Friday, 4 November 2011

Concerns on Small Arms and Light Weapons Proliferation from Libya

NATO Secretary General Rasmussen Speaking to Press, Nov. 3 (NATO photo)
Questions were raised during Secretary General Rasmussen's Press Briefing on November 3
about the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) from Libya into neighboroughing countries, and even into Gaza. The Secretary General admitted that there were concerns, but said that with the end of Unified Protector, this was nopw a responsibility for Libya, regional countries and individual NATO nations rather than for NATO collectively:
Oana Lungescu: Associated Press.
Q: Yes, Secretary General, just a question on the loose weapons in Libya. As you mentioned the Security Council has already considered this and I understand that there's quite a lot of concern throughout Europe and in other countries that some of these weapons have already been smuggled out through Libya to Sub-Saharan Africa and across Egypt, perhaps to Gaza. Can you comment on that, please? Thank you.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I have no exact information as regards to the possible smuggling of arms, but I would like to remind you that the arms embargo is still in place. We have terminated our Operation Unified Protector, including the enforcement of the arms embargo, but according to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions the arms embargo is still in place and it is a responsibility of individual nations now to enforce the arms embargo, including Libya's neighbours.
And the UN Security Council has also clearly stated that it is a responsibility of the new political authorities in Libya to make sure that all weapons are properly controlled, monitored, secured, and eventually maybe also destroyed, if necessary.
Further questioned as to whether the new Libyan government is able to prevent the flow of weapons from Libya, he added:
Oana Lungescu: Defence News at the back.
Q: Secretary General, could you just confirm I've got it right on Libya that on the arms embargo, preventing proliferation of weapons then is just down to the regional countries? And do you... my follow-up question to that is, can you be confident that they're capable of doing that work alone? And thirdly, are there any circumstances in which NATO would help ensure that weapons are not crossing borders?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: The enforcement of the arms embargo is not just for Libya's neighbours or countries in the region. The arms embargo is still in place according to the United Nations mandate, so it is a responsibility of all members of the United Nations to enforce the arms embargo, including NATO Allies.
As I said, NATO as such has terminated Operation Unified Protector, so it's not for NATO any longer to enforce the arms embargo as an alliance, but it's still the responsibility of individual Allies to implement the United Nations resolution as far as the arms embargo is concerned.
And upon request from the new authorities in Libya, it is, of course, possible for individual nations, including NATO Allies, to assist the new authorities in Libya. That follows from international law that the legitimate government of a country can ask other countries to help enforce, for instance, an arms embargo or control arms smuggling or whatever.
So, I would not exclude the possibility that individual Allies and individual nations in general can help the new authorities in Libya on their request.
There are indeed very serious concerns that the outcome of Libya's short civil war will be bad for the region. Having gone far beyond a 'responsibility to protect' mandate in supporting the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime, NATO has some responsibility to assist in the prevention of weapons proliferation to conflict zones in Africa, or to terrorist organisations.

Two real concerns currently exist. It is estimated that thousands of anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS) which had been stockpiled by Gadhafi are now flowing out of Libya to the south. Two such weapons were used against an Israeli aircraft in East Africa in 2002, although the plane in question was not shot down. With thousands available on the black market now, the risk dramatically increases to civilian aircraft in the region. There are reports of RPGs and SA-7 MANPADS reaching Gaza (see here for example).

Secondly, Tuareg tribes in northern Mali and Niger sent many fighters to support Gadhafi and these men are now returning to their own countries much better armed than before. A Tuareg rebellion in Mali was only ended in 2009, and there are reports (see this from AP for example) that Tuareg rebels are preparing a new insurrection against Bamako, fuelled by Libyan arms.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of NATO's engagement in Libya over the past six months, it is clear that the Alliance and its member states must act proactively to assist the new Libyan government in dealing with this threat to state and human security. The NTC is not in charge of Libya at present, the 300 plus militia groups that actually fought the civil war are. The situation in the country is fragile. If NATO is really interested in protecting civilians then stemming the flood of SALW both within and out of Libya is a must.

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