UN-backed peacekeepers in the sub-Saharan have lost an army’s worth of weapons and ammunition. The Small Arms Survey’s Peace Operations Data Set indicates over 100 records of incidents of loss between 1992-2017, which is enough to arm a small army. This information, released in a recent report published by the Small Arms Survey research group, has caused widespread concern and speculation over the capabilities of UN-backed and non-UN affiliated peacekeeping missions in the region. The consequences associated with these losses affect regional states such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and reach as far as Haiti and Cambodia.
Eric Berman, the research group’s director, commented that in this century alone, peacekeepers have lost “thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition.” In an interview with Al Jazeera, UN-peacekeeping spokesman, Aditya Mehta, assured that he takes the issue “very seriously.” However, he questions the reliability of the report, claiming it exaggerates the impact of UN peacekeepers arms losses on the stability of sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, Paul Williams, a scholar at George Washington University, acknowledges the gravity of the issue and stresses the importance of developing oversight and accountability mechanisms when responding to the report.
The report, Making a Tough Job More Difficult, published by the organization’s “Making Peace Operations More Effective,” aims to deepen the understanding of the issue of weapons and ammunition loss. The UN-backed peacekeepers have fallen short of their mandate, to protect the civilians in the region and reduce the likelihood of war breaking out, by failing to secure arms. Nevertheless, the report recognizes several mechanisms currently in place, including: physical security measures, inventory controls, and transport security. In addressing this situation, preventative actions must be improved, rather than relying on reactionary measures which may ultimately condone violence.
As is indicated in the published report, the Small Arms Survey organization has gathered data collected over the last 24 years. The report identifies 20 forces operating under more than a dozen international coalitions aside from the UN, such as the African Union, with losses of arms occurring in over 20 different missions. Political sensitivities and opacity in reporting have caused the publication of misinformed reports. Numerous organizations, including the UN, have no institutionalized supervision of arms and ammunition salvaged during programmed weapon recovery missions, resulting in a growing pool of undocumented weapons.
Unstable communities and states in the region are at risk of experiencing attacks conducted by militant groups. The same groups are responsible for looting and threatening the UN-backed peacekeepers ordered to protect the arms. The security of the region remains at risk, as terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram continue to attempt to expand their influence. There is potential for them to utilize this situation to their advantage to garner more arms power. Jean Krasno, academic and editor of Leveraging for Success in UN Peace Operations, emphasizes that amidst growing concerns over arms losses, the situation should be assessed within the context of invaluable contributions made by peacekeepers in the region. Nevertheless, the future stability of the region and beyond may be stabilized by placing greater emphasis on preventative measures.
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