Since 1990, arms embargoes have been used repeatedly to address breaches in peace and security. However, the continued flouting of these bans by governments and non-state actors has represented an assault to the international communal will and made a mockery of Security Council decisions.
If properly implemented and enforced, arms embargoes are an indispensable tool that can punish injustices in a way that is less destructive and onerous than other types of embargoes or armed confrontation or international military action under UN Charter Chapter VII. Embargoes also help reduce the level and duration of conflict. Unlike economic sanctions, these bans directly target and isolate abusive combatants. By curbing the supply of weapons, arms embargoes may also reduce harm to the civilian population.
SAWG urges the United States to support a UN arms embargo unit. Two close allies of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, have informally endorsed the concept of such a unit. This unit, in consultation with the UN sanctions committees, should build on the experience and results achieved by U.N. investigations and embargo monitoring groups, and monitor the implementation of arms embargoes by:
In addition, the unit should be tasked with making recommendations to the Secretary-General relating both to arms embargo regimes generally and to the full implementation of individual embargo regimes.
In order to avoid the scattering of institutional experience and to enhance the processing of information, the unit should also be the repository of a permanent database on reported sanctions violations, the movement of military equipment and personnel to sanctioned entities, and individuals and companies-including brokers, shippers, bankers, and officials-involved in the violation of embargoes. The unit should be staffed with experts on the weapons trade, financial flows, customs controls, and dual-use technologies, as well as with a legal advisor. Crucially, the unit should work closely with international organizations such as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, the Secretariat of the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the law enforcement agencies of regional organizations.
In the interim, the United States should lend support and provide resources to ad hoc embargo monitoring bodies such as the panel of experts of the UN sanctions committees.
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The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) is an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working together to promote change in U.S. policies on small arms. SAWG members believe that small arms proliferation must be countered by more responsible policies on legal sales and international cooperation to reduce illicit trafficking.