What's In Blue

Posted Sun 9 Apr 2023

Open Debate on “Risks stemming from violations of the agreements regulating the export of weapons and military equipment”

Tomorrow morning (10 April), as one of the signature events of its presidency, Russia will convene an open debate on “Risks stemming from violations of the agreements regulating the export of weapons and military equipment” under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu is expected to brief.

In her briefing, Nakamitsu may note that the influx of weapons in any armed conflict can create risks of escalation and diversion. She might emphasise that measures to prevent the diversion of ammunition and weapons—such as pre-transfer risk assessments and end-user verification—can help to support conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery, among other things. Nakamitsu may refer to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as important instruments in improving transparency in the transfer of arms and in monitoring the flow of weapons and ammunition into conflict areas. (The UNROCA is an annual reporting mechanism through which governments voluntarily share information with the UN on weapons they transferred the previous year, while the ATT regulates the international trade in conventional arms and strives to prevent and eradicate their illegal trade and diversion.) She might also underscore the responsibilities of all conflict parties to protect civilians and avoid targeting civilian infrastructure in the conduct of military operations.

Russia has circulated a concept note in preparation for the meeting.  Among the questions for discussion posed by Russia in its concept note are:

  • How can the international community better contribute to enhancing the efforts of all states in preventing violations of agreements and regulations related to the transfer of conventional weapons and military equipment?
  • What are the necessary laws, regulations and administrative procedures needed to establish effective control over the production, export, import, brokering, transit or retransfer of weapons and military equipment?
  • What specific measures could be adopted to ensure that the transfer of conventional weapons and military equipment is accompanied by the explicit consent of the original exporter state for their retransfer to another state or end user?
  • What comprehensive measures should be adopted by governments at different levels to ensure that weapons and military equipment are not diverted for terrorist purposes or illicit trafficking?

During the meeting, Russia is likely to argue that certain countries do not adhere to disarmament agreements and irresponsibly fuel the proliferation of arms. In the concept note, it states: “Massive deliveries of various types of defensive and offensive weapons and other military equipment to conflict zones have…involved flagrant violations by Member States of their relevant international obligations under multilateral and regional agreements.” While it does not explicitly mention Ukraine in the concept note, Russia may criticise the influx of Western weapons to Ukraine. It has initiated three Security Council meetings on this issue: on 8 September 2022, 9 December 2022, and 8 February. (For more information, see our 7 February What’s in Blue story.) Russia may also argue that some member states are not doing enough to prevent the diversion of arms to non-state actors, including terrorists. China has made this point as well; in the 8 February meeting, it said: “Relevant parties should…adopt strict control measures, prevent the proliferation of weapons and ammunition and, in particular, stop them from falling in the hands of terrorists and armed groups, and avoid creating new instability in the greater geographic region.” In this context, China referred to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria.

Some Council members are likely to question Russia’s rationale for convening this open debate. They may argue that the meeting is intended to divert attention from Russia’s invasion and actions in Ukraine. Several members may reiterate that Russia’s invasion has violated the UN Charter, and that Ukraine has a right to self-defence under article 51 of the Charter. In this context, they may argue that weapons are being supplied to Ukraine to help it fulfil its fundamental right to self-defence. In this regard, at the 8 February meeting, the US said, “the inherent right to individual self-defence is reflected in Article 51 of the Charter…The security assistance, including weapons, that the United States and more than 50 other countries are providing, and will continue to provide, is for Ukraine’s self-defence”. Some countries may also note that weapons transfers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran to Russia for use in Ukraine violate Security Council resolutions, a point that Albania and France made in the 8 February meeting. Concerns might also be expressed about Russia’s recent announcement that it will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which was the subject of a 31 March Council meeting.

African members may refer to the “Silencing the Guns in Africa” initiative, which was the focus of a Security Council open debate convened by Mozambique on 30 March. In November 2016, the AU Peace and Security Council adopted an AU Master Roadmap on practical steps to implement this initiative, which includes steps to fully operationalise the African Standby Force, to prevent the circulation of illicit arms, and to address socio-economic and governance challenges. (For more information, see our 29 March What’s in Blue story.)

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