Arms trade trafficking war — East-West-Libya lessons?
Re-reporting, editing, comment by Carolyn Bennett
The international community must examine the role of arms supplies to Libya in the present conflict. They must critically evaluate arms supply policies toward Libya and assess (a) how those policies risk emboldening authoritarian regimes and (b) how commercial and national interests may blind governments to the repercussions involved in arms trade. — Pieter D. Wezeman —
Is it reasonable to suggest that nations and leaders in this century with memory of war are ignorant of the consequences of and their complicity in trading arms that traffic war? Do these nations and leaders care about, are they seriously inclined to “learn lessons?” This notion of “lesson learning” writers often raise in the midst of or soon after the latest disaster serially brought by heads of state and factions on their countries, their people and the world.
If nations and leaders were concerned with the consequences of their actions, (a) would they be using the public purse to fund and simultaneously take funds (kickbacks, campaign contributions, perks) from industries of violence; and (b) would citizens of the world continue cuddling corrupt and compromised power in office, in military, in monarchy?
Stockholm International Peace (SIPRI) researcher Pieter D. Wezeman holds out hope that as we look at the war in Libya and the complicity of now-outraged nations “lessons in controlling the arms trade” might be learned. His thoughts provide insight and education potential. Here is an edited version of some of his essay.
Nations once supporting Colonel Muammar [Qaddafi]’s regime are now (under cover of a UN sanction) conducting military air strikes against Libyan forces. These nations, Wezeman writes, “are attacking the forces they were marketing and delivering arms to only weeks before.…
“As the violence escalates and the international community examines how to respond to internal conflict and human rights violations, arms supply should be analyzed as it implicates the international community as complicit in the violence it is now trying to end.”
Arms traders perpetuating violence they then arm to put down
Ending global violence, impossible by design
Libya announced that it had ended its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs and agreed to compensate the families of those who died in Libyan acts of terrorism, Wezeman writes. Then in 2003 and 2004, the UN and European Union (EU) lifted sanctions on Libya, including arms embargoes.
“Owing to its oil resources, its geographical position as a buffer against unwanted migration from Africa to Europe and its potential role in fighting al-Qaeda related groups, Libya’s return to the international community was welcomed”; [and] “part of the process of inclusion was acceptance of Libya as a buyer of arms” — implicating “supplier countries in [Libya’s] sustained oppressive military rule.
“Libya was expected to spend billions of dollars to modernize parts of its large arsenal of outdated arms … [and] many companies eagerly competed to supply arms to the wealthy state.”
The Libdex 2010 arms fair [November 2010) in Tripoli reportedly attracted 100 companies from at least 24 countries — sales efforts often politically supported. “Leaders of France, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom visited Libya accompanied by representatives of arms companies. Competing with several EU countries, Russia labored to sell combat aircraft and advanced S-300 long-range air defense systems, and clinched deals for the overhaul of tanks and fast attack craft.” More than half of the exhibitors at Libdex 2010 were from the United Kingdom.
Several EU states (despite EU embargoes and arms supply restrictions having been imposed following human rights abuses in places such as China, Myanmar and Zimbabwe) have until now seemingly overlooked [Qaddafi]’s 41-year track record as an authoritarian and unpredictable ruler with a well-documented lack of respect for human rights, Wezeman reports.
Weapons proliferating - Prolonging violence
Leaking to conflicts, armed groups beyond Libya
Italy, now a main base for operations against Libya, had previously cornered the Libyan market for advanced border security and surveillance equipment. In 2009, an Italian company supplied about 10,000 handguns.
France's president Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision denouncing the Libyan regime and calling for military action reverses his enthusiastic support for arms sales and “came immediately after the return from Libya of the last French engineers who had been working on military contracts with Libya.”
French [Dassault] Rafale combat aircraft, which France had been eagerly trying to sell to Libya, have now bombed Libyan howitzers an Italian company had planned to refurbish under a 2010 contract.
The UK marketed advanced Jernas short-range air defense systems and supplied an advanced communication system for Libyan T-72 tanks — now being targeted by UK combat aircraft.
Though it blocked an export of 130,000 Kalashnikov rifles because of the risk of diversion to Darfur, the UK allowed the marketing of sniper rifles to Libya.
Ukraine in 2007–2008 supplied more than 100,000 rifles to Libya.
Russia reportedly signed a major contract for small arms in 2010 and probably also delivered several compact Igla-S advanced anti-aircraft missiles.
Belgium authorities allowed the supply of a small batch of high-tech rifles, arguing that the weapons were intended for use by Libyan troops protecting humanitarian aid convoys to Darfur.
The international community “soon after the First Persian Gulf War reviewed their arms trade policies, realizing that supplying arms to Iraq may have strengthened Saddam Hussein’s belief that he could invade Kuwait without punishment,” Pieter Wezeman concludes. In similar measures, the international community “must examine the role of arms supplies to Libya in the present conflict.”
Sources and notes
“Mar. 11: Libya: lessons in controlling the arms trade” (Pieter D. Wezeman), http://www.sipri.org/media/newsletter/essay/march11
Pieter D. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Arms Transfers Program. His area of research is the global proliferation of conventional arms with special focus on arms procurement in and arms transfers to Africa and the Middle East.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), established in 1966, is an independent international institute, a global think tank, dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.
SIPRI maintains contacts with other research centers and individual researchers throughout the world and cooperates closely with several intergovernmental organizations, notably the United Nations and the European Union, and regularly receives parliamentary, scientific and government delegations as well as visiting researchers.
Located in Stockholm, Sweden, SIPRI was established on the basis of a decision by the Swedish Parliament and receives a substantial part of its funding in the form of an annual grant from the Swedish Government. The Institute also seeks financial support from other organizations in order to carry out its broad research program, http://www.sipri.org/about
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