Weapon Pipelines

Today, I stumbled upon an interesting infographic which is dealing with small arms (on www.pbs.org). Unfortunately, the stories that emerge from this infographic are sobering. It says that in the US there are 8.9 firearms per 10 residents. Yemen is second to the US with much less firearms: 5.5 per 10 residents. Furthermore, the Infographic shows the flag of Mozambique which is – amongst other things – depicting a Kalashnikov AK-47!

When I saw this graphic it was once again obvious to me knew why it is important to adopt a worldwide Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which would include small arms and ammunition. The adoption of the ATT is scheduled for 2012. But it is uncertain how powerful it will be in terms of scope, oversight or sanctions and so forth.

Image taken from http://www.pbs.org

There are legal and illegal forms of arms trade but in the end the outcome is this: too many firearms end up being held by civilians. Even weapon deals between states which are negotiated to equip the security forces (and I would like to add that the notion „security forces“ may in some countries not be suitable for the military and the police) often satisfy the demand from civilians or rebel groups. One such an example are weapon deals between China and Sudan.

China sells AK-47s to Sudan where some of them get stolen and smuggled through South Sudan as well as Uganda and end up in the hands of rebel forces in the Congo. Another example is the former Afghan weapon pipeline. Most of today’s weapons in Afghanistan are relicts from the Soviet invasion when the weapon pipeline was being operated by states like the US, Saudi-Arabia or China in order to arm the Mujahideen. But many of these weapons leaked in Kashmir or India (See Bhatia: Small Arms Flows into and within Afghanistan). Those weapons that found their way to Afghanistan did not stay within the country either. It is estimated that nearly 60 per cent1 of those weapons that were delivered by the US and China to the Mujahideen sooner or later arrived in Pakistan, Kashmir or some parts of India. Today, South Asia is still suffering from this unhampered access to small arms.

It is obvious that the illegal arms trade is not the only problem. The legal arms trade between states is also a reason for concern. In the end too many firearms are stolen or sold by corrupt officials. Democratic countries have to publicly account for weapon deals with countries like Bahrain that oppress their people (see also my earlier blogpost on a deal between Germany and Saudi-Arabia to sell 200 German tanks).

Small arms and light weapons are called today’s „weapons of mass destruction“. Just look at the fact that small arms kill one person every minute (see infographic) and you know why the adoption of a global arms trade treaty is of utter importance. For this reason I try to monitor the developments with regard to the implementation of a global Arms Trade Treaty.

For more information on the ATT please see Oxfam’s Why We Need A Global Arms Trade Treaty.

See also the Arms Trade Treaty Monitor

1 Christina Lamb, Waiting for Allah, p. 223.

Breaking the Deadlock in Afghanistan

Transnational risks link security issues and new forms of governance. They call for a regional approach to conflict resolution in Afghanistan.

In 2002 the Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke of an Afghanistan which would bring „stability to this region of the globe“. Yet, nothing like this has been realized so far and today Afghanistan’s neighbours are afraid of a country that could collapse by the time international troops withdraw.

This fear is less based upon traditional security concerns. A fall of the internationally backed government in Kabul would not lead to a direct threat in a military sense. But, Afghanistan is the source of many transnational risks which affect its neighbours and other countries of the region. Solutions to these risks can only be designed through cooperative efforts of the respective countries (for a more detailed analysis of transnational risks and challenges see UN’s High Level Panel).

Transnational Risks

Drug trade is supposed to be the most prominent transnational risk emanating from Afghanistan since the country is by far the biggest supplier for the worldwide heroin market (see Afghanistan Opium Survey 2010).The consequences for its neighbours are tremendous. Iran, for example, is flooded with opium out of Afghanistan although it tries hard to control its eastern border. Since the 1990s drug traders are increasingly making use of the northern route through the Central Asian states to bring the drugs to Russia or Europe. Being transit states these Central Asian states thus make the same experience which countries like Iran and Pakistan have already made: the number of drug addicts rises, HIV becomes endemic, drug-related crime increases and so forth. Similar patterns (and be it with different consequences though) can be observed when taking into consideration other transnational risks.

Globalization has swept away borders in a manifold manner. Means of transport or communication can only be imagined globally. Yet, transnational organized crime is as well taking advantage of porous borders. One example is the illicit trafficking of weapons. Whereas at the time of the Soviet invasion the Mujaheddin were supplied with weapons through the „weapon pipeline“ (especially filled by the US and Saudi-Arabia) today there are already hints that Afghanistan is becoming an exporter of small arms and light weapons. These weapons could contribute to destabilize its neighbour’s societies.

The fact that borders are highly porous can best made be visible by turning the attention to migration flows. The dire security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has been spurring migration flows for more than 30 years now. Although millions have returned to Afghanistan, Iran is still home to nearly one million Afghan refugees while Pakistan shelters further two million (see Afghanistan National Development Strategy).

A further transnational risk is a country’s lack of natural resources, especially in terms of water and energy which are distributed imbalancedly among nations. Afghanistan is riparian state of several transboundary river basins (Amu Darya, Indus, Helmand) and thus needs to cooperate with its northern Central Asian neighbours, Iran and Pakistan in order to secure a lasting supply with freshwater and to meet a basic need of Afghanistan’s citizens. Interestingly enough, the saying of „water wars“ between countries which has been prominent for quite a while is just a legend. This does not mean that there is no danger of intrastate conflicts triggered by water scarcity (along ethnic lines, urban and rural areas and so forth; see e.g. this article on FutureChallenges). Nevertheless, scientific studies have proven that water scarcity in regions with transboundary river basins prompts bilateral and multilateral cooperation rather than conflicts (see the Programme in Water Conflict Management and Transformation).

Transnational Cooperation and Governance Efforts

As in many other conflict regions of the world (for example the Great Lakes region in Africa) transnational risks hamper peacebuilding efforts and development in Afghanistan. Therefore it is all the more important to surmount these challenges by finding transnational cooperation mechanisms. If governments and societies of conflict-ridden regions make aware that a security situation just like in Afghanistan or non-functional state structures in a neighbouring country will inevitably have consequences for their own territory, chances for cooperation will rise.

In this regard there are at least some signs of hope. Russia is aware of the consequences the rampant drug trade out of Afghanistan has got for its own society and cooperated with the international community in a large-scale drug raid. Efforts are being made to coordinate the refugee policy between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan (see Interview with the Afghan minister of returnees and refugees). Even the highly politicized project of a gas pipeline (TAPI) from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and further to India has been agreed on after many years of deadlock.

A bad security situation and malfunctioning governance structures of a country highly affect neighbouring countries by spurring and intensifying transnational risks. On the other hand, cooperation between countries on this diverse set of transnational risks is a precious contribution in bringing stability to a country like Afghanistan. Regional or even global cooperation does not substitute for national efforts in stabilizing conflict-ridden countries but it is certainly an indispensable supplementation.

This article has originally been published by me on futurechallenges.org

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jactrain/363554896/