Bush Gets it Right on Small Arms Threat Reduction

The President’s foreign aid budget request for FY2008 contains an unexpected and laudable surprise: a five-fold increase in funding for the State Department’s Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction initiaitive. If approved by Congress, the additional funding will bolster US efforts to stem the illicit trade in deadly light weapons.

The Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction initiative is a critically important program that helps foreign governments to secure leaky stockpiles and safely dispose of surplus and illicit small arms and light weapons – the weapons of choice for most terrorists, insurgents, and criminals. Few programs deliver more bang for the buck. Since 2001, the Initiative has funded the destruction of more than 900,000 small arms and light weapons and 80 million rounds of ammunition, and has secured thousands more – all for around $8 million a year.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this Initiative, particularly to the US-led global campaign to eliminate the terrorist threat from shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles. Since the 1970s, terrorists and insurgents have used these missiles, often referred to as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), to shoot down at least 40 commercial aircraft and scores of military aircraft, including several US helicopters in Iraq. The Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction Initiative has reduced the pool of missiles used in such attacks by 21,000** – the equivalent of about half the estimated global inventory of loosely secured and insecure MANPADS.

A detailed breakdown of the FY08 budget probably won’t be made available to the public for another month or so, but the State Department’s annual “Function 150″ report provides some clues as to how the additional funding would be spent. According to the report, the additional $36 million would be used “to support initiatives to counter the proliferation of MANPADS, including stockpile security and destruction.” The brief summary provides no information on which country programs would receive the money or what percentage would be spent on stockpile security upgrades versus destruction.

The FAS has repeatedly called for a dramatic expansion of US stockpile security and destruction aid programs, which contribute significantly to numerous important national and foreign policy objectives. We applaud the administration for recognizing the importance of the State Department’s program, and urge Congress to fully fund the budget request.

**The State Department also has firm commitments for the destruction of an additional 8,000 missiles.

For more information:

International Affairs Function 150 budget request summary

ASMP Issue Brief: MANPADS Proliferation

State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement

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