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Arms Control: The Missing Component in the Conversation about Terrorism

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms.

--Former President Jimmy Carter, 1976

As ISIS's threat to international peace and security grows, Syria continues to funnel billions of dollars to the United States for bombs and other forms of weapons. As a result of United Nations Resolution 2249, Syria has all of the autonomy in the world to partake in whatever vague, "necessary measures" it sees fit to combat ISIL. Despite the deaths of thousands of civilians attributed to indiscriminate airstrikes lead by the Syrian government, and most recently by Russia, the war against terrorism has led to an all-out arms extravaganza in the Middle East. In fact, on November 13, 2015, the same evening of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the United States began its first steps in selling $1.29 billion of bombs to the Saudi Arabian government.

Protecting the INF just like Reagan

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in 1987,

Since the beginning of 2014, Russia has been a constant agitator in the news. And the end of July was no exception when news broke that Russia had violated an international arms agreement, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Now this is not the first time, but it has certainly sparked some of the greatest criticism in light of their other actions in the past year.

This news has arms control critics calling for abandonment of arms restrictions on our part as well as stopping the aggressor. However, this is one of the last things we should do.

Arms control treaties were created because our past leaders understood the inherent danger in tit-for-tat arms buildup, a practice they termed, “mutually assured destruction.” They understood that unless restrictions were put in place for both sides, the problems would not be solved; rather, they would spiral out of control until both sides were destroyed. This is still an ever-present danger that these arms control critics have chosen to forget.

Russia’s violation of an arms treaty should not be an argument against arms control and treaties, but rather an argument for imposing consequences for the violator. The US should not and cannot unilaterally go on the offensive every time a party violates a treaty. Diplomacy rather than force needs to continue to drive US actions, particularly where Russia is concerned.

In the past six months, Putin has proven that he has no qualms when it comes to over-stepping boundaries, but the last thing we need to do is give him validation for further action against arms trade treaties.

Syrian Transfer of Russian Missiles Ignores Arms Treaty

U.S. officials now believe up to 12 Russian made Yakhont missiles have been smuggled from Syrian Government hands to Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to a report by In addition to possibly exacerbating regional tension, this flags should also concern Russian security officials and advocates for legal norms regarding arms trade. In 2007 Russia signed a contract with Syria that transfers Yakhont missiles, which fly at speeds capable of evading radar detection, to the Syrian government. This contract calls for the transfer of these weapons to cease if any leave direct Syrian control.

The U.S. government has previously made clear to Russia that the diversion of Russian-supplied missiles out of Syrian control directly violates Russia’s 2007 contract with Syria. Though potentially fueling a civil war and enabling the Assad regime to commit war crimes, Russian officials have stated that it is legally obligated to fulfill contracts agreed to prior to Syria’s civil war. The violation of this "end user agreement" should allow Russia to halt any further transfer of weapons into the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The transfer of Yakhont missiles to Hezbollah may prove to be the most legally binding reason for Russia to end weapon sales to the Syrian Government.

Violence Rages on in Central African Republic

The ongoing surges of deadly conflict in Central African Republic demand action from the United Nations. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is applicable to this situation, and human rights groups are calling for the strengthening of peacekeeping forces in CAR to protect the population from further war crimes.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visited the capital city Bangui on Thursday for talks with CAR President Michel Djotodia. Power called for urgent action to end the "vicious violence" and told victims: "We have come here to hear how you, the people of Central African Republic, are doing and how we can help."

After Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia went door to door in Bangui murdering about 60 Muslims, former Séléka Coalition rebels, primarily Muslims, retaliated by attacking and killing almost 1,000. The violence has not stopped. The death toll, according to early U.N. estimates, reached about 600, with 200,000 displaced. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch now say the numbers are much higher, with Amnesty claiming its research "left no room for doubt that crimes against humanity have taken place, including extra-judicial executions and mutilation of bodies.”

Amnesty also claimed that civilians are being hacked to death and villages razed to the ground on a daily basis, even after French and African Union forces stepped in. About 1,600 French soldiers have been dispatched to the former colony, working with about 6,000 African Union force members. They are making efforts to disarm militia groups to stop the atrocities, establish security for the local populations, and enable humanitarian organizations to work.

International Day of Peace: A Day to Reflect

With news media saturated with war coverage and updates on a possible intervention in Syria in recent weeks, Saturday's International Day of Peace was a welcome opportunity to reflect during this tumultuous international climate. It seems that violent conflict is all too common and some states are all too willing to wage war but the International Day of Peace reminds us of the core principle of the United Nations - to promote peace. Specifically, the day is meant, " devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways."

This year's theme is the power of education. In his address in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Every girl and every boy deserves to receive a quality education and learn the values that will help them to grow up to be global citizens in tolerant communities that respect diversity." Though we have problems to solve today, it would behoove us all to consider the problems of tomorrow and prepare the next generation to better meet the challenges of war, climate change, and poverty. The needs of children are especially salient in light of the Syrian conflict with an estimate 1 million child refugees. One million children will grow up with memory of the horrors of war and an education will be imperative in addressing the root causes of conflict.

"Give peace a chance," but first let us sell missiles and assault rifles

The Syria question continues to dominate both domestic American politics and international affairs. The biggest opponent to U.S. involvement is Vladimir Putin and Russia. But while the Kremlin calls for diplomatic and political methods for peace in Syria, it continues to be the biggest seller of weapons, vehicles, and munitions to Assad's government.

Prior to the start of the civil war, Russia accounted for 50% of all Syrian arms imports. The Russian government did halt weapons sales in the beginning of the conflict but resumed earlier this year when relations between the Kremlin and Washington turned sour. Since then, according to Reuters, over 9 trips have been made between Damascus and the Ukrainian port of Oktyabrsk, which is the main port utilized by the Russian state arms company, Rosoboronexport. The ships shut down their radar systems while leaving the port, indicating that Russia desired to keep the shipments secret. The ships most likely contained small arms and more anti-tank Kornet missile launchers and missiles, a system that Russia has fulfilled 6 or 7 contracts for since 1998.

Global Leadership on Global Violence: Time to Sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

What three things would you wish for given the chance? One wish may be to be wealthy, another may be to have done something differently in the past, or perhaps you would wish for world peace. These are usually what you would think of given such a hypothetical because they are largely regarded as unlikely or even impossible - relegated to wishful thinking. Though world peace is often derided in popular culture as being unrealistic, analogous to anything that would be desirable but ultimately impossible; The truth is there are concrete steps that can be taken that would make the world safer. The United States could sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the UN in September.

In fact, there is great support for the President to do just that. Today 33 national organizations have thrown their support behind the treaty. Amnesty International, the Arms Control Association, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam America, and, among others, have all sent a letter to President Obama emphatically urging him to sign the treaty at the United Nations in September. In search of bi-partisan middle ground, President Obama has neglected commonsense policies in the past in favor of ones more palatable to conservatives. This is not the time to listen to unfounded fears of gun grabbing when real progress can be made in quelling violence in conflict regions.

Arming the Syrian Rebels

Photo courtesy of The Independent

I distinctly remember feeling relief when I first heard about President Obama's decision to arm Syrian rebels - finally there will be a stop to all this bloodshed. Research has led me to think otherwise, however, and I am now skeptical of the President's decision.

David Rohde of Reuters calls Obama's decision to arm the rebels the "best of several bad choices in Syria." He supports his claim by explaining, "Arming one side in a conflict can help produce a diplomatic settlement." In fact, a study on civil war found that conflicts are shorter when there is military intervention on the rebel side.

Unfortunately, that analysis does not apply to the situation in Syria. Obama's decision to arm the rebels in Syria means that bothsides of the conflict are receiving foreign military aid, as Russia is currently supplying weapons to Assad's regime despite condemnation by the international community. In a survey of civil wars that took place between 1945 and 1997, when both sides of a conflict receive foreign military aid, civil wars lasted almost 250% longer than those in which neither side received external support.  Arming Syrian rebels will likely only perpetuate the conflict.

Signing the Arms Trade Treaty: A Signal for the Future

Picture courtesy of Oxfam

The United States likes to picture itself as a prominent player and arbiter in the international community, paving the way for progress on a number of global fronts. A key part of maintaining our legitimacy in the international community is signing the Arms Trade Treaty, which opened for signatures today at the United Nations. Secretary of State Kerry indicated in a statement that the United States looks forward to signing the Treaty, and will soon be able to do so once "the process of conforming the official translations" is finalized. This is a firm step in the right direction.

The Arms Trade Treaty is a multilateral international agreement, in the making since 2006 and negotiated at a 2012 global conference, that seeks to implement and enforce standards in the international sale and transfer of "all conventional arms" (tanks, planes, artillery, ships, missiles, small arms, etc.). Don Kraus, President and CEO of, succinctly described the purpose of the ATT, explaining how it "is designed to help prevent the more than 500,000 deaths worldwide that happen as a result of armed violence." Further, the ATT will bring "foreign governments up to US export standards" and prohibit arms transfer when a country knows that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity.

Take Assertive Action Legally and Carefully

Syria needs help. Its government has no legitimacy having killed some 90,000 Syrian people and forced millions from their homes as internal refugees and into exile in nearby countries.

It would be a mistake for the United States to put its own boots on the ground, but it could help to provide a wide range of equipment (including weapons) to the insurgents. Above all, it could, together with the Arab League and others, support and encourage a transition process, carefully defined and backed by an overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly.

It is important that the recently agreed Arms Trade Treaty was not abandoned when 100% consensus could not be obtained during the treaty conference negotiations. Instead, the text was taken to the General Assembly where there was a positive vote of 154 versus 3 negative votes (Syria, Iran and North Korea) with 23 abstentions.

In similar manner, if the UN Security Council will not act in support of the people of Syria, the GA should and can. When Russia and China will not act to serve the people, other UN member states need to take more responsibility, not less. The responsibility to protect norm is designed to place responsibility on each country to protect its own people, and when it cannot or will not, then the world community has a duty to step in. When a few Security Council states refuse to act to serve the people, then the UN General Assembly should take responsibility to protect -- using the least violence and the most international authority possible.

For the situation in Syria, the Arab League plus the UN General Assembly can give the world community the authority to act to protect the people of Syria. Then it will be up to various countries and regional groups to support the people within Syria with the supplies they need to maintain life and dignity and to assert their sovereignty.