11 June 2012

Africa: The 'Big Six' Arms Exporters

Photo: Leadership
The scene of one of the Kano blasts in Nigeria.

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1. China

There are few official statistics on the Chinese arms trade but the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that accounts for around 3 per cent of the global trade in conventional arms.

Countries supplied

Recipient countries over the past decade have tended to be developing countries with poor human rights records including Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, DRC, Guinea, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Irresponsible transfers

China continues to supply small arms ammunition to Sudan which has been used in Darfur by security forces and government backed militia groups. Chinese rockets and anti-vehicle mines were supplied to Libya under Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi. Ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and mortar launchers have been supplied to Zimbabwe.

Stance on the ATT

China has not signed up to any multilateral agreement on arms exports, and has a cautious approach to the proposed treaty. It has said it accepts the need for a treaty to recognize international human rights but that such criteria are difficult to judge objectively. There have been interventions from China to narrow the scope of the ATT to exclude small arms and light weapons, as well as government-to-government transfers. Experience from earlier negotiations suggests that China will try to water down the text and then introduce a late major objection.

2. France

France, Germany and UK are consistently ranked third, fourth or fifth globally in terms of the value of their conventional arms exports.

Countries supplied

France's key customers include Singapore, UAE, Greece, other NATO partners, the Middle East and North Africa region and Francophone countries. Recently, France and Russia have begun exchanges on defence cooperation and naval equipment.

Irresponsible transfers

Generally supportive of strict criteria for arms transfers, France has still supplied arms to countries where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations. For example, it supplied weaponry and munitions to Libya under al-Gaddafi, ammunition and armoured vehicles to both Egypt and Chad, and munitions to Syria between 2005 and 2009.

Stance on the ATT

France has a progressive position broadly in line with the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, established along with the UK and other EU governments. It generally supports inclusion of a binding rule along the lines of Amnesty International's Golden Rule. France has pushed for a comprehensive treaty and robust enforcement mechanisms, including criminalizing arms trafficking in national laws. However, there is a risk that France (along with Germany and UK) may bend to US pressures to water down human rights protection in order to accommodate China and Russia.

3. Germany

Germany is consistently ranked third, fourth or fifth globally in terms of the value of its conventional arms exports. Though not a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as an economic leader in the EU, a major player in the UN, the Wassenaar Arrangement, OSCE and other multilateral organisations, Germany's influence in ATT negotiations will be significant.

Countries supplied

Germany is one of the largest EU exporters of arms to the Middle East and North Africa region. Other key customers include South Africa, Greece, Turkey and other NATO partners, as well as Asian and Latin American countries.

Irresponsible transfers

Generally supportive of strict criteria for arms transfers, Germany has nonetheless supplied arms to countries where there is a substantial risk they could be used to commit human rights violations. For example, it supplied armoured vehicles to Yemen and to Libya under al-Gaddafi as well as small arms to Bahrain and Egypt. It has supplied arms and ammunition to Guatemala and to the Philippines.

Stance on the ATT

Germany's basic position on the treaty is in line with the EU Common Position on Arms Exports. It also generally supports inclusion of Amnesty International's Golden Rule. The country has a progressive position on the scope of the treaty and supports the inclusion of small arms and light weapons as well as munitions. Germany has emphasized the need for clarity in the ATT on the responsibility of each state in an arms transaction. As with France and the UK, there is a risk that Germany may succumb to US pressure to water down the ATT text on human rights in order to accommodate China and Russia.

4. Russia

Russia is the second largest arms trading country globally by value of exports and will exert a major influence in ATT negotiations.

Countries supplied

Main customers include India, Syria, Algeria, Myanmar, Venezuela, Sudan and many African states. However, Russia's arms industry has been falling behind in key technologies and it is seeking sophisticated partners and new markets for many products.

Irresponsible transfers

Russia has supplied arms to several countries where they risk being used to commit serious human rights violations. It does not publish arms export details, but 10 per cent of all Russian arms exports are believed to go to Syria, making it the country's largest arms supplier. Transfers include missiles and missile launchers, anti-tank missiles for the Russian-made T72 tank, and MIG jet fighters jet aircraft. Russia also supplied AK-style assault rifles to Libya under al-Gaddafi. Russia continues to supply helicopter gunships to Sudan, where they have been used to attack civilians in Darfur and Southern Kordofan.

Stance on the ATT

Russia, like China, appears not to want the treaty to include binding rules on international human rights, international humanitarian law and socio-economic development. Russian officials argue that such rules are interpreted subjectively and ideologically. However, Russia is already committed to the OSCE and Wassenaar Arrangement, both of which contain principles to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law when considering arms transfers. Russia also appears comfortable with the ATT covering a wide range of conventional arms as in the Munitions List of the Wassenaar Arrangement. Russia believes the focus should be on controlling trade to avoid diversion into the illicit arms market but the details of its proposals and views on transparency remain sketchy.

5. UK

The UK consistently ranked third, fourth or fifth globally, along with France and Germany, in terms of the annual value of its conventional arms exports.

Countries supplied

Key customers include the USA, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and other NATO partners. It is also a major exporter to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa.

Irresponsible transfers

Generally supportive of strict criteria for arms transfers, the UK has nonetheless supplied arms to countries where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious violations of human rights. For example, the UK supplied arms to the Sri Lankan government knowing of its repression and UK national legislation is being reviewed following evidence that the UK supplied small arms, ammunition, munitions and armoured vehicle equipment to Libya under al-Gaddafi as well as small arms to Bahrain and law enforcement equipment to Yemen.

Stance on the ATT

In 2005, the UK became the first major arms trading power to support an Arms Trade Treaty covering human rights. With France it helped establish the EU code that has now become the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, the starting point for UK policy positions on the ATT. It also co-authored various UN General Assembly resolutions between 2006 and 2009 leading to the current negotiations. The UK has generally supported the Golden Rule and has progressive positions on the treaty's scope and implementation mechanisms (for example backing robust transparency measures). However, as with France and Germany, if there is not a majority of states pushing for strong rules, the UK could succumb to US pressure to water down the treaty text on human rights protection in order to accommodate China and Russia.

6. USA

The United States is by far the world's largest arms trader, accounting for around 30 per cent of conventional arms transfers in terms of value. Its position on the ATT is therefore key.

Countries supplied

The USA supplies arms to more than 170 countries and has a mixed record of suspending arms supplies on human rights grounds. For example, it has restricted arms transfers to Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in addition to countries subject to UN arms embargoes. However, it has supplied arms to other countries, for example Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen, where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit of facilitate serious human rights violations.

Irresponsible transfers

As the main arms supplier to Egypt, the US authorized the sale of small arms, millions of rounds of ammunition and chemical agents for riot control, despite the security forces' violent crackdown on protesters. Yemen was also supplied with small arms, chemical agents and armoured vehicles, and Bahrain with small arms. It provides Colombia's security forces with arms, military aid and training, despite their persistent violations of human rights.

Stance on the ATT

Since October 2009, when the Obama administration reversed previous opposition to an ATT, US support has been crucial in getting to the current negotiation stage. The US has said it wants the treaty to raise the international standard for export control of armaments as close as possible to that of the US. However, the US position is weaker on human rights protection in the treaty than many of its allies. For example, US officials have not wanted to include obligations on states to prohibit transfers of arms even where there is credible evidence of their potential use for serious violations of human rights. US officials have also argued against including ammunition under the scope of the treaty, claiming it is too sensitive and would pose technical problems of implementation. Overall, US officials would prefer a short loose document that spells out general principles to "take into account" rather than strong binding measures.

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