Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Arms Flood That Could Hinder More Than Help

The world could be facing a set of contradictory coincidences that could prove dangerous to stabilizing efforts around the world. This is an issue that draws many actors into the legal and illegal arms trade and demonstrates how one decision can have effects far beyond the immediate situation.

Firstly, there are the disturbing ramifications of the intervention by Western states in the Libyan civil war. By arming and supporting the rebels against the Qaddafi regime without a exit strategy it has led  to heavy weapons, armored vehicles and explosives being smuggled across porous borders. These weapons have been implicated in the hostage crisis in Algeria and the enthno-nationalist/Islamist rebellion in Mali. They have also been linked to groups operating in surrounding states including Boko Haram in Nigeria. With terrorist, insurgent and criminal networks developing globally it is important to not simply consider it a regional issue in the Sahel but essentially a huge influx of stock into an illegal arms trade valued at $3 billion.

Secondly, the decision by various actors to intensify the support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in their own, two-year fight against the Assad government. In a scarily similar situation to Libya, Syria could possibly turn into a new flood of arms into the region and further. Today, Britain announced that it would provide non-lethal support including armored vehicles, medicines and body armor. Similarly, the Arab League gave passive consent to regional powers like Saudi Arabia to provide any assistance to the rebels. However, within hours of these announcements it was confirmed that soldiers affiliated to the FSA have captured and imprisoned 20 Philippine UN Peacekeepers and their vehicles in the disputed Golan Heights region between Israel and Syria. While some try to show the FSA as an organised group capable of controlling their soldiers  and their arms it seems clear that they have neither.

Lastly, there is the decision of the UN to lower the embargo on arms to Somalia in an attempt to better arm the national army and demonstrate that the security emergency has passed and that the latest round of development and support has produced tangible results. However, with a disorganized army and clear links to other militia and the Islamist Al Shabaab this move is clearly flawed. There is a possibility that arms from other unstable regions could either be illegally shipped to the rebels or sold by their legitimate new owners. It seems clear that the flood of arms from the Sahel and possibly from future commitments to Syria, could have a destabilizing effect on a country just beginning to get back on its feet after over 20 years of civil war.

It is incredibly important that intervening states in countries like Syria and Mali understand that their decisions on arming and supplying local groups can have far-reaching consequences. Somalia is but one example of precarious situations that could be adversely effected by the flood of arms that may be coming.