17 June 2010

Workshop on small arms and munitions management: past experiences, mistakes, and best practices

by Benjamin Karsai and Christian Ciobanu, NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security

On Tuesday, June 15, 2010, the Permanent Mission of Germany and the Small Arms Survey hosted a workshop entitled, “Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM): Practitioners' Perspectives,” which addressed PSSM assistance programs. The aim of the meeting was to compare and contrast the experiences of different practitioners in the field of small arms and munitions management and discuss past experiences, mistakes and best practices. There were a total of three presenters. Mr. David Diaz, a representative from the United States State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (OWRA), discussed the process in which the U.S. government provides assistance and implements small arms reduction projects in developing countries. Lieutenant Colonel Andreas Nehring, from the German Armed Forces staff, presented reflections on the German Experience in Cambodia. Finally, Mr. Steve Priestley, the International Director for Technical Assistance for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), discussed his NGOs involvement in countries such as Angola, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. He provided several disturbing examples of unprotected and mismanaged weapons storage facilities and proposed practical, cheap and easy solutions toward addressing the issue of small arms and munitions management.

Mr. David Diaz explained that mismanaged small arms stocks threaten civilian populations from accidental explosions and risk the illicit proliferation of guns and munitions to non-state actors. The security challenges that governments must address include excessively risky storage of weapons, poor security, unmarked weapons, illicit exports, and lack of transparency. In order to properly deal with this issue, states must engage in a proactive approach through organization, management and resources. The key toward reducing these threats is the reduction of excess and unnecessary weapons stores. Diaz explained that through reducing stockpiles, governments can secure their small arms more effectively and cheaply. However the issue of PSSM assistance is a complex multifaceted issue. In order to maximize success and effectiveness, Diaz strongly stressed cooperation and collaboration of many different organizations and practitioners in the field. He explained that a multilateral approach provides a range of effectiveness, collaboration, follow up and transparency in terms of small arms security.

After Diaz’s presentation, Lieutenant Colonel Andreas Nehring from the German Armed Forces staff shared his views about Germany’s experience in dismantling stockpiles in Cambodia. He noted that after 30 years of conflict, Cambodia stabilized itself and the government was ready to dismantle its small arms and light weapons and contacted Germany to help provide resources to secure its ammunition and develop a national strategy on SALW. Once Germany received Cambodia’s request, the Armed Forces conducted an initial finding in which they discovered that there were large quantities of various types of ammunition that were carelessly thrown in various ammunition warehouses. Furthermore, the warehouses were unfit for arms storage.

After the Armed Forces conducted their initial investigations of Cambodia’s ammunitions, the Armed Forces worked closely with Cambodia to develop a national commission for reform on weapons and ammunitions management in August 2007. By March 2008, the Armed Forces established a plan of action for demolishing ammunitions and worked closely with ASEAN. By March 2009, the Armed Forces requested the help of Royal Cambodia Armed Forces (RCAF) with developing safe storage for Cambodia’s arms. It also conducted multilateral demolition training programs and ammunition technical training programs in Cambodia. Germany concluded that if it were to conduct future projects, Germany must closely cooperate with regional actors, carefully plan its objectives, and develop a comprehensive standard of procedures.

Mr. Steve Priestley, a representative of MAG, provided a brief overview about his organization’s efforts in removing landmines and eliminating weapons in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In regards to the Sudan, the Sudanese government contracted MAG to remove mines, missiles and batteries in over 35 villages. In terms of the DRC, MAG discovered 516 tons of ammunition and 101,230 of small arms throughout the county. It also noticed that a community emerged around an ammunition depot. To ensure the safety of individuals, MAG encouraged families to move their homes out of the depot and to relocate their families to other areas of the country.

Priestly stressed that many countries are unaware about the extent of small arms and mines in their countries. Most of these countries simply do not have the resources to remove these weapons and create a central storage unit. As a result, they contact organizations, such as MAG, to help them with creating a stable country.

At the end of the panel discussion, several members of the audience asked questions to the panelists. Some of the questions addressed whether countries could sell surpluses to people instead of dismantling them and how UN member states and regional organizations could work together to deal with small arms. In response to the first question, Nehring explained that the older ammunitions are not saleable because they usually in bad conditions. Diaz further explained that the profit margins are usually too small for states to generate profits. As a result, it is better for them to dismantle their ammunitions than selling them. In response to the second question, Nehring informed the group that it is occasionally difficult for regional groups to coordinate their activities. However, if they exchange information with one another, it is usually easier for them to coordinate their plans on eliminating ammunitions.

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