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FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
Summer 2004
Volume 57, Number 3
FAS Home | Download PDF | PIR Archive
Front Page
FAS Plans Learning Game to Train First Responders
Diesel Hybrids: Back to the Future?
The Hype About Hydrogen
Congress Cools on New Nukes
Senate Committee Forgoes Action on Crucial Small Arms Treaty
Space Assets Can Be Protected Without Space Weapons
Secrecy Project and the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal
Kelly Calls for Private Sector Investment in IT Learning R&D

Senate Committee Forgoes Action on Crucial Small Arms Treaty

by Matthew Schroeder

Despite earlier signs that the U.S. government was finally ready to pursue ratification of the Organization of American States Firearms Convention, the Senate Foreign Relations committee recently confirmed that it plans no action on the Convention this year.

The OAS Firearms Convention–an unprecedented regional agreement aimed at curbing illicit arms trafficking–has been stuck in the Senate for six years. Hopes for action on it were raised in March, when the head of the U.S. delegation to the treaty’s 5-year review conference declared that the Bush administration had “recently concluded a further review of the Convention and [would] seek Senate advice and consent to ratification of this Convention during the current congressional cycle.” The delegation head also announced that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would hold a hearing on it and several other law enforcement treaties on April 1.

The committee postponed the hearing a few days later. Then it announced a new hearing date June 17 and posted the list of treaties that would be addressed. The Firearms Convention was not on the list. Despite emergency interventions by the FAS and other advocates the committee did not add it. While action is theoretically still possible, prospects for ratification this year are grim.

The OAS Firearms Convention requires member states to enact basic, common sense controls on small arms imports and exports, and encourages cooperation and information sharing among national law enforcement agencies. To date, 33 OAS member states have signed the Convention and 24 have ratified it. The United States was an early and important supporter. It helped to draft the Convention’s text and was one of its first signatories. This early momentum fizzled after it was transmitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where it has languished since 1998.

Welcome Progress on Shoulder-fired Missile Threat

This spring saw progress on the shoulder-fired missile (MANPADS) threat on several fronts. In March, Representatives John Mica (R-Fl.), Peter Defazio (D-Or.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) introduced the Commercial Aviation MANPADS Defense Act (CAMDA). It was reported out of the House Transportation Committee on June 23rd.

CAMDA expands upon last year’s bill which focused primarily on technical countermeasures by strong international agreements on export controls and surplus stockpile destruction. The new bill requires the Federal Aviation Administration to set up a process for expediting certification of such systems. The bill also addresses information sharing between U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, contingency planning for threats of MANPADS attacks and airport vulnerability assessments.

FAS Report Shows Need to Curb Illicit Small Arms in Western Hemisphere

In June the FAS released a report on the OAS Firearms Convention.* While there are other reports on the global traffic in small arms and light weapons, the 38-page FAS study was unique in explaining how this 1997 Convention helps curb illicit arms transfers. It makes cogent arguments that this trade would be better curbed if the United States ratified the Convention.

The report also documents how illicit arms stoke the “witch’s brew” of criminal activity and drug trading centered in violence-torn Columbia. “For arms traffickers, the world is a very small place,” says report author Matthew Schroeder, manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at FAS.

The report was delivered to every U.S. senator and to all the representatives to the OAS in Washington. Ambassador Luigi R. Einaudi, Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, welcomed the FAS report as a helpful tool to shed light on this important problem and the little known but crucial Convention.

“The OAS Convention is essential to curbing the illicit trade in small arms, and U.S. ratification is essential to making it happen,” Einaudi said.

The report was released in early June to persuade the Senate to finally spring the Convention out of committee and get it to the Senate floor for a vote. But without explanation the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declined to hear it.

*Formal title: Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Explosives, Ammunition and other Related Materials. The report is FAS Occasional Paper No. 1, Small Arms, Terrorism and the OAS Firearms Convention. To order call 202.454.4693. Or visit smallarms/OAS_Firearms_Convention.html

US to Help Nicaragua Destroy its Surplus MANPADS

In May, the State Department announced that the Nicaraguan government had agreed to destroy its entire stockpile of 2,200 shoulder-fired missiles. The agreement is the culmination of months of negotiations between the State Department and the Nicaraguans, who had insisted on holding on to hundreds of these missiles as a hedge against possible military threats from neighboring countries.

The destruction of the Nicaraguan missiles will be funded through the State Department’s Small Arms/Light Weapons (SA/LW) Destruction Program, a little-known but essential part of the U.S. strategy to rein in illicit trading in small arms. Dollar for dollar, this program provides more security for Americans than any other defense or foreign aid initiative. Yet it receives a fraction of the funding lavished upon many Pentagon programs. Last year, the SA/LW Destruction Program was appropriated a mere $3 million–2 per cent of the cost of an F-22 fighter aircraft. The President has requested $9 million for the program in FY2005, a three-fold increase over FY2003. While significant, the increase is hardly proportional to the growing threat posed by surplus small arms and light weapons.

GAO Criticizes Defense Department’s End-Use Monitoring Program

The General Accounting Office capped off this spring’s nonproliferation activities with the release of its eagerly anticipated report on U.S. efforts to stop proliferation of MANPADS (the principal US MANPAD is the Stinger). The report provides an overview of existing multilateral nonproliferation agreements, critiques the Defense Department’s end-use monitoring program for MANPADS exports, and summarizes recent developments in the Department of Homeland Security’s program to outfit commercial airliners with missile defense systems.

Particularly important is the GAO’s analysis of the Defense Department’s end-use monitoring (EUM) program. The GAO found that vague DOD EUM requirements have resulted in inconsistent inspections of U.S. MANPADS and incomplete inspection records. The report also summarizes U.S.-led multilateral agreements on all use, transfer and storage of MANPADS. These codify norms and practices that are essential to help prevent additional MANPADS from entering the black market. Nonetheless, the GAO report notes that the absence of adequate U.S. mechanisms for monitoring compliance makes it difficult to be ensure that member states are complying.

Battle Set Over Licensing Exemptions

The Senate version of the 2005 Defense Authorization bill includes a controversial amendment to U.S. law that waives conditions on arms export licensing exemption agreements for the UK and Australia. Currently, U.S. law restricts license - free arms transfers to countries with export control regimes that are comparable to those of the United States. The UK and Australia are either unwilling or unable to fully comply with license exemption requirements. Their resistance prompted the State Department to seek “legislative relief” from these requirements.

The amendment will face stiff opposition from opponents in the House, who will have a chance to kill it during conference committee negotiations. In May, the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) released a scathing report on the UK and Australia exemptions. The report highlights possible security threats, including the elimination of pre-shipment checks on shippers and freight forwarders, because middlemen are in a position to divert the shipments to unauthorized recipients.

In the cover letter of the HIRC report, Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) underscores the incompatibility of the licensing exemption agreements with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts


“…This is a moment in our Nation’s history to strengthen, not relax, export controls over all weapons technology–not only weapons of mass destruction… but also conventional weapons and munitions, which our enemies are already using against our civilians and U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.

“Indeed, a policy to relax weapons exports controls seems unhinged from U.S. counterterrorism and nonproliferation policy.”

Matthew Schroeder is the Manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at FAS.