The UN has discovered that Kenya
is importing large quantities of weapons (at least 77 tanks, 15 jet fighters
and 40,000 assault rifles and machine-guns in the last year or so) without
reporting them. A 1991 international treaty, which Kenya signed, obliges all
nations to report weapons exports and imports (the better to control the
illegal trade in arms.) Not everyone follows the rules.
particular scandal came has come out of the recent pirate attack that seized a
Ukrainian ship while it was passing through the Gulf of Aden, on its way to
Kenya, carrying 33 T-72 tanks and tons of smaller weapons. The UN had no record
of this transaction (Kenya admitted the weapons were theirs.)
The UN is also
particularly concerned about trying to limit the undocumented sale of small
arms. Most of these weapons are of Russian design (although manufactured by
several countries, mainly Russia and
China). The most common weapon is the AK-47 (and its many variants). "Small
arms" include machine-guns of 7.62mm, and smaller, caliber, as well as
pistols and machine pistols. The international trade in small arms is estimated
at $4 billion a year, and about a quarter of that is illegal. It's believed
that two thirds, or more, of the combat deaths each year are from small arms.
This is particularly true in wars employing many irregular troops. Traditional
tribal conflicts in Africa and Asia have become a lot more bloody because of
the proliferation of small arms, usually illegally obtained ones.
The UN wants
to impose more regulations on legitimate small arms sales, and encourage more
vigorous prosecution of illegal arms traders. This effort, like an earlier one
that banned the use of anti-personnel mines, would largely be symbolic, a
feel-good measure for those pushing it. For example, the 33 tanks on the
pirated ship headed for Kenya, were apparently meant for the breakaway
government of South Sudan, which is under a UN arms embargo. It also appears
that corrupt officials in Kenya have been engaged in illegal arms sales. This
is easier to do if you have the cover of a cooperative government.
is that the current proliferation of small arms is largely a result of the end
of the Cold War. The former communist countries found themselves with millions
of AK-47s and light machine-guns they no longer needed. Ukraine, then a part of
the Soviet Union, inherited over seven million Soviet AK-47s and machine-guns,
when it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
countries were police states with very large armies and police forces. Most of
these personnel were armed with AK-47s, although the majority of the troops
were reservists. So their weapons spent most of the time locked up in armories.
Since the 1990s, these armories were either looted (as in Albania and Iraq), or
had their contents sold off, by corrupt officials, in illegal arms deals. China
still manufactures a lot of AK-47s, and is willing to sell them to shady
dealers. The AK-47s have flooded Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the last
fifteen years, making them very cheap (less than $100).
gunrunners are known, but manage to find sanctuary in Eastern Europe and
Russia. Another major source of such weapons are corrupt officials, who sell
off weapons to anyone. Such corrupt officials also sell older weapons, instead
of following orders and destroying them. An additional international treaty
would not stop the gun runners or corrupt officials. Many nations that signed
the 1991 treaty have not reported all their exports and imports. Kenya and
China are just two of many offenders. In 2006, Italian police arrested some
local gangsters and found that they were brokering an unregistered sale of half
a million Chinese AK-47s to Libya.
the key to slowing the trade in small arms is local action. This is much more
difficult than enacting a new arms control treaty. Such treaties are nothing
new. For most of the last thousand years, the Roman Catholic church has
periodically tried to ban some weapons, and warfare in general. But weapons
control, like politics, is all about local situations. There is no easy