The independent resource on global security

10. Conventional arms control


Overview, Ian Anthony [PDF]

I. Limiting conventional arms for humanitarian reasons: the case of cluster munitions, Lina Grip [PDF]

II. Limiting the military capabilities of others: developments in arms export control, Mark Bromley and Glenn McDonald [PDF]

III. Multilateral arms embargoes, Pieter D. Wezeman and Noel Kelly [PDF]

IV. Limiting conventional arms to promote military security: the case of conventional arms control in Europe, Hans-Joachim Schmidt and Wolfgang Zellner [PDF]

V. Confidence- and security-building measures, Hans-Joachim Schmidt and Wolfgang Zellner [PDF]


With the exception of some promising progress in South America and in South Eastern Europe, in 2011 most developments in conventional arms control were discouraging as states were not willing to modify national positions in order to facilitate agreement, either globally or regionally. 


Three factors have contributed to the difficulty of developing conventional arms control. First, the huge and sustained investment that the USA has made in its military power has made it impossible to find solutions based on balance. Second, technological developments have blurred the picture of which capabilities will confer military power now and in the future. Third, the lack of agreed rules about the use of force—which may be for ostensibly constructive purposes and not only a defensive response to aggression—makes countries reluctant to give up military capabilities even if there is a humanitarian argument in favour of restraint. 


Cluster munitions

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an example of an agreement based on the principle that, even if a given weapon delivers some military advantage, it should still be limited or banned because the humanitarian consequences of use outweigh any military benefit.


 While the CCM’s parties continued their implementation in 2011, the parties to the 1981 Certain Conventional Weapons Convention failed to agree on a protocol defining rules for the use of cluster munitions and banning those with particularly harmful effects. The international community is now polarized between a group of states that have committed themselves to a total ban on cluster munitions through a separate convention negotiated among themselves—the CCM—and a group of states that are not bound by any shared rules at all, apart from the laws of war.


Multilateral arms embargoes in force, 2011

United Nations (13 embargoes)
• Al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities • Democratic Republic of the Congo (NGF) • Côte d’Ivoire • Eritrea • Iran • Iraq (NGF) • North Korea • Lebanon (NGF) • Liberia (NGF) • Libya (NGF) • Somalia • Sudan (Darfur) • Taliban

European Union (19 embargoes)
Implementations of UN embargoes (9): • Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated individuals and entities • Democratic Republic of the Congo (NGF) • Côte d’Ivoire • Eritrea • Iraq (NGF) • Lebanon (NGF) • Liberia (NGF) • Libya (NGF) • Somalia (NGF)

Adaptations of UN embargoes (3): • Iran • North Korea • Sudan

Embargoes with no UN counterpart (7): • Belarus • China • Guinea • Myanmar • South Sudan • Syria • Zimbabwe

ECOWAS (1 embargo)
• Guinea

Arab League (1 embargo)
• Syria 

NGF = non-governmental forces.


Developments in arms export control

Efforts to improve the technical efficiency of export control continued in 2011 in global and regional organizations and in the informal regimes of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement. However, a common approach to assessing acceptable risk remains elusive, beyond general guidelines agreed in the 1990s.


Discussions continued in the UN on the creation of a legally binding arms trade treaty (ATT), prior to the negotiating conference to be held in July 2012. Hopes were raised that China and Russia were becoming more engaged in the process. Nonetheless, there are significant differences between states over the content and purpose of a future treaty.


Multilateral arms embargoes

The only new embargo imposed by the UN Security Council in 2011 was that on Libya. States subsequently disagreed about whether or not it permitted the supply of arms to rebel forces. The Security Council was not able to agree on imposing an arms embargo on Syria despite lengthy discussion. 


The Arab League imposed its first ever arms embargo in 2011, on Syria. ECOWAS’s arms embargo on Guinea, imposed in 2009, was lifted in 2011. The European Union, in addition to its implementation of the new UN embargo on Libya, imposed three new arms embargoes during 2011, on Belarus, on South Sudan and on Syria.


Several significant violations of arms embargoes were reported during 2011, primarily by the UN panels of experts tasked with monitoring the embargoes. 


Conventional arms control in Europe

The renewed interest in conventional arms control in Europe that was in evidence in 2010 could not be translated into substantial progress in 2011. By the end of the year, NATO member states had decided to stop sharing information related to the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) with Russia (which had suspended its participation in 2007).


Conventional arms control in Europe has reached a dead end, even though the need for it is largely undisputed. Unresolved territorial conflicts play a key role in blocking progress, but there is no current consensus on its specific objectives, subjects and instruments.


Confidence- and security-building measures

In most regions confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) have been elaborated as part of a broader discussion of a security regime in which the behaviour of states is rendered understandable and predictable.


In Europe, the Vienna Document is the most important element of the CSBM regime, complemented by the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies. In 2011 the OSCE participating states adopted a revised version of the Vienna Document. However, it represents at best minimal progress over the Vienna Document 1999. If this trend is not reversed, the Vienna Document regime will continue to lose military and political relevance.


In South America, members of UNASUR agreed to a series of CSBMs intended to support their wider objective of building a common and cooperative security system in the region. 

Dr Ian Anthony, Dr Lina Grip, Dr Mark Bromley, Pieter D. Wezeman and Noel Kelly