Articles Authored

This post serves as a single reference list for the articles and other works available on this site. You may navigate using the links here, or browse all articles chronologically by scrolling down.

Pistol-Whipped, Fall 2013, Democracy Journal, Issue #30.

Moving Forward With Tactical Vehicles, May 2012, Defense Technology International.

Thinking About Thinking About War, February 21, 2012 at Gunpowder & Lead.

Nowhere to Hide, April 2012 issue of Defense Technology International.

Ask the Experts: Where Are the Women in Foreign Policy? March 8, 2012 at Micah Zenko’s blog at Council on Foreign Relations.

Women Under Siege Conflict Profile: Libya, January 2012 as part of the Women Under Siege project.

Women in War, Women in Peace, November 8, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.

Viktor Bout Convicted of Terrorism Conspiracy Charges – Not Arms Trafficking – And Why It Matters, November 4, 2011 at UN Dispatch

Security Council Formally Recognizes Threat of Libya’s Missing Missiles, November 1, 2011 at UN Dispatch.

Can the World Finally Find Consensus on Cluster Bombs?, September 23, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.

Review of Bin Laden’s Legacy: Why We’re Still Losing the War on Terror, September 15, 2011 at National Defense University Press Blog

How Amnesty International Helped Enforce the Cluster Bomb Treaty, September 6, 2011 at UN Dispatch.

Russia Arms Deal With Bahrain Shows Why We Need an Arms Trade Treaty, August 29, 2011 at UN Dispatch.

Massive Italian Weapons Cache Goes Missing, Possibly Given to Libyan Rebels, July 20, 2011 at UN Dispatch.

How American Guns Proliferate in Mexico and Fuel Drug Violence, July 6, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.

The Arms Trade Treaty Will Not Affect Your Ability to Buy Guns, June 8, 2011 at UN Dispatch.

How the World Let Qaddafi Get Cluster Bombs, April 29, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.

The Global Risk of Arming Libya’s Rebels, April 6, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.

Pistol-Whipped

Published in Issue #30, Fall 2013 of Democracy Journal.

The first time I fired a gun, I almost shot a friend with an AR-15. This was some years ago on the outskirts of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where my then-boyfriend—as it happens, a grandson of a famous firearms inventor—took me and a group of friends for a birthday outing that included firing off a whole mess of guns. The vacation was fun, except for the part where I unthinkingly swung the barrel of a loaded rifle past my friend while attempting to point the gun downrange; only then did I receive an introductory safety lecture. Shortly after that near-disastrous incident, I took a two-day pistol safety course. After a few hours of instruction, I was proficiently hitting a target at 20 yards. I can now outshoot my ex, who carries concealed everywhere he goes in his home state out West.

My experience underscored a key point about guns: They are easy to use—but also easy to misuse. By this I mean that it’s easy to learn the basics of shooting: how to line up your sights and squeeze the trigger. But to use them properly and safely takes work, and without the proper training, the line between recreation and disaster can be thin.

And under duress in real-world conditions, when your adrenaline is pumping and a moving target is shooting back, it’s almost impossible to handle them without that training. As one SWAT officer told me, “It’s basically ‘train train train,’ because when you’re in that type of stressful situation, you are going to revert to your lowest level of training.” And yet a common refrain from gun proponents after a deadly mass shooting is that if only somebody at the scene had been armed, lives would have been saved. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) takes it further: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This idea, which underpins most gun marketing efforts, overlooks two important points: that guns in the home are more likely to be used against their owners than against invaders; and that without sufficient training and practice, citizens should not expect to be able to defend themselves with a gun. In many states, the requirements for a concealed carry permit do not go far enough to establish whether the applicant knows how to operate a firearm in a high-pressure situation. Combined with gun-industry-backed statutes like “stand your ground” laws, it’s a recipe for more gun violence.

The availability of guns, then, is not the problem, or at least not the only one. Just as important are the beliefs people hold about guns. And instrumental in the formation of those beliefs is the gun industry, desperately clinging to its consumer base even as the American appetite for gun ownership continues a decades-long decline. In The Last Gun, Tom Diaz, a lawyer and former senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, weaves together compelling stories of gun violence’s human toll—the domestic violence that spirals into murder-suicide, parents threatening each other with guns at their children’s soccer games, the litany of homicides and suicides facilitated by guns—with the larger narrative of the gun industry’s efforts to protect itself at all costs by promoting a permissive, almost cavalier, attitude toward guns in America.

Read more at Democracy Journal.

Moving Forward With Tactical Vehicles

Moving Forward With Tactical Vehicles

Published in the May 2012 issue of Defense Technology International.

After years of debate over a replacement for the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee, it appears that the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) is finally moving toward a prototype and testing phase that could result in production orders from the U.S. Army and Marine Corps for more than 55,000 vehicles.

A final requirements document, issued in January, states that two variants will be built. The Combat Tactical Vehicle (CTV) will seat four and carry 3,500 lb., while the Combat Support Vehicle (CSV) will carry two troops and transport 5,100 lb. There will be two armor configurations: the basic protection package as well as an add-on kit; and one for multiple missions. A third variant that would have been a six-seat infantry carrier with a mid-weight payload has been scrapped.

Six bids for the JLTV were submitted at the end of March for the 27-month engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase contract. The Army is expected to issue three awards in June, each worth up to $65 million. Contractors will have 12 months to build and deliver 20 prototypes for government testing, which will last another 15 months. The decision to begin full-scale production is expected in the second quarter of fiscal 2015, with actual production to start in 2016.

In an era of declining defense budgets, it’s no surprise that the competition for one of the last remaining major vehicle modernization contracts is fierce. The JLTV program is expected to cost well over $10 billion, though some put that figure as high as $70 billion, depending on per-unit cost and the number of vehicles ordered.

A joint venture between the Army and Marine Corps, the JLTV is expected to provide better protection for passengers and better payload capacity than the Humvee, while retaining mobility and reducing overall weight. The Army intends to purchase at least 50,000, while the Marine Corps is expected to acquire 5,500 vehicles, though final numbers will depend on cost.

The Humvee was done in by the effectiveness of improvised explosive devices (IED) and roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it has been the primary tactical vehicle for the Army and Marine Corps for 25 years, it was unable to withstand these threats.

At a March 27 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Lennox, Army deputy chief of staff, explained that the vehicle can no longer be used off-base. “The Humvee . . . is incapable of going off the forward operating base,” he said. “It doesn’t provide protection for soldiers today.”

Read more at Defense Technology International.

Thinking About Thinking About War

Published February 21, 2012 at Gunpowder & Lead.

I spent January listening to the first half of Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, in which she dissects the run-up to World War I. Tuchman describes conversations taking place across Europe in which generals and politicians alike are all, “We’re absolutely going to be home by Christmas. There is no possible way that couldn’t happen. The other side? Pushovers. Probably won’t even show up to fight. Also this is totally a great idea and we will get everything we want out of this war. EVERYTHING.”

We all know how well that worked out.

Reading the heated op-eds about the necessity of war with Iran and/or Syria, it strikes me that they’re nothing new. The strange overconfidence on display in the 1910s – that war would be quick, easy, and end favorably – was echoed in the run up to Iraq and is being rehashed today. This reminded me of the Rubicon Theory of War, a barely-noted article from last summer’s issue of International Security that offers valuable food for thought, particularly for those charged with thinking or writing about war. The authors address the overconfidence conundrum, namely, that people who should know better than to think war will be quick and easy often act like this is their first rodeo. The authors conclude:

When people believe they have crossed a psychological Rubicon and perceive war to be imminent, they switch from what psychologists call a “deliberative” to an “implemental” mind-set, triggering a number of psychological biases, most notably overconfidence. These biases can cause an increase in aggressive or risky military planning. Furthermore, if actors believe that war is imminent when it is not in fact certain to occur, the switch to implemental mind-sets can be a causal factor in the outbreak of war, by raising the perceived probability of military victory and encouraging hawkish and provocative policies.

Their research suggests humans are only rational actors until we make a decision - cross the Rubicon - at which point our mental apparatus will go through whatever logical leaps necessary to avoid questioning that decision. The authors frame this idea in terms of mind-sets – deliberative vs. implemental – to account for the full range of attendant biases, which they’ve laid out in a helpful table:

Essentially, when we’ve crossed the Rubicon, we are less likely to accept information that does not support our decision, and we’re more likely to believe we will be successful regardless of evidence to the contrary. This overconfidence leads to riskier war plans and a higher likelihood of going to war. As for the standard rational actor model, the authors suggest that rationality goes out the window once a decision is taken:

Early on in the decisionmaking process, a leader is more likely to be in a deliberative mind-set and may approximate a rational actor. Later during the crisis, the same leader is more likely to be in an implemental mind-set, and may display a range of biases that deviate from rationality.

This phenomenon affects the general public as well. Take Iraq:

For example, in 2003, regime change in Iraq might have been relatively straightforward, but postwar stabilization was likely to be difficult and protracted. Nevertheless, as the invasion drew near, Americans concluded that success in both of these objectives would be swift. … In the months leading up to the conflict, a majority expected “a long and costly involvement” in Iraq. But judgments switched immediately before the war, such that a majority now expected “a fairly quick and successful effort.”

Again, we know how well that turned out.

It should be noted that this decision needn’t be a conscious one, nor is it necessarily predicated upon a rational cost/benefit analysis. However, when one writes that the alternatives are narrowing, as Elliot Abrams did, and that some action must be taken, and then concludes that action must be military in nature, we can assume the die’s been cast:

If success were made of speeches and sanctions the Obama policy would be marvelous — and adequate. The problem is that Syria is at war, and one side or the other will win that war. It will be the Assad/Russia/Iran/Hezbollah side, or the popular uprising with its European, American, and Arab support. A deus ex machina ending is possible, wherein some Syrian Army generals push Assad out and agree to a transition away from Assad and Alawite rule. But such a step by the generals is far more likely if they conclude that Assad’s war is lost.

So we must make sure he loses. Directly or indirectly, the next step is to provide plenty of money and arms, training, and intelligence to the Free Syrian Army and other opponents of the Assads.

Abrams notes that there could be problems down the road, but dismisses them with a handwave: “All those questions will come with victory against the bad guys — but only with victory.” As though the path to victory will have no bearing on the eventual outcomes.  As though arming the opposition is a surefire way to win this war. As though there’s no way it won’t be over in days, not weeks or years.

An attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would also be challenging - which hasn’t hampered calls to go ahead and get on with it already. Polling suggests that Americans are in favor of military strikes if it meant preventing a nuclear Iran. Troublingly, the repetition of the expectation that strikes are imminent means we’re more likely to believe that it is true (psychological biases again), which sets up a feedback loop in which we perceive war as imminent – and thus cross the Rubicon.

Whether we should get into a war with/in Iran/Syria is outside the scope of this blog post. Rather, I want to make clear that there are unconscious psychological biases that come along with the acceptance of war that make it difficult to maintain objectivity and rationality – and that we must be on our guard against sloppy thinking. Once we’ve committed to the idea, we begin to assume things will go our way, and we avoid thinking about – and planning for – negative outcomes. If the actual decision about going to war is a determinant of our ideas about how that war will play out - and not, say, intelligence about an opponent’s military preparedness, or the potential negative consequences of war, or even the difficulty of executing the war – it’s crucial that we guard against overconfidence. And it’s not like we can’t fight against that inclination; it’s just that we often don’t.

At the end of every war, somebody says, “This. This is the end of war. Now, finally, it’s too expensive/too stupid/too wasteful/too destructive.” And indeed, it seems like the costs of war are rising and the benefits shrinking. But we seem incapable of the necessary in-the-moment questioning our cognitive processes to determine whether this war, just this one, will actually be easy, cheap, and rewarding, or if we just really want it to be.

It’s critical for leaders, intellectuals, the media, and the general public alike to understand consciously what mind set we are in and the attendant cognitive biases that brings. These sort of metacognitive tasks are admittedly difficult – our knowledge about how and what we think is limited, and gaining greater control over those processes is challenging (read Thinking, Fast and Slow for some great – and disturbing – examples of this). But it’s not impossible, and given the stakes, I’d argue that we are all responsible for knowing when we’ve cast our lots. Without the self-awareness and intellectual honesty to recognize when we’ve switched to an implemental mindset – and to then guard against the resultant surge of overconfidence – we’re doomed to the same debates and the same outcomes.

 

Nowhere to Hide

Nowhere to Hide

Published in the April 2012 issue of Defense Technology International.

The XM25 Individual Semi-Automatic Airburst System (ISAAS) offers a new solution to one of the perennial challenges in combat: how do you hit what you can’t see? One of the defining features of the war in Afghanistan has been a hard-to-hit enemy that uses the terrain to provide cover for pot shots – or worse. Before the XM25, a pinned-down squad had to call in – and wait for – close air support or indirect fire, which requires additional fire integration and the hope that those assets aren’t otherwise engaged. Soon, however, soldiers will be able to hit targets hidden behind boulders or walls in the five seconds it takes to aim, fire, and deliver a high-explosive airburst (HEAB) round above a target.

After a year downrange, the XM25 has proven itself indispensable – so much so that the soldiers who had been testing the five prototypes requested to keep them after the forward operational assessment (FOA) was complete. The rifle went on nine operational missions during the FOA, and while there were few confirmed kills, the “Punisher,” as the XM25 is colloquially known, was effective at ending small arms fire engagements – no small feat. “The XM25 brought the difference to whether they would stay there 15 to 20 minutes shooting [and] taking pot shots or the actual fight ended after using the XM25,” said Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Smith, Soldier Requirements Division, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga., according to a February 2011 Army report.

The concept of the airburst round is at least a decade old, but it’s only in the past few years that the technology has advanced to allow proof of concept. Initially conceived of as a dual rifle and 20mm grenade launcher, the XM25 quickly became single-purpose to reduce the weapon’s weight and to allow for a more lethal 25mm round. In March 2011, ATK received a $65.8 million, 30-month Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract from the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier division to further develop and manufacture the complete system. A November 2011 $24 million contract modification will allow ATK to produce an additional 36 prototypes and ammunition for further field tests.

It’s a remarkably simple system to learn to use; two days of training is enough to establish basic proficiency. Advanced target acquisition and fire control systems take the guesswork out of the process. The XM25’s laser rangefinder calculates the distance to the target out to 700m, then allows the soldier to adjust that figure by up to 10m to account for the depth of the shielding object. The gun takes into account environmental factors, then programs the round and arms the fuze. Once fired, a proprietary turn-counting system tracks the number of revolutions the round makes; it then explodes into shrapnel above or to the side of the target.

Read more at Defense Technology International.

Ask the Experts: Where Are the Women in Foreign Policy?

Published as part of a round-up of experts on March 8, 2012 at Micah Zenko’s blog at Council on Foreign Relations.

In the debate over the underrepresentation of women in foreign policy and national security, we’re focused on the wrong point in the career trajectory. Rather than bemoaning the lack of women at the top, we should be asking whether women at the start of their careers are being offered the assignments, experiences, and opportunities that lead to later success.

There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.

There’s also a mentorship gap. Young women have trouble finding men willing to act in that capacity because there are few mechanisms to develop the rapport that underlies a good, productive mentoring relationship.  Conversely, men may be concerned about how a mentoring relationship will be perceived and shy away as a result. But mentors are vital for opening doors and offering suggestions and feedback about career choices—efforts that are particularly valuable in the foreign policy world.

The parity problem starts much earlier – and must be addressed much earlier. Without efforts to develop a deeper bench of women with the experiences, training, and knowledge necessary to excel in the field, we’ll always be asking the same questions.

Women Under Siege Conflict Profile: Libya

Women Under Siege Conflict Profile: Libya

Published January 2012 as part of the Women Under Siege project.

In February 2011, protests broke out in Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya, against the more than 40-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. During the protests, security forces fired on civilian protesters, causing a broader uprising that led to the establishment of the National Transitional Council (NTC), an interim governing body in opposition to Gaddafi’s regime. As violence escalated and the regime began to issue statements indicating a willingness to massacre civilians in order to crush the rebellion, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that permitted international intervention in Libya.

NATO member countries quickly established a “no-fly zone” to prevent Gaddafi’s military from bombing rebel-held cities; they also continued to embargo arms shipments to Libya as per a February United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution. Ill-trained, ill-equipped, and lacking a unified command structure, the opposition forces nevertheless seized Tripoli in late August. On October 20, 2011, Gaddafi was reportedly killed in Sirte as the city fell to the NTC forces. His son and presumed successor, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who had been a central figure throughout the civil war, remained in hiding until his capture by rebel fighters in mid-November; he awaits trial in Libya. Since August, the NTC has attempted to consolidate control of the country, though the issue of overseas frozen assets and the need to disarm and demobilize rebel fighters continue to present serious challenges.

The possibility of the use of rape as a tool of war in Libya was first brought to international attention in March whenIman al-Obeidi, a Libyan law student, burst into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and told the foreign journalists staying there that she had been held for two days and gang-raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers. Security forces dragged her from the hotel, and the government tried to downplay the incident by claiming she was mentally ill, but the damage to the regime had been done. Rumors of a coordinated campaign of mass rape trickled out, but the sourcing was thin and contentious. Central to the controversy was the work of Seham Sergewa, a Libyan psychologist who claimed to have sent out 70,000 questionnaires and received 60,000 responses, despite the lack of a functional postal system. Among these responses were 259 reports of rape; when asked about the possibility of following up with these individuals, however, Sergewa claimed to have lost contact with them. Further accounts by rebel fighters of finding Viagra and condoms, ostensibly used to help soldiers to rape, in burned-out loyalist vehicles went unsubstantiated as well.

While evidence of systematic rape remains scarce, it is clear that there were numerous incidents of rape, and it is equally clear that the threat of rape was used to instill fear in entire communities. “In Libya, when rape occurs, it seems to be a whole village or town which is seen to be dishonored,” said Arafat Jamal of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. In a report presented to the U.N. Security Council in November, International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that “in Libya, rape is considered to be one of the most serious crimes, affecting not just the victim, but also the family and the community, and can trigger retaliation and honor-based violence.” In an interview conducted by international aid organization Physicians for Human Rights, one informant said, ‘“If Gaddafi destroys a building, it can be rebuilt. But when Gaddafi rapes a woman, the whole community is destroyed forever. He knows this, and so rape is his best weapon … I’d prefer to die if that happened to my wife.”

Read more at Women Under Siege

Women in War, Women in Peace

Women in War, Women in Peace

Published November 8, 2011 at TheAtlantic.com.

As wars become less about states and more about societies, women can play a greater role in shaping or ending conflicts. So why do we still think of war as inherently male?

Asked to describe war, most Americans would probably throw out words like troops, tanks, guns, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Our historical and cultural understanding of war is shaped by our focus on the men who fight — and it is still overwhelmingly men who fight — and the tools they use, and this has become the prism through which we understand war and its consequences. War is a male domain, says conventional wisdom, in which women play little direct role.

But the idea of war as a male domain is increasingly out of touch with the way that war is fought today — and whom it impacts. Across the globe, conflicts are primarily fought not by well-trained armies at the behest of their governments but by non-state groups with complex motivations and little incentive to obey the laws of war. In these wars, civilians are often targets, not just collateral damage; 90 percent of conflict casualties are civilians, many of whom are women and children. A2009 study by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo concluded, “men are more likely to die during conflicts, whereas women die more often of indirect causes after the conflict is over.” When our understanding of a given war focuses so overwhelmingly on its male soldiers and statesmen, we miss the larger context — namely, we underestimate the many roles women can and do play — which makes it harder to end war and create durable peace.

Our common understanding about what war is and who participates can change, but it’s a slow process. For example, the idea that wartime rape is a crime against humanity — rather than an inevitable byproduct of war — is relatively new. After the Holocaust, there was little effort to collect evidence of systemic rape; at the Nuremberg trials, no charges of rape were filed. In contrast, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia opened a case devoted solely to sexual crimes — a watershed moment in the development of international law regarding the intersection of women’s rights and conflict. As part of their excellent, five-part Women, War & Peace series, PBS produced I Came to Testify, a documentary that tells the story of Fo?a, the town in Bosnia that was the site of multiple rape camps during the war there. The site later became central to the International Criminal Tribunal’s efforts to prosecute rape as a crime against humanity. Prosecutors were able to collect physical evidence from Fo?a and gather 16 women willing to testify before the court. The inclusion of women as witnesses, lawyers, and judges was key to the case’s success and to the establishment of systematic rape as a crime against humanity.

Through ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has begun to appreciate the importance of gender in war — and not just as an artifact of political correctness. As the U.S. moved to a strategy of counterinsurgency, they put less emphasis on killing bad guys and more on engaging with locals as a way of de-escalating violence. The military, though a male-dominated institution itself, became increasingly aware of the role of women in society and their influence over the men in their families. The military created Female Engagement Teams, whose members can talk directly with Afghan women (whose culture forbids them to talk to men outside their family). That was a strong start, but the idea that traditionally female spheres are of secondary importance during war and are not a male concern still persists, and may hamper future counterinsurgency efforts.

Men still tend to dominate peace negotiations — often the same men who were responsible for starting the war — in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Women are still in the minority at these talks, if they’re invited at all. The 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell tells the story of the women of Liberia, who ended the decades-long conflict there by pressuring dictator Charles Taylor to attend peace talks in Ghana — then followed him to Accra to keep the pressure on. The women were led by Leymah Gbowee, who, along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent work to ensure women’s voices were heard in the peace process. In the documentary, Gbowee discusses the talks in Ghana, where the men acted like they were on vacation until the women staged a sit-in and refused to allow the negotiators to leave their conference room until they took their work seriously. The imagery is telling: the men are inside bargaining while the women are outside, with no direct influence over talks that could change their lives until they decide to use their bodies as doorstops.

Read more at The Atlantic.

 

Viktor Bout Convicted of Terrorism Conspiracy Charges – Not Arms Trafficking – And Why It Matters

Viktor Bout Convicted of Terrorism Conspiracy Charges – Not Arms Trafficking – And Why It Matters

Published November 4, 2011 at UN Dispatch

After two and half years of extradition proceedings and a three-week trial, it took jurors a mere two days to declare Viktor Bout guilty of a litany ofterrorism-related charges, including conspiring to kill Americans by agreeing to sell weapons to foreign terrorist organizations.

Colloquially known as the “Merchant of Death”, Viktor Bout has been a larger-than-life figure for decades, even serving as the inspiration for the 2005 film Lord of War. Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 after a sting operation in which U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and has been accused of human rights violations by the United Nations.

Bout’s personal history is littered with similar engagements in which he agreed to sell arms to terrorist groups, warlords, and dictators. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Bout purchased a number of aircraft and opened several holding companies through which he was able to obscure his activities, both legal and illegal. He’s accused of – but has never been convicted of – having funneled weapons to some of the world’s worst conflicts with relative impunity, including Angola, Liberia, Afghanistan, and the Congo.

While it’s cause for celebration that Bout has been convicted and faces 25 years to life in prison, it should not go unremarked that he was arrested, extradited, tried, and convicted on terrorism charges – not arms trafficking charges. Bout’s history may be awash in blood, but the jurors in his New York case were instructed to disregard all of it, lest unproven and non-chargeable allegations of gun-running sway them. Instead, they were strictly to address whether he intended to provide material support to terrorists intent on harming Americans. Bout’s defense, in fact, centered not around his innocence – his lawyer acknowledged his 20 years history of arms trafficking – but around his inability to provide weapons – essentially, that Bout was lying when he claimed he could provide arms to the FARC.

In the end, Bout is symptomatic of a systemic failure to regulate the global trade in arms. In a world where 90% of conflict deaths are civilians and where human rights violations are endemic, responsible nations must recognize the importance of negotiating an Arms Trade Treaty in good faith, one that will end the culture of impunity surrounding the arms trafficking networks that gave rise to Viktor Bout. Absent an enforceable international treaty on the arms trade, states with an incentive to protect traffickers will continue to do so, as Russia endeavored to protect Bout from extradition and trial. The Viktor Bouts of the world provide the tools that fuel instability and decrease human security; it’s time we had a legal mechanism by which to address this problem.

Security Council Formally Recognizes Threat of Libya’s Missing Missiles

Security Council Formally Recognizes Threat of Libya’s Missing Missiles

Published November 1, 2011 at UN Dispatch.

Even as NATO concluded the seven-month campaign that helped oust Muammar Gaddhafi, the UN Security Council has formally recognized the threat posed by the late dictator’s unsecured arms depots and the resulting proliferation of weapons, particularly small arms and man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS.

In a Russian-drafted resolution adopted unanimously yesterday afternoon, the Security Council urged Libyan authorities and the international community to address the very real problem of post-conflict arms proliferation.

Through the unanimous adoption of resolution 2017 (2011), the Council called upon Libyan authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure the proper custody of portable surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADS (man-portable air defence systems), and all other arms and related materiel, as well as to meet Libya’s arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation obligations under international law, as well as to continue close coordination on the destruction of all stockpiles of chemical weapons with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

States in the region were called upon to take appropriate measures to prevent proliferation of those weapons as well.  Other Member States and international and regional organizations were called upon take appropriate action to assist the Libyan authorities and States in the region towards that goal.

Warnings about the threat posed by loose shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS have been circulating since early March. During the conflict, however, little action was taken to prevent their theft; with competent Libyan fighters at a premium and NATO engaged strictly in a sea- and air-based campaign, simple measures such as posting guards around stockpiles were not taken. As a result, in late summer, particularly after the fall of Tripoli, NGOs and journalists were able to document the missing missiles, though nobody could say definitively where the missiles had gone. Their findings shouldn’t have been surprising – arms proliferation during conflict is almost inevitable – but the lack of attention and action over the summer could have long-term consequences for Libya and for the world.

While the MANPADS may the most visible issue, as they pose a threat to civilian aircraft and are in high demand by terrorist groups, other small arms have the potential to wreak havoc throughout the region. Artillery shells, Grad rockets, and land mines could prove valuable to insurgent groups, as they could be made into improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Additionally, Gaddhafi is known to have retained chemical weapons, specifically a stash of mustard agent.

It’s encouraging that the Security Council countries agree on the importance of this issue, but the resolution stops short of addressing what the “necessary steps” are to prevent arms proliferation. Nor does it specify what “appropriate measures” regional neighbors are expected to take, leaving the door open to interpretation and potential abuse if countries choose to pursue interventionist policies under the guise of halting proliferation.

To be fair, with little knowledge of where these missiles may have ended up, the necessary next steps are not entirely clear. Libya’s National Transitional Council will need to centralize power over the brigades of fighters and document the weapons systems they control, which will be no easy task. Given a poor population in a state with porous borders and established black market arms networks familiar with the region, a buyback program may be the quickest and most efficient method of drawing loose arms out of Libya. Such a program would provide a source of cash for those in possession of these weapons without the hassle of finding a buyer, but it would be expensive and could prove hard to manage on a national scale. And depending on who has the weapons now, it could also be politically untenable to provide cash to insurgent or terrorist groups.

But regardless of methods, the international community must use this resolution to ramp up its efforts to contain the spread of weapons.