What's In Blue

Posted Tue 21 Dec 2021

Security Council-Mandated Arms Embargoes: Vote on Draft Resolution*

Tomorrow afternoon (22 December), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution proposed by Mexico addressing the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and diversion of arms and related materials in violation of Council-mandated arms embargoes. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership.

Draft Resolution

The draft resolution in blue expresses the Council’s intention to consider during the renewal of UN peace operations mandates whether and how they “could support relevant national authorities in combating the illicit transfer and diversion of arms in violation of the arms embargoes in their respective areas of operation”. The draft text emphasises that when the Council evaluates the possible lifting of an arms embargo, it will consider the capacity of states under the arms embargo to prevent its existing arms and ammunition stockpiles from being diverted to the illicit market.

Several elements not addressed in previous Council products are included in the draft text in blue. For example, the draft expresses the Council’s resolve to “designate, where appropriate and under applicable sanctions regimes, those individuals…involved in activities prohibited by Council-mandated embargoes”. It also encourages capacity-building and cooperation among member states to implement the provisions of Council-mandated embargoes. The draft text requests the Secretary-General to include information on general trends of illicit trafficking and diversion in contravention of Council-mandated arms embargoes in his biennial reports submitted pursuant to resolution 2220 of 22 May 2015 on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).

Background and Negotiations

It seems that Mexico initially considered promoting a Council product related to SALW, but then decided to shift the resolution’s focus, as Council dynamics on this issue tend to be complicated. Some members, including Mexico and Kenya, view the prevention of the illicit flow of SALW as a priority issue and advocate for the integration of SALW-related matters into the Council’s consideration of country-specific situations and other thematic issues. However, other members tend to underscore the primary role and responsibility of national governments in handling the issue. Russia maintains that the General Assembly is the most appropriate forum for discussing SALW-related matters and opposes attempts to link them to other thematic issues.

Due to these dynamics, past negotiations on Council products on SALW were contentious. For instance, six Council members, including China and Russia, abstained on resolution 2220, the only thematic Council resolution on SALW, apparently because the text did not include language on the transfer of SALW to non-state actors. In 2020, several Council members—including then-members Belgium, the Dominican Republic and Germany and current Council member Niger—initiated a draft resolution that sought to update various elements of resolution 2220. However, negotiations were apparently difficult, as some Council members expressed the position that SALW-related issues are better handled by other UN bodies, and the draft was not tabled for a vote. In light of this, Mexico decided not to build on resolution 2220 for its product, and instead developed a draft text with a wider focus on the implementation of arms embargoes.

Mexico initiated the negotiations on the draft resolution during its November Council presidency when it organised a ministerial-level open debate on the effects of the diversion and trafficking of arms on peace and security. Mexico City apparently chose not to link the draft resolution with the open debate, anticipating the potentially difficult nature of the negotiations and recognising the need to allow time for negotiations to consolidate agreement on the draft text.

In drafting its proposed resolution, Mexico took into account the views and perspectives expressed by Council members in two meetings that preceded the ministerial-level open debate in November: the 6 October Council briefing on the Secretary-General’s biennial report pursuant to resolution 2220 and the 16 September Arria-formula meeting on SALW which was convened by Mexico. At these meetings, Russia again outlined its position that the General Assembly is the most appropriate forum for discussing SALW issues and opposed attempts to link these to other thematic issues. Russia further indicated that it is amenable to the Council discussing SALW in the context of peacekeeping, arms embargoes, Security Sector Reform (SSR), and Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR). Therefore, Mexico based the draft text in part on reports of panels of experts which support various Council-mandated sanctions regimes.

Mexico apparently had hoped that this approach would help garner agreement by Council members, including Russia. It seems that Moscow was not willing to engage on the draft resolution and instead suggested that this issue could be better addressed in a different product, such as a presidential statement. China apparently supported Russia’s position. However, Mexico felt strongly about advancing a resolution on the matter and did not agree with Moscow’s suggestion.

Due to these fundamental disagreements, the negotiations on the draft text were apparently difficult and protracted. Mexico circulated a first draft of the text in early November, and subsequently held four rounds of negotiations. It revised the text four times following input from Council members. A fourth iteration of the text was placed under silence on 15 December, which was subsequently broken by China, India and Russia. Mexico placed an amended version of the draft text under silence until 17 December, but China, India and Russia broke silence. Mexico made additional adjustments to the text to address the concerns of the three members and placed it in blue yesterday (20 December).

It seems there was some discussion during the negotiations on a provision proposed by Mexico on the establishment of a cell within UN peace operations which would serve as a focal point in coordinating SALW issues. This proposal was based on the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his most recent biennial report submitted pursuant to resolution 2220, which was issued on 30 September. However, some members expressed reservations, citing the possible budgetary implications of this provision, among other things. In an apparent compromise, the draft text in blue does not include specific provisions on the establishment of a cell within UN peace operations, noting instead the Council’s intention to consider during the mandate renewals of UN peace operations, “on a case-by-case basis and when appropriate”, their possible role in supporting national authorities “in combating the illicit transfer and diversion of arms in violation of the arms embargoes in their respective areas of operation”.

It seems that as part of this compromise, Mexico succeeded in including language in the draft text in blue requesting the Secretary-General to consider recommendations in his regular country-specific reporting on “tasks that could be performed by peace operations… to provide assistance to relevant national authorities, inter alia, in monitoring of said embargoes, identification of illicit sources of arms, and tracing seized, found and surrendered arms”. This provision could apparently enable Council members to consider the establishment of a cell within specific UN peace operations which would serve as a focal point in coordinating SALW issues in the future.

Another apparently contentious issue during the negotiation was reference to international humanitarian law. The draft resolution in blue stresses in its preambular part that “measures taken by Member States to comply with Council-mandated arms embargos, including measures to counter illicit trafficking and diversion of arms and related materiel, as well as illicit financing, must comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable”. Although some members were apparently not comfortable with this paragraph, arguing that it might inhibit the right of member states to defend themselves, it was maintained in the final text in blue.

It seems that there was disagreement over a proposal by Mexico to include a provision calling for the development of a common database on illicit transfer of arms. It appears that several Council members, including some permanent members of the Council, were uncomfortable with the creation of such a database. In an apparent compromise, language in the operative section of the draft text in blue encourages “peace operations and relevant United Nations entities to assist in reinforcing capacities of host nation authorities, at their request, in data collection and training to counter the illicit transfer of arms and related materiel of all types, where appropriate and consistent with their mandates”.

*Post-script: On 22 December, the Security Council adopted resolution 2616, with 13 votes in favour and 3 abstentions ( China, India and Russia).