting from Putin failing to achieve his strategic objectives. This is another episode where “Putin has tried to rattle his saber, tried to scare us off, tried to make us think twice about our strategy. He has not succeeded before; he won’t succeed now,” the official added.

Russia and many in the West expected Russian forces to overrun Ukraine within weeks after the invasion. Instead, the Ukrainians have held their ground and are even regaining lost territory. An estimated 60,000 Russian forces have been killed, thousands of vehicles have been destroyed or captured, and there have been major problems with supply chains, training, and recruitment.

Putin’s decision to call up 300,000 men for military service has provoked protests and resistance and caused thousands of Russian men to flee the country.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the war in Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden decried Putin’s nuclear threats as “irresponsible.”

North Korea Passes Nuclear Law


October 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea passed a new law in September that updated its nuclear doctrine and provided greater clarity about command and control of the country’s nuclear weapons. Although the central tenets of North Korea’s nuclear strategy remain unchanged since 2013, the passage of the law further exacerbated tensions between North Korea and South Korea.

People at a railway station in Seoul on Sept. 25 watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, after the South Korean military said that North Korea fired a ballistic missile. Days earlier, a U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea for joint drills in a show of force against North Korea. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)In a Sept. 9 speech heralding the law, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that the country’s status as a nuclear weapons state “has now become irreversible” and that there will “never be any declaration of giving up our nukes or denuclearization” in future negotiations.

North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize has long been questioned because it views its nuclear deterrent as necessary to protect the Kim regime and the state, but past commitments to give up nuclear weapons have never been tested by a credible negotiating process.

The United States and South Korea dismissed Kim’s pronouncement and emphasized their continued goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In a Sept. 12 press briefing, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson Moon Hong-sik said that South Korea “remains firm” in its commitment to “pursue North Korea’s complete denuclearization.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the United States will continue to pursue “the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” in close consultation with allies in the region and that U.S. policy toward Pyongyang remains unchanged.

The law also reiterated that Kim has sole authority over any decision to use nuclear weapons, but for the first time noted that “a nuclear strike shall be launched automatically and immediately” according to an “operation plan decided in advance” if the leader’s command and control “is placed in danger owing to an attack by hostile forces.”

This provision signals that Pyongyang is prepared to use nuclear weapons in the event of a so-called decapitation strike designed to eliminate the North Korean leadership, which South Korea and the United States have simulated in joint exercises, and to deter such an attack by demonstrating it will not neutralize the country’s nuclear options.

Furthermore, the law codifies the two missions for the nuclear arsenal that Kim laid out in an April 2022 speech. In those remarks, he reiterated that the primary mission of the North Korean nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack, but also suggested that nuclear weapons will be used to repel an attack if deterrence fails. Prior to Kim’s speech, North Korean missile testing suggested that the country was developing repellent capabilities.

The law states that the nuclear forces “shall carry out an operational mission for repulsing hostile forces’ aggression” to achieve victory if “war deterrence fails.”

In addition to laying out these two missions, the law enumerates circumstances under which North Korea could use nuclear weapons. They could be interpreted broadly to apply to a range of scenarios. The law, for instance, references the use of nuclear weapons if a “fatal military attack against important strategic objects” is “judged to be on the horizon” or if necessary for “taking the initiative in war.” These ambiguous statements would allow for using nuclear weapons first against a non-nuclear-weapon state or conducting a preemptive nuclear strike.

Moon said that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons against South Korea, the North will face “an overwhelming response” from the U.S.-South Korean alliance. He also noted that South Korea is enhancing its own deterrence capabilities.

U.S. Defense Department press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Kim’s speech was “unhelpful and destabilizing” but the United States has a “tried and true policy and process” for deterring North Korea.

The United States and South Korea also continue to reevaluate alliance capabilities in response to North Korea’s evolving nuclear capabilities, including at the third meeting of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group, which took place Sept. 16 in Washington.

A joint statement released after the meeting described the new North Korean law as “escalatory and destabilizing” and said any nuclear attack by Pyongyang would be met with an “overwhelming and decisive response.” The United States also committed to continue deploying strategic assets in the region to “deter and respond” to North Korean threats, the statement said.

Although the new law is consistent with Kim’s pronouncements regarding North Korean nuclear policy, its passage by a largely symbolic legislature is unlikely to inhibit Pyongyang if future circumstances require changes to the nuclear policy. The law, for instance, states that North Korea “as a responsible nuclear weapons state” will not share or “transfer nuclear weapons, technology, and equipment” or weapons-grade nuclear materials. But North Korea’s record of assisting states in the past with illicit nuclear activities and ballistic missile programs suggests its willingness to assist proliferators under certain conditions.

Activity at North Korean nuclear sites suggests that the country continues to engage in activities that could be used to expand its stockpile of fissile material available for nuclear weapons to meet evolving deterrence requirements. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi told the agency’s board of governors on Sept. 11 that there are indications that North Korea’s five-megawatt electric reactor, which produces plutonium, continues to operate and that the expansion of the centrifuge enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear complex is externally complete.

Grossi also reported that the North Korean nuclear test site “remains active and prepared to support a nuclear test,” although his agency did not observe extensive work at the location over the summer. He said the reopening of the test site is “deeply troubling.”

The new law exacerbated tensions between North Korea and South Korea.

U.S. Conditions Talks on New START Inspections


October 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The United States declared in September that any negotiation of a new nuclear arms control arrangement to follow on from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) depends on the resumption of the treaty’s on-site inspections of nuclear-related facilities, which Russia has impeded.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wesley Baptiste (L) and Airman Daniel Peryer perform a “simulated missile reduction” in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, in 2011. Such inspections, and the treaty itself, are now at risk because of Russia's failure to resume the inspections amid its war on Ukraine.  (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Desiree Esposito)The two countries agreed to suspend inspections in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although talks had been ongoing since last year to resume these inspections, Russia undermined such efforts and further extended the pause with its decision in August to prohibit inspections of its relevant facilities subject to New START. (See ACT, September 2022.)

“The first step is to resume inspections” under New START, “and we have been trying to work with the Russians toward that end,” a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said on Sept. 1. New START is the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement and will expire in February 2026. Washington paused arms control talks with Moscow following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. (See ACT, March 2022.)

Russia claimed that its flight crew and inspectors have faced difficulties in obtaining the necessary documents, such as visas, to carry out inspections in the United States, which has imposed, alongside U.S. allies, sanctions and restrictions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

But U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Aug. 16 that “U.S. sanctions and restrictive measures imposed as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine are fully compatible” with New START and “don’t prevent Russian inspectors from conducting treaty inspections in the United States.” Another State Department spokesperson later added, “The United States has and will continue to engage Russia on the resumption of inspections through diplomatic channels,” such as the Bilateral Consultative Commission established by the treaty to address implementation and verification concerns.

Although the pause of on-site inspections is concerning, U.S. officials continue to assess that Russia does not appear poised to employ nuclear weapons imminently.

Since the outset of the war, the United States has consistently monitored Russian nuclear forces for any signs of impending use, thus far seeing none.

Against this backdrop of rising tensions, the United States moved ahead with a long-planned test of an unarmed nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Minuteman III, on Sept. 7. The test ICBM carried three reentry vehicles and traveled 4,200 miles from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California to a test range at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

In March, the Pentagon delayed and then cancelled an ICBM test so as not to exacerbate tensions amid the Russian war in Ukraine. It also delayed by two weeks an ICBM test in August due to heightened tensions with China over Taiwan. (See ACT, April and September 2022.)

Meanwhile, Moscow announced in mid-August the deployment of Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles on Mikoyan MiG-31 fighter jets based at the Chkalovsk Air Base in the Kaliningrad enclave as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Although the deployed missiles are conventional, the Kinzhal is thought to be nuclear capable.

Over the course of the war, Russia has used Kinzhal missiles to strike targets in Ukraine in March and possibly in May, leading a U.S. defense official to estimate that Russian forces have employed about a dozen hypersonic missiles in total. (See ACT, April and June 2022.)

“We have deployed [the Kinzhal system] three times during the special military operation” in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an Aug. 31 interview with Russian media, “and three times it showed brilliant characteristics.” U.S. defense officials, in contrast, have asserted that the Russian use of hypersonic weapons has not proved to be a game-changing decision in the war.

Russia declared that the United States would become a party to the conflict if it “cross[ed] the red line” by supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles, such as the Army Tactical Missile System that has a range of up to 300 kilometers.

“We reserve the right to protect the Russian territory by all available means,” Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Sept. 15 briefing.

Russia and the United States suspended inspections in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Russia has extended the pause.

Germany Investigates Firms for Chemical Exports


October 2022
By Leanne Quinn

German customs officials on Aug. 30 carried out seven search warrants on a network of German chemical companies suspected of violating export control permitting laws.

According to case documents viewed by German public broadcasters NDR and WDR and the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, investigators allege that, over the last three and a half years, chemical company Riol Chemie GmbH sent more than 30 shipments of dual-use toxic substances and laboratory equipment to Russia’s Chimmed Group without export permits, violating the German Foreign Trade Act.

The shipments were reported to include precursor chemicals that can be used in the production of banned chemical agents such as mustard gas and Novichok. Benedikt Strunz, one of the German broadcasters from NDR who broke the story, said in an interview published on Sept. 12 that the amounts of compounds shipped to Russia were too small for industrial production of those chemical agents. At this time, the intended purpose of the shipments is unknown. At least two other chemical companies and one export firm could also be implicated, Strunz said.

The new investigation comes after the managing director of a trading company in the German state of Saxony was indicted in February on suspicion of exporting dual-use chemicals to a Russian intelligence agency for the purpose of producing weapons of mass destruction.

The two cases underscore the importance of strong national laws that criminalize activities related to the proliferation of chemical weapons. Although research, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons are banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), chemical weapons remain a threat in nations where treaty obligations have not been fully implemented.

 

Prosecutors charged a German chemical company with sending more than 30 shipments of dual-use toxic substances and equipment to Russia’s Chimmed Group, German media said.

U.S. Offering More Arms to Taiwan


October 2022
By Jeff Abramson

The Biden administration has notified Congress of its plan to offer more than $1 billion in weapons and military support to Taiwan as leaders in the Senate advanced legislation for even more armaments in the coming years, drawing new expressions of concern from China.

As tensions over Taiwan grew, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, sponsored by Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), shown in photo, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), to boost foreign military financing funds for the self-governing democracy that China claims as its own. The legislation must next be approved by the full Senate.  (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)The latest potential weapons deals, announced Sept. 2, would provide Taipei with support for its radar surveillance capabilities, as well as 60 anti-ship Harpoon missiles and 100 short-range air-to-air Sidewinder missiles. In total, the administration has proposed more than $2 billion in weapons transfers to Taiwan through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which includes whole or parts of weapons systems or support services for tanks, combat vehicles, howitzers, ships, and Patriot air defense systems. Congress has 30 days to disapprove the latest sales before the administration can proceed, but no serious effort is being made to block them.

Thus far, the Biden administration has not proposed new sales of weapons with a higher international profile, such as F-16 fighter aircraft, or longer-range capabilities, such as the Army Tactical Missile Systems and Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response, all of which were among more than $18 billion in FMS program notifications during the Trump administration. Such weapons give Taiwan more capabilities to attack the Chinese mainland, approximately 110 miles away.

The Biden administration appears to be following what some are calling the “porcupine” strategy, whereby Taiwan is so well provisioned with weapons that any attempt by China to invade and occupy the country would prove extremely difficult and costly.

Less than two weeks after the arms sale notification, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022. A vote of the full Senate has not been scheduled.. Authored by committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the committee added an additional year and $2 billion in foreign military financing funds to the original bill, raising it to $6.5 billion through fiscal year 2027.

The legislation also directs the State and Defense departments and contractors to expedite FMS program requests from Taiwan.

Menendez welcomed the committee’s vote on Sept. 14, saying that “we are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable.” In an op-ed in The New York Times in August, he wrote, “We saw the warning signs for Ukraine in 2014 and failed to take action that might have deterred further Russian aggression. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake with Taiwan.”

In recent months especially after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on Aug. 2–3, security concerns around Taiwan have increased, with China and the United States conducting military exercises. China reacted negatively to the latest potential arms sales and legislation, including by sanctioning directors of U.S. weapons manufacturers Raytheon and Boeing.

China claims that Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, is part of China and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland by force if necessary. U.S. President Joe Biden recently suggested that the United States would directly intervene militarily if needed on behalf of Taiwan in the event of a conflict with China. Interpreted by some experts as a change in the long-standing U.S. “One China” policy, such comments have been walked back by U.S. officials, but still have contributed to mounting tensions.

The latest U.S. offer is valued at $1 billion, as Taiwan seeks to build its defenses amid rising tensions with China.

U.S., Ukraine Refute Russian Bioweapons Charges


October 2022
By Leanne Quinn

A special session of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), convened in Geneva at Russia’s request and centered on biological weapons accusations against the United States and Ukraine, ended Sept. 9 without resolution.

As the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya has made his country's case for waging war in Ukraine and for accusing the United States and Ukraine of activities that violate the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). But Russia never provided any evidence of its charges, including at a special BWC session in September in Geneva. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)During eight closed-door meetings held Sept. 5–9, 89 BWC states-parties and one BWC signatory state heard presentations from the three countries involved in the dispute. Russia has a history of mischaracterizing U.S. biological research cooperation with Ukraine and other partners, but the consultative meeting marked the first time Russia used a provision of the treaty to press the United States for answers to its allegations.

After the meeting, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price lauded the work of the U.S. and Ukrainian delegations and condemned Russian attempts to spread disinformation.

“The United States and Ukraine presented a thorough, in-depth series of presentations that strongly refuted Russia’s absurd and false claims of U.S. biological weapons development and bio-labs in Ukraine,” he said in the statement.

Russia, which called for the meeting in June, sought answers to questions concerning the “fulfillment of [the U.S. and Ukrainian] respective obligations under the convention in the context of the operation of biological laboratories on the Ukrainian territory.”

Before the meeting, the United States received a diplomatic note from Russia that “did not contain any actual questions, but rather a series of assertions and mischaracterizations of various documents that the Russian Federation claims to have obtained during Russia’s war against Ukraine,” according to a U.S. document submitted to the meeting.

Addressing allegations related to U.S. funding of Ukrainian biological research facilities, the document explained that, in 2005, the U.S. Defense Department and the Ukrainian Health Ministry entered into a cooperative agreement on preventing the proliferation of technology, pathogens, and expertise that could be used in the development of biological weapons. Such cooperation is encouraged under Article X of the BWC.

The U.S. delegation noted that Russia was a foundational partner of the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction programs and benefited from similar collaborative biological research and biosafety work that took place between the United States and Russia for many years until cooperation was terminated by Russia in 2014.

“Normal Ukraine-United States Article X cooperation is being demonised, which is dangerous” for the BWC, Aiden Liddle, UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said in a tweet on Sept. 7.

One series of Russian questions focused on three U.S.-issued patents for technology related to the weaponization of toxins, including whether the patents violated U.S. obligations under the BWC. The United States responded that “the decision to issue a patent does not violate the obligations” of the United States under the BWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on the grounds that “patent rights do not confer a legal right or authorization to produce an invention” but rather “simply serve to give the patent owner the legal means to exclude other parties from taking certain actions with respect to that invention.”

The United States responded that because multiple states-parties to the BWC and CWC have issued similar patents, including Russia, it might be beneficial to hold “further discussions on best practices for identifying and addressing such applications.”

Regarding U.S. funding of animal surveillance projects in Ukraine, the United States dismissed Russian claims that the projects are seeking to “weaponize” migratory birds. It said the two research projects collect data on avian diseases in migratory birds to support “a long-term international effort encouraged by the World Health Organization to understand the spread of avian influenza around the world.”

 

Russia called a special meeting to reaffirm bioweapons charges against Ukraine and the United States but has offered no evidence.

ATT Meeting Focuses on Post-Transfer Arms Controls


October 2022
By Jeff Abramson

Improving control over weapons after they have been delivered was the theme of the annual conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which took place during a time of massive weapons transfers by treaty members responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The annual conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty discussed improving controls over weapons after their delivery against the backdrop of the Russian war on Ukraine. In this photo, Ukrainian forces fire a U.S.-made M777 howitzer on the front line in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine on Aug. 1.   (Photo by Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)Under the treaty, member states agree to consider the risks that arms transfers would undermine peace and security or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights laws. Very little discussion of specific transfers took place during the formal sessions, held in Geneva on Aug. 22–26, but a few countries spoke of the war in Ukraine, saying that the treaty should be interpreted so as to prohibit transfers to Russia.
(See ACT, October 2021.)

For example, the Netherlands called “on all our ATT partners to refrain from supplying weapons to the Russian Federation due to an overriding risk of misuse.” The United Kingdom encouraged all states-parties that have not suspended such transfers “to reconsider, in line with their treaty obligations.” The European Union argued that, “[i]n the current unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression by Russia in Ukraine, given the many grave breaches by Russia of the Geneva Conventions, including attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians, arms transfers to Russia would not be permitted under the ATT.”

Austria, while noting that its neutrality leads it not to provide weapons to Ukraine, said, “we fully acknowledge the right of Ukraine to acquire arms for self-defense against the illegal invasion by Russia.” Although Ukraine is a signatory, neither it nor Russia are states-parties to the treaty or are mentioned in the final report that was adopted by conference participants.

Delegates considered a range of recommendations for the post-shipment phase of transfers with the goal of preventing weapons diversion and addressing risks associated with the arms trade. In the final report, states-parties were encouraged to continue such discussions, which also will be taken up in the working group on effective treaty implementation.

Noting that discussion of specific transfers is often lacking, Cindy Ebbs, co-director of the civil society coalition Control Arms, told Arms Control Today on Sept. 14 that it was a positive sign that the Diversion Information Exchange Forum met for the first time during this year’s conference. Established in 2020 but delayed from meeting in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the forum is meant to provide an opportunity for states to share cases of suspected or detected diversion. It is controversial because it is open only to states-parties and signatories. (See ACT, September 2020.)

During the forum, four countries discussed specific diversion cases in what was reported to be a productive exchange. Ebbs continued to argue that the forum should be open to civil society, but welcomed the effort for countries to discuss concrete implementation challenges.

With the recent ratifications by Gabon and the Philippines, the ATT has 112 states-parties. The United States, whose 2013 signature to the treaty was rejected by President Donald Trump in 2019, sent a delegation to the meeting, which did not speak during the formal sessions. Last year, the U.S. delegation indicated that a new conventional arms transfer policy would be released shortly and help define Washington’s relationship to the treaty. That policy has yet to be released.

The ninth conference of ATT states-parties, led by South Korea, will be held in Geneva on Aug. 21–25, 2023, with an expected special focus on the role of industry.

As weapons shipments flood Ukraine, states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty are discussing improving controls over weapons after they have been delivered.

Meeting Flags Cluster Munitions Harm in Ukraine


October 2022
By Jeff Abramson

States-parties to the treaty banning cluster munitions have reaffirmed their commitment to that goal amid the escalating challenges posed by the widespread use of the weapons in the war in Ukraine.

A tail section of a 300mm rocket which appears to have contained cluster bombs launched from a BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher is seen embedded in the ground on July 3 after shelling in Kramatorsk, amid the Russian war on Ukraine.  (Photo by Genya Savilov / AFP via Getty Images)The members of the Convention on Cluster Munitions held their annual conference Aug. 30–Sept. 2 in Geneva. The president of the meeting, Aidan Liddle, UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said in his opening address that “our determination to achieve a world entirely free of any use of these weapons…is tested by the scenes we have witnessed since Russia launched its unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine in February this year.”

In recent years, whether to name specific instances of use and how to express condemnation have been contentious issues at annual meetings of the convention. (See ACT, October 2021.)

In the final report adopted at this year’s conference, delegates said that, “in accordance with the object and provisions of the convention, [they] condemned any use of cluster munitions by any actor.” They also expressed their “grave concern at the increase in civilian casualties and the humanitarian impact resulting from the repeated and well-documented use of cluster munitions since the second review conference. This grave concern applies in particular to the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine.”

The Cluster Munition Monitor, published by the Cluster Munition Coalition, identified at least 689 casualties during cluster munitions attacks in Ukraine in the first half of 2022. That is more than four times the 149 casualties it identified for the entire previous year across nine countries plus Nagorno-Karabakh and Western Sahara, all of which were attributed to weapon remnants rather than new attacks. The vast majority of the cluster munitions use in Ukraine was done by Russian forces. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a party to the treaty.

The treaty, which entered into force in 2010, has 110 states-parties and 13 signatories, numbers that have not changed since 2020. Under it, countries commit to clear within 10 years cluster munitions contamination from territory they control. At this year’s meeting, Chad received approval for an extension to this deadline, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Chile received new extensions after having been granted short ones at last year’s review conference.

According to the Mine Action Review, 25 countries and three other areas remain contaminated with cluster munition remnants. Collectively, they cleared more than 151 square kilometers of contaminated territory in 2021, an annual record. Of 10 states-parties having contamination, the report found that only Afghanistan was on track to complete clearance without needing another extension, although it also noted that regime changes there “could still derail its progress.”

Abdulkarim Hashim Mustafa, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, was named president of next year’s annual meeting, planned for Sept. 11–14.

 

States-parties to the treaty banning cluster munitions reaffirmed that goal as the use of the weapon escalated during the war in Ukraine.

An Opening for Renewed Disarmament Diplomacy


September 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

In addition to increasing human suffering and reminding the world of the risks of nuclear weapons, the Russian war on Ukraine halted U.S. and Russian arms control talks that are necessary to maintain verifiable caps on, perhaps even reduce, the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. But now there is an opportunity for renewing disarmament diplomacy.

Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP via Getty Images)U.S. President Joe Biden, building on his letter to the Arms Control Association on June 2 in which he said that “our progress must continue beyond the New START [New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] extension,” issued a statement on Aug. 1 at the start of the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in which he declared, “Even at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to work together to uphold our shared responsibility to ensure strategic stability. Today, my administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026. But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith.”

This call for further nuclear arms control negotiations was welcomed by dozens of states at the NPT review conference, where frustration over the deficit in disarmament diplomacy ran high. Importantly, the United States and Russia agreed in the draft NPT document “to pursue negotiations in good faith on a successor framework to New START before its expiration in 2026, in order to achieve deeper, irreversible, and verifiable reductions in their nuclear arsenals.” Despite Russia’s decision to block consensus on the draft NPT document over other issues, both sides should follow through on the New START follow-on talks.

Without new arrangements to supersede New START, there will be no limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Moreover, efforts to engage China and the other nuclear-armed states in the disarmament enterprise will fall flat, and the dangers of unconstrained global nuclear arms racing will only grow.

Although Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin say they want to negotiate new arms reduction agreements, they have not resumed their dialogue, and each suggests progress depends on the other.

Russia says it supports New START and talks on follow-on agreements, but first wants more details on the Biden administration’s proposal for talks. Complicating matters, Russia announced on Aug. 8 that it would not allow the resumption of inspections under New START that were suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia claims that U.S. travel restrictions make it difficult for Russia to conduct inspections of U.S. nuclear installations while U.S. inspectors do not face similar rules.

Given that the war in Ukraine could drag on indefinitely and that time is running short on New START, it is imperative that Moscow and Washington immediately resolve the differences blocking the restart of New START inspections and begin negotiations, without conditions, on new arms control arrangements to supersede New START.

The key objective should be deeper, verifiable reductions to a total of 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems per side, which would be roughly a 33 percent decrease from the levels in New START.

New understandings need not be expressed as formal treaties that require approval by the Russian Duma and the gridlocked U.S. Senate. Binding executive agreements, like the first U.S.-Soviet arms control deal, would suffice.

At a minimum, U.S. and Russian leaders should issue unilateral reciprocal commitments to respect the central limits of New START until such time as new agreements that supersede New START are concluded. With the recent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiators also should pursue a verifiable moratorium on the deployment in Europe of missiles formerly banned by the treaty.

Progress will not be easy and political support is not assured. With the Dr. Strangelove Caucus in Congress already clamoring for the United States to abandon New START, the Biden administration and nongovernmental organizations committed to nuclear risk reduction need to expand their efforts.

Franklin Miller, a former Defense Department official, argues that, in response to China and Russia, the United States should withdraw from New START to allow a buildup from the current level of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads to 3,000 or 3,500. Such radical notions would repudiate 50 years of U.S. policy, violate U.S. legal obligations under the NPT to pursue disarmament, and open the door to a dangerous new era of nuclear arms racing and nuclear proliferation.

Negotiations on a New START follow-on framework are essential to reduce the Russian nuclear threat, constrain a potential Chinese nuclear buildup, and lower the risk of nuclear conflict. Now is the time for Washington and Moscow to resume talks on nuclear arms control. In 1979, Sen. Biden (D-Del.) told an Arms Control Association meeting that “[p]ursuing arms control is not a luxury or a sign of weakness, but an international responsibility and a national necessity.” That was true during the Cold War, and it remains true today.

 

In addition to increasing human suffering and reminding the world of the risks of nuclear weapons, the Russian war on Ukraine halted U.S. and Russian arms control talks that are necessary to maintain verifiable caps on, perhaps even reduce, the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. But now there is an opportunity for renewing disarmament diplomacy.

Mexico’s Bold Move Against Gun Companies


September 2022
By Wilma Gandoy Vázquez and Ximena García Hidalgo

Of 193 member states of the United Nations, Mexico has the fifth-largest number of unregistered firearms in civilian hands, behind the United States, India, China, and Pakistan.1 This availability of firearms and the violence it enables have major destructive consequences. In Mexico, guns are the weapon of choice in 70 percent of total homicides and 60 percent of homicides committed against women. Guns are also the main tool in homicides of young people.

This cache of .50 caliber rifles, which were seized from criminals or voluntarily handed over to Mexican authorities, was destroyed at Military Camp 1-A in Mexico City in August 2017. According to data from the Mexican Defense Ministry, from July 24 to July 31 that year, a total of 17,769 firearms were destroyed at various military camps around the country. (Photo by Bernardo Montoya/AFP via Getty Images)Gun violence is so pervasive that it has stagnated the growth in life expectancy of the Mexican population in general and, between 2005 and 2010, reduced the life expectancy of males by about 0.6 years.2 In addition to deaths and injuries, gun violence forces people to leave their homes and even flee to other countries without proper documentation. It limits day-to-day mobility by making people afraid to use public spaces and increases school dropout rates and gender violence. Around 40 percent of the population has heard or seen shootings frequently. Mexicans live most of their lives in fear.

In addition to the human carnage, the price of gun violence is felt economically. It has upended the functioning of major Mexican industries such as agriculture, tourism, and transportation; increased the cost of products and services; decreased the value of real estate; curtailed investment; and changed consumption and savings patterns. According to one estimate, the economic damage caused by violence amounts to 21 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.3 The resources that Mexico allocates to deal with the consequences of gun violence are no longer invested in development projects or social programs. Mexico is swamped by millions of handguns and military-style rifles, compromising its future and the well-being of its people.

As a result, the Mexican government has embarked on a comprehensive strategy to reduce arms trafficking and the violence it produces. In order to include corporate responsibility in its strategy, Mexico took an unprecedented and bold act: it filed a lawsuit against U.S. arms manufacturers and distributors who are responsible for facilitating the trafficking of firearms into Mexican territory through negligent and illegal business practices.

Compared to other countries, Mexico participates modestly in the manufacture and production of firearms, and private gun ownership is significantly restricted. Semi-automatic pistols higher than .380 caliber and all firearms using .223 caliber are prohibited. To receive a one-year gun permit, individuals must pass a background check. There is only one gun store in the country, run by the Mexican army, which sells about 38 guns a day. This means that almost all unregistered firearms in circulation in Mexico entered through illicit trafficking.

A man looks at the site where an armed group executed six people inside an addiction clinic in San Pedro Tlaquepaque, state of Jalisco, Mexico, on July 25. (Photo by Ulises Ruiz/AFP via Getty Images)Researchers have estimated that at least half a million firearms are trafficked each year from the United States.4 According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about 70 percent of the firearms seized at crime scenes in Mexico are traced to the United States.5 Many of these weapons are military grade and wreak remarkable havoc. Between March 2009 and March 2021, criminal groups used firearms trafficked from the United States to kill 25 members of the Mexican army and wound 84 others. Between 2006 and 2021, trafficked firearms were used to kill 415 federal police and National Guard members, in addition to wounding 840 more. In 2019, more than 3.9 million crimes in Mexico were committed with a gun traced to the United States.6 Between 2015 and 2021, at least 140,000 civilians were killed with a firearm in Mexico.

This catastrophic situation is no accident. Through negligent and illicit business practices, the U.S. gun industry has built a permanent infrastructure that provides easy access to firearms for traffickers and, consequently, members of organized crime in Mexico. According to one research report, in 2012, nearly 47 percent of firearm dealers licensed by the U.S. government depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from Mexico-related weapons trafficking.7 Although this trade takes place in nearly every state in the United States, many gun dealers have established themselves close to the Mexican border to meet the traffickers’ demands. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of gun stores in border states grew by 18 percent, while in nonborder states it increased by 1.8 percent. Currently, 18 percent of all licensed U.S. gun dealers are located in states bordering Mexico.8

A Lucrative Gun Trade

In 2021, specialists who collaborate with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated the annual value of guns trafficked from the United States at more than $250 million.9 Some journalists and activists believe the problem lies with customs authorities, who overlook the magnitude of the border dynamics and the fact that any policy applied to strengthen border security would be insufficient if the arms industry does not change its business practices, which fuel the arms trafficking phenomenon.

One article posits that the first step in reducing gun trafficking into Mexico lies in focusing on legal sales.10 Guns are very different from other products because they generate their own demand. If more guns are available, insecurity increases and with it the demand for more guns. Therefore, reducing the supply of firearms is a viable policy to reduce demand. That would cause changes in the supply chain that would make it more difficult and more expensive for criminal groups to obtain firearms from the United States. If these criminal groups have less access to firepower, authorities could more feasibly tackle illegal activities such as drug trafficking.

The civil lawsuit filed by the Mexican government has its origin in an unfortunate event. On August 3, 2019, a white supremacist drove to a supermarket in El Paso, Texas, with the objective of exterminating “as many Mexicans as possible.” He killed 23 people and injured 23 others. A subsequent investigation by the Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry identified a common denominator between the El Paso shooting and violence caused by the availability of firearms in Mexico: gun manufacturers and distributors engaging in negligent and illegal business practices that facilitated their products ending up in the hands of the wrong people.11

People take part in a ‘Walk for Peace’ to ask for a stop to violence, extortions, executions, and disappearances of people in Mexico, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on July 31. (Photo by Ulises Ruiz/AFP via Getty Images)These commercial practices include refusing to design firearms with mechanisms that prevent their use by unauthorized persons, thus making them useful and attractive to organized crime. In addition, although their products are supposed to be oriented to the civilian market, gun manufacturers use in their advertising the images, symbols, and language of military combat, characteristics that attract organized crime groups. Finally, their distribution systems allow sales without controls or inventories, thus allowing for thefts and losses, as well as multiple sales and “straw purchases.”12

Through tracing requests from authorities and governmental reports, companies are fully aware that their firearms are disproportionately used in the commission of crimes in Mexico. Although they have the power to prevent the transfer of their products to the criminal market by adopting easy, inexpensive measures that have already been tried, these companies prefer to continue those negligent, illegal commercial practices to maintain their profits.13

After two years of researching, the Mexican government filed suit in U.S. district court in Massachusetts on August 4, 2021. The defendants are familiar names: Smith & Wesson; Barrett; Beretta; Century International Arms; Colt; Glock; Sturm, Ruger & Co; and Witmer Public Safety/Interstate Arms. The suit’s main arguments are that by becoming members of the gun industry, the defendant companies acquired a responsibility to follow all relevant laws related to their activities, as well as to comply with the highest standards of care, such as Mexican gun import laws, U.S. gun export laws, Mexican and U.S. tort laws, and U.S. federal and state gun laws, and that the failure to comply with these responsibilities has caused massive harm to Mexico and its people.

Based on these premises, the Mexican government sued the companies for general negligence because the traffickers were able to obtain high-capacity firearms, ammunition, and magazines as a result of negligent marketing, distribution, and sales practices by firearms producers, distributors, and sellers and also for negligence per se, an exception to the U.S. Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) that applies when sellers violate any law in the sale of a gun.

The government claims public nuisance based on the evidence that dealers have engaged in “straw sales” and multiple sales, and despite knowing or having to know about this practice, gun producers and distributors have continued to supply guns to these dealers. In addition, Mexico invokes the predicate statute, which operates when a supplier or seller is shown to violate a law related to the sale or marketing of arms and the violation of local laws. The lawsuit further argues that the sale of assault firearms to the public is a violation of the U.S. National Firearms Act, which prohibits automatic firearms because they can be easily converted into assault firearms.14

The Mexican government asserts that the PLCAA, the law granting immunity to the firearms industry, does not apply to its lawsuit because the damages occur outside the United States and because, given the negligent or illegal conduct of the defendants, several exceptions to such procedural immunity are activated in this case.15

The Mexican government asks the court to require the defendants to abate and remedy the public nuisance they have created and to create and implement standards to reasonably monitor and discipline their distribution systems. The suit also demands that gun manufacturers incorporate all reasonably available safety mechanisms into their guns, including devices to prevent use by unauthorized users, and that they fund studies, programs, advertising campaigns, and other events focused on preventing unlawful trafficking of guns. Finally, the suit requests that the defendants take all necessary action to abate the current and future harm that their conduct is causing and would otherwise cause in Mexico. It asks that the court grant damages, civil penalties, restitution, and disgorgement of the defendants' profits to the Mexican government.16

Gun Industry Dismissal Request

The case marks the first time that a foreign country has sued members of the firearms industry in a U.S. court. The companies filed their responses to the lawsuit on November 22, 2021. By means of a joint memorandum of law and individual memorandums, they ask the court to grant their motion to dismiss the complaint. Their main arguments are that the PLCAA grants them immunity from civil suits, that the Mexican government does not have standing to sue the companies, and that the companies are not subject to the court's jurisdiction because they do not have sufficient ties to Massachusetts.

In addition, the companies assert that there are too many intermediate steps between the damage in Mexico cited in the lawsuit and the actions of the companies, that the companies have no legal obligation to protect Mexico from the criminal misuse of their products in Mexican territory, and that the Mexican government is responsible for preventing the damages it claims. The defendants’ main objective in filing a motion to dismiss the complaint is to prevent the lawsuit from moving forward and reaching the discovery stage.

A bullet hole is seen on the door of a restaurant close to the site where four radio station workers were killed in Ciudad Juarez, state of Chihuahua, Mexico, on August 12. (Photo by Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images)In January 2022, the Mexican government filed its response to the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. It argues that because the injury occurs in Mexican territory, the substantive law that applies to this lawsuit is Mexican law and that the immunities granted by the PLCAA do not apply in this case. The government states that the complaint adequately describes how the companies violate their legal obligations and thereby create public nuisance in Mexico.

The government argues that neither international law nor custom preclude it from suing the companies in U.S. courts, that the district court in Massachusetts can hear the case because the defendants participate in the economic life and carry out business transactions in the state that result in damages in Mexico, that the progress of the case in the district court is not particularly onerous or unusual for the companies, and that what is being claimed are negligent and illegal business practices, not the criminal use of the firearms manufactured or distributed by the companies. In addition, the government submitted a report on Mexican tort law and a report by expert economists that calculated the number of firearms produced or sold in Massachusetts and trafficked into Mexico. According to the latter document, between 2011 and 2020, the total number of guns from defendant manufacturing companies linked to Massachusetts and trafficked to Mexico ranged from 68,552 to 250,214.17

In support of the lawsuit, groups from various countries submitted amicus curiae briefs. Attorneys general from 14 U.S. states explain that when the PLCAA was drafted, the U.S. Congress did not make the gun industry immune in cases in which its own conduct violated laws regulating the sale and marketing of guns. They also say that the Mexican government plausibly alleged that the companies' business practices violate the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. District attorneys from 27 U.S. counties assert that careless gun sales and the gun trafficking to Mexico facilitated by these companies are having a direct impact on their communities by promoting drug trafficking and violence.

In another brief, 16 law professors from U.S. universities agree that the immunity granted by the PLCAA to members of the arms industry does not apply in this case and that international law recognizes the authority of a state to apply its tort law to conduct outside its territory that causes it substantial harm. Professors of international law from European universities also weigh in, asserting that public international law and conflict of law rules do not prohibit foreign law from being applied in a tort liability case against U.S. companies for damages they cause abroad.

Several leading U.S. gun violence prevention organizations also make a case that Massachusetts law allows Mexico’s lawsuit to be heard. The governments of Belize and Antigua and Barbuda, as well as SEHLAC, an international organization focused on security, describe the gun violence situation afflicting Latin America and the Caribbean and emphasize that the remedies sought by Mexico are simple measures that could drastically reduce gun violence in the region. Finally, Mexican academics, activists, victims, and experts vividly describe the ravages of gun trafficking in Mexico.18

On March 14, the companies responded to the court filings, asking that Mexico's request for discovery be denied. The Mexican government asked the court for authorization to file a sur-reply, which points out that the companies rejected the application of Mexican law without offering a legal analysis as to which tort law should be used to analyze this case. The government asserts that legal practice and international law establish that the applicable law is that of the place where the damage occurs and that the application of Mexican law in tort liability matters is not inconsistent with any public policy of Massachusetts or the United States.

On April 12, the parties presented oral arguments before Chief Judge Dennis Saylor through a videoconference. The hearing did not discuss substantive issues of the case, but the arguments related to the standing of the Mexican government, the scope of the PLCAA, and the jurisdiction of the U.S. district court. The judge's questions helped clarify that the legal arguments in the lawsuit are specific to the Mexican case. They also clarified that the Mexican government did not sue the companies because firearms were used to commit crimes, but rather the lawsuit is about the defendants knowing that their products are being trafficked to criminal groups in Mexico and making decisions that facilitate the trafficking.

On June 9, the Mexican government filed a notice of supplemental authority to the court, stemming from developments in National Shooting Sports Foundation v. James. In that case, the gun industry representative challenged a New York statute making it possible to hold gun manufacturers liable for knowingly or recklessly creating or contributing to endangering residents' public safety. The notice points out that several of the foundation’s arguments related to extraterritoriality and applicability of the law, as well as the scope of the PLCAA and separation of powers, are in line with the Mexican government's positions in its lawsuit. Four months after the hearing, the judge has not issued a decision. Whichever party falls short is expected to appeal, and the litigation will continue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

A Comprehensive Strategy

In parallel to the lawsuit, Mexico has continued its strategy to combat arms trafficking. At the national level, it created the National Customs Agency, and all civilian customs personnel will be replaced by members of the Ministry of National Defense by 2023. At the bilateral level, Mexico signed the Bicentennial Agreement with the United States, which gives special attention to achieving tangible results in the fight against arms trafficking. It also has approached the European Union to invite its members to take responsibility for their firearms companies operating in the United States, emphasizing their duty to protect human rights as EU laws require.

At the international level, Mexico has taken actions in the most important mechanisms and institutions that help control and regulate firearms, such as the Arms Trade Treaty, the Firearms Working Group of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacture of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials. In the UN Security Council, Mexico led the adoption of Resolution 2616, which recognizes that the diversion of small arms and light weapons is a threat to peace and security.19 In the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Mexico was central to the approval of a resolution that recognizes the link between arms trafficking and drug trafficking.

Through novel arguments and new interpretations of the laws regulating the gun industry, the civil lawsuit seeks to include one of the most powerful actors in the solution to gun violence. Companies have the ability to define the design of their products and the way they advertise, distribute, and sell them. They also have the most extensive and updated information on purchasing patterns to identify transfers to the illicit market. Because of this, more initiatives are emerging in the United States to hold the firearms industry accountable, such as California’s AB1594 law, New York’s S.7196/A.6762 law, and the establishment of an office in New Jersey to bring legal action against gun manufacturers, dealers, and sellers.

In this chaotic 21st century, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of the role of the state in protecting the lives of its population. With this civil lawsuit against gun companies that facilitate gun trafficking into its territory, the Mexican government is attempting to fulfill its legal and moral obligation to defend its people. This bold and innovative action has the potential to save thousands of lives and change the landscape of gun violence across the Americas.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Small Arms Survey, “Civilian Firearms Holdings, 2017,” n.d., https://www.smallarmssurvey.org/sites/default/files/resources/SAS-BP-Civilian-held-firearms-annexe.pdf.

2. José Manuel Aburto et al., “Homicides in Mexico Reversed Life Expectancy Gains for Men and Slowed Them for Women, 2000–10,” Health Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 1 (January 2016): 88-95.

3. Institute for Economics & Peace, “Mexico Peace Index 2022,” IEP Report, No. 85 (May 2022), https://www.visionofhumanity.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ENG-MPI-2022-web.pdf.

4. On August 4, 2022, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a repository with relevant documents and articles on the litigation. For documents submitted to the court by Mexico, including the complaint, see Gobierno de México, “SRE - Acervo Histórico Diplomático,” August 3, 2022, https://portales.sre.gob.mx/acervo/litigio-del-gobierno-de-mexico/379.

5. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “U.S. Efforts to Combat Firearms Trafficking to Mexico Have Improved, but Some Collaboration Challenges Remain,” GAO-16-223, January 2016, https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-16-223.pdf; U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Firearms Trace Data: Mexico - 2015-2020,” November 16, 2021, https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/firearms-trace-data-mexico-2015-2020.

6. Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc., et al., No. 21-11269 (Dist. Ct. Mass., August 4, 2021).

7. Topher McDougal et al., “The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border,” University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute and Igarapé Institute, March 2013, p. 2, https://catcher.sandiego.edu/items/peacestudies/way_of_the_gun.pdf.

8. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Federal Firearms Listings,” https://www.atf.gov/firearms/listing-federal-firearms-licensees.

9. Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands.

10. Robert Muggah and Topher McDougal, “Why a ‘Great Wall’ Won’t Stop the Cross-Border Gun Trade,” Americas Quarterly, April 26, 2017, https://americasquarterly.org/fulltextarticle/why-a-great-wall-wont-stop-the-cross-border-gun-trade/.

11. For further information on the Mexican government’s reasoning behind the lawsuit, see Alejandro Celorio, “Mexico Is Tired of U.S. Guns Bloodying Our Streets. That’s Why We Are Suing Manufacturers,” The Washington Post, August 14, 2021.

12. Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands.

13. Several of these measures were part of an agreement between Smith & Wesson and the Clinton administration in March 2000. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Clinton Administration Reaches Historic Agreement With Smith and Wesson,” March 17, 2000.

14. Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands.

15. For an in-depth explanation on the Mexican government’s position on the PLCAA, see Jindan-Karena Mann, “Mexico v. Smith & Wesson: How Should US Courts Approach the Issue of Proximate Cause in Tort Cases Against Gun Manufacturers?” Rethinking Slic, May 26, 2022, https://rethinkingslic.org/blog/tort-law/153-mexico-v-smith-wesson-how-should-us-courts-approach-the-issue-of-proximate-cause-in-tort-cases-against-gun-manufacturers.

16. Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands.

17. See Gobierno de México, “SRE - Acervo Histórico Diplomático.”

18. For the amicus curiae briefs, see Gobierno de México, “SRE - Acervo Histórico Diplomático.”

19. UN Security Council, S/RES/2616, December 22, 2021.


Wilma Gandoy Vázquez, a member of the Mexican Foreign Service, and Ximena García Hidalgo, an international affairs specialist, are members of the team in the Head Legal Advisor’s Office at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is working on the government’s lawsuit against firearms companies in the United States. The authors’ opinions are their own and may not reflect the position of the government of Mexico.

One government mounts an innovative legal challenge to a powerful industry in an effort to protect its citizens.

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