Trading Arms to Terrorist Organizations

The issue of trading arms to terrorist organizations is a fairly new topic arising from the past decade of issues with the multitudes of terrorist organizations. Quite recently the United Nations has only just brought up the proposal to increase arms trade regulations and further restrict arms trade. This of course was addressed in the proposal for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) proposed in 2006 which has over the past year gained much needed support. The most prominent arms traders are nations are The United States, Russia, UK, and several other economically powerful nations who have expressed support for the ATT. However, it is important to keep in mind the lack of international restrictions and laws on arms brokers that also fuels the ease in which terrorists groups can obtain arms.

Outside of the ATT and the Program of Action in securing small arms trade, there have been no real international efforts to restrict or secure the trade of arms by nations or to impose any oversight to the arms brokers trading weapons internationally. It is important to note that while many nations have attempted to prevent illicit arms trade both importing and exporting within their own nations, the issue of setting up any form of guide lines, rules, restrictions, regulations, or even clear international law on the subject remains absent from international law. Make no doubt however; programs by EU and within nations such as the United States have been enacted to help prevent illicit arms trade.

The reason this topic is being addressed at this year’s THIMUN conference is to set in place clear plan and guidelines surrounding the issue of trading arms to terrorist organizations. Keep in mind that the issue here is specifically to keep arms out of terrorist’s hands and not to completely reform the international arms trade, though many times they appear one in the same.

Definition of Key Terms


It is important to note what the United Nations considers to be an arm. Arms range from most forms of military weaponry including; tanks, armored vehicles, submarines, aircraft carriers, surface to air missiles, surface to surface missiles, any form of battleship or gun boat, landmines or sub charges, heavy machine guns or self-propelled guns.

Terrorist Organization

A common definition of a terrorist organization is that of a group who uses fear or terror tactics in order to achieve its goals. A rather vague definition but it is important to note two things. First a terrorist group also pertains to any rebel group using terror or fear based tactics to achieve its goals, not only groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Second that the United Nations does not recognize these groups as legitimate political entities so there is no UN negotiations with any terrorist groups.

(Note: Difference between freedom fighters or rebel groups are based upon perception. Based upon the view of your state your state might acknowledge certain groups as freedom fighters with a just cause, while another state might consider the same groups to be terrorist groups.)

Background Information

To give a brief summary of the history behind this issue one must go all the way back to the cold war. The Cold War during the 1980’s produced the largest influx of arms trading the likes of which the world had not quite seen before. After the war ended and the Soviet Union fell the arms market slowed from its previous very high rate. The end of the cold war produced large stock piles of weapons that were not in use nor were destroyed by the states that had the stock piles. September 11th, 2001 is noted for the day in which the “war on terror" began. This day marked the day in which also many member states began to notice the laxness of their own policies on importing and exporting arms. Increased presence of many member nations in Iraq and Afghanistan revealed the ease in which many terrorist organizations were acquiring arms.

Based on 2009 statistics about 15 member states make up 80% of the world’s total expenditures on arms trade. The USA is responsible for 46.5 per cent of the world total, distantly followed by the China (6.6% of world share), France (4.2%), UK (3.8%), and Russia (3.5%). Of the total International Market on arms trade illicit arms trade accounts for about 15-20% of all arms traded. So while member states are the most prolific arms traders there is also still a very high percentage of illicit arms trade on today’s market. There is also a third issue to be made on the international arms trade which is cases and accusation of member states giving funds and arms to terrorist organizations.

Issue with Legal Arms Trade

The way in which many member states have addressed the issue of preventing arms from being traded to high risk areas or unstable areas, is by enacting U.N. arms embargoes on certain member states. Nations such as China, Iran, and Sudan have embargoes placed upon them by other member states like the U.S., Canada, France, and U.K. and in most cases the United Nations. Such armaments like attack helicopters are prohibited from being traded with these nations as well as certain quantities of armaments and other types of arms.

Loophole #1

While the arms embargo appears to be a relatively controlled method there are several holes that are allowed by a lack of any real strict oversight or international collaboration. Essentially many nations are not permitting trade of certain armaments to other nations however, these nations are still acquiring these arms because they acquire the different parts from different nations. Take for example the EU, USA, and Canadian arms embargo on Canada which prevents the trade of attack helicopters. The Chinese are still obtaining and constructing these helicopters because they acquire different parts from arms companies Canada, USA, Italy, UK, France etc. So while wholesale is not permitted partial sale is.

Loophole #2

The real under the table legal dealings is in relation to the lack of control of national companies who outsource and produce arms in factories overseas. Essentially if say a UK or USA arms company built a plant in say Brazil, that company is allowed to export and sell its arms to any nation that is permitted under Brazilian law. Any arms embargo that the company’s base country has placed on any other member state becomes irrelevant. The implications of which can be seen in China’s trade of C-10 Attack Helicopters (made from EU and USA parts) to countries such as Sudan. Another example is when several civilians were killed in Uzbekistan in 2005, when security officials fired into a crowd using British Humvees made in Turkey. Britain had no dominion over those arms because they were not produced or distributed from UK itself.

Loophole Issue with Arms Brokers

Arms brokering has become particularly popular as a method of illicit arms trade over the past few decades. As stated before about 20% of all arms traded are traded illegally in today’s world. Major outlets for these trades are those who know how to manipulate the laxity of restrictions and regulations in the arms trade market today. Without a true oversight of international arms exports and imports many illicit arms dealers have managed to sneak there weapons into areas of civil strife and provide arms to anyone who may need the arms at the time. Quite frequently those people are rebel forces attempting in one way or another to gain power, influence or attempts to fight against member states governments. In recent years the main markets for these illicit trades have been in the Middle East and Africa. Arms brokers frequently falsify documents such as identification and permits to sell these arms as legal trades.

The main way these brokers can function is due to lack of international restrictions and oversight of trades. Only 25 governments have laws specifically regulating arms brokers, and even the ones that do have laws lack the essential requirements for effective enforcement. Many governments do not regulate arms brokering when the brokering activity does not take place within their legal boundaries. For example, in 2004 an Irish arms broker negotiated to transfer 50 T72 tanks from Ukraine to Sudan. The government knew this but could not do anything because there were no laws controlling Irish arms brokers arranging arms trade from other countries. Many nations lack the proper infrastructure to facilitate even the national oversight or to properly scrutinize brokers bringing arms into their nations. It is also noteworthy to sight that arms brokers have illicitly provided arms to governments of nations under UN arms embargoes (such as to many South African States in the past), creating a history and an ease in which arms brokers can operate in some of these areas.

Cross Border Issues

In the past there has been a large issue of illicit arms trade from nation to nation. Mostly this stems from areas in Africa that were undergoing periods of civil strife. Very quickly neighboring nations of a nation undergoing civil issues would illicitly ship arms to one or two sides of the violence. States of course had the resources to do so fairly discretely however; since 2000 UN investigators have documented weapons transfers by neighboring governments to armed groups in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan, all of which were under UN Arms Embargoes. The trade of these weapons while sponsored by governments can also be carried out by arms brokers.

Issues still prevalent today are the lack of border and port security. Many terrorist or rebel groups bring small arms across borders of neighboring countries to trade for other resources they may need. Further issues include unregistered gunsmiths who produce multitudes of arms mainly to be traded or sold locally. The methods in which these trades are made are simply through standard routes of roads, and maritime transfers along costs and rivers. Without proper border and maritime security for these routes many times the armaments are able to get to the terrorist or rebel groups.

State Sponsorship of Terrorism

While state sponsorship of terrorism is a term used by the United States it most definitely applies when discussing the arms trade to terrorist groups. The primary states that have been accused of directly funding and giving arms to terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other insurgent and terrorist groups are the member states of Sudan, Syria and Iran. Traditionally Iran is the nation most targeted for its support of terrorist groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq attacking United States and European forces. Iran has government sponsored programs that both give arms, fund and train in the use of multitudes of small arms. Iran has given refuge to Hamas and Hezbollah leaders and continues to be a refuge for members of terrorist groups. Iran denies all accusation levied against them of supporting terrorism however, there remains much evidence to the contrary.

Another state that has been long considered the partner to Iran in the support of terror in the Middle East is Syria. Syria has been a long supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups and has provided refuge as well as facilitated to transfer of arms through Syria in order to reach groups such as HAMAS in Palestine. Syria also used to be a main entrance way for terrorist groups wishing to enter states such as Iraq. However, over the past 2 years Syria has in fact increased its border security and has decreased the amount of terrorists passing through their border. The final nation

The final nation afore mentioned is Sudan who have recently have not facilitated terrorist activities very much. They view HAMAS as more of freedom fighters then terrorists and have been known in the past to offer refuge to Hezbollah officials however, have not promoted their terrorist activities. It is of course noteworthy that the Sudanese government is seen as being in direct connection with the Janjaweed. A group of soldiers have been responsible for such atrocities such as the genocide in Darfur.

Major Countries and Organizations Involved

Security Council

One of the most obvious ways in which the illicit arms trade is being countered is with Security Council Arms Embargoes. Member states that have arms embargoes are the following;

Armenia and Azerbaijan

Myanmar (by EU)

People's Republic of China (by EU/US)

DR Congo (by UN, EU)

Ivory Coast (by UN, EU)

Eritrea (by UN, EU)

Guinea (by EU)

Iran (by UN, EU)

Iraq (by UN, EU)

North Korea (by UN, EU)

Hezbollah (by UN, EU)

Sierra Leone (by UN, EU)

Somalia (by UN, EU)

Sudan (by UN, EU)

Uzbekistan (by EU)

Zimbabwe (by EU)

All of the afore mentioned states listed above have been under UN or EU embargoes since the 90’s extending to more recent embargoes only enacted a few years ago. Essentially these embargoes prevent the trade of quantities of arms as well as the types of arms that can be traded with these nations.

State Views on the Issue

The outlook of the member states of the United Nations on arms restrictions and regulations can be seen in the latest voting on whether or not to push forward with the ATT. 153 member states voted to move forward with the treaty including the United States and UK ambassadors who in the past had expressed concerns with the treaty. There were 19 abstentions and only one nation voting against which was the state of Zimbabwe. The recent vote indicates a rather receptive audience to potential restrictions and regulations of arms trade.

United Nations Program of Action-Implementation Support System (POA-ISS)

Another U.N. body that has been avid in the fight against illicit arms trade is that of the UN Program of Action-Implementation Support System. This program was specifically set up by the United Nations to combat small arms illicit trade. The POA-ISS has been specifically set up mostly to compile reports and data on different nations and there importing and exporting of arms. It’s also to help establish where member states are receiving arms from and whether or not they are accounted for. POA-ISS has provided tracking modules on arms shipments in order to track arms being traded. POA-ISS is a staunch advocate for the regulation of all arms brokers and stricter small arms control in different states. The POA-ISS has also set up a global registry of small arms, a compilation of all their data collected on the trade of small arms.

Regional Support

Several states particularly in Africa have over the past two decades or so really increased their national policies on gun control. Many nations now have firearms policies requiring all firearms to be registered with the government. Such basic steps are keys in proceeding further with any more oversight or regulation.

UN Treaties and Events Relating to the Issue

UN Programme of Action on small arms (2001)

Firearms Protocol (2001), supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

International Arms Transferences GA resolution 1988 (A/RES/43/75)

International Arms Transfers and Transparency in Armaments GA resolution 1991 (A/RES/46/36H and L)

International Tracing Instrument on small arms and light weapons (2005)

ATT GA resolution 2008 (63/240)

Guidelines on conventional arms transfers 1991(CD1113) Communiqué by the Security Council P-5 to the CD –

Guidelines for international arms transfers UNDC report (1996) A/51/42

UN Register of Conventional Arms GA resolution(1991) 46/36L–

Previous Attempts to solve the Issue

The POA-ISS remains the leading past attempt at solving the issue particularly in relation to tackling arms brokers as well as tracking and registering of arms being traded. The POA however, remains to be relatively ineffective at combating the grandeur of the issue. The POA could serve as a tool for future attempts to disarm however, currently with the lack cohesive international rules and regulations on arms trade as well as the lack of capacity for singly the PAO to handle this issue has caused the PAO to be less effective at combating illicit small arms trade.

Several regional steps have been taken in the past to regulate arms within their states, including regional responses such as enacting legislature requiring the registration of all individual fire arms. However, these are not applicable on an international level. These methods have proved to be a good step forward however, lack necessary force behind them. Without any strict enforcement of these laws there is little incentive for anyone to abide by them. Cases of disarray and civil strife have resulted in a great difficulty to attempt to register everyone within a given state who has a fire arm; especially those who do not report them at all. These laws while provide a good legislature basis for future arms control laws are currently less than effective.

Note: The other major piece of international legislature being put forth is that by the Arms Trade Treaty. The ATT seeks to; regulate arms trade, ensure security of arms trade, eliminate illegal brokering of arms, increase state oversight of trade and several other key points. While the ATT appears to address the key issues presented in trading arms to terrorist organizations it is important to note that the treaty has not been passed, agreed upon, or even formally written. It is appropriate to produce solutions that overlap with what the ATT is attempting to propose because there is simply no treaty yet enacted therefore, no action has been taken.

Possible Solutions

The solutions to the problem at hand are a bit tricky since many steps are currently being taken to attempt to remedy the issue. However, since the ATT has not been ratified and is still undergoing negotiations resolutions passed at the THIMUN conference could perhaps overlap some of the proposals made in the ATT. However, creative and innovative solutions that are not mentioned within the ATT would be greatly appreciated for too much redundancy is, of course, redundant. Look for specific solutions to some of the points illustrated above in the background section. Remember the ATT is only being discussed now, no decisions have been made on solutions or agreements reached only discussion. Reminder; these are only suggestions to get you started with your own solutions and resolutions.

Take sovereignty and responsibility for arms brokers and arms manufacturers operating outside of many of their states borders. Perhaps reforming areas in which states should take more responsibility over their own affiliated arms dealers and companies.

Remember U.N. sanctions are in place in many nations who have been accused of transporting arms to terrorist organizations. However, these nations are still receiving arms. Perhaps strengthened U.N. enforcement is needed. Think of ways the U.N. could further regulate arms trade, perhaps setting up check points in specific areas designed to filter the flow of arms.

To that point think about how the arms are being transported to terrorist organizations. Things like border security, customs security, elimination of corruption, maritime security all these could stem the flow of arms into a specific nation.

The flow of arms is quite free at this point with limited tracking and recording one could suggest increased implementation of devices used to track arms shipments. States could be suggested to green light all arms sales made and run approval by a committee or the U.N. to ensure no foul play. U.N. peace keeping troops could be then utilized to control all arms trade into a country suffering from terrorist attacks. Troops could be used to ensure arms are going to correct hands in the given situation. (careful with state sovereignty).

Ironically, with all of these new restrictions on states trading arms the black market for arms will only grow, exponentially if the solutions are particularly effective. Therefore, it is particularly important that these solutions incorporate ways to combat illicit arms trade in the forms of brokers and black market trade. Black market trade can be addressed regionally by even further national gun restrictions. Illicit arms brokers should be addressed by new technology. Arms should be tracked and monitored and ensured of arrival to a given location. If arms do not arrive or are deterred it should be reported to the United Nations or the POA. Remember to utilize the POA-ISS its set in place to do many of the things mentioned however, now lacks proper resources and drive to accomplish its complete mandate. Manifests and records should be provided by nations engaging in arms trade. States could also be asked to provide proof that the trade was successful and arms are currently where they should be and being used appropriately. Perhaps increased international law will allow international law enforcement groups such as INTERPOL to operate more freely and apprehend more arms dealers or “merchants of death."

This issue is teeming with the issue of state sovereignty. Any time international rules and regulations are brought up in the context of trade the situation becomes very sensitive. Be careful when proposing these rules and regulations one keeps in mind the impediment of state sovereignty and how much one asks member states to sacrifice in that regard.

The security of arms within a nation once they are traded is crucial. As stated previously arms have been reportedly stolen from arms caches, arms have been known to be freely traded between people in order to acquire other supplies. It is important to facilitate the security of these armaments once they are in a given state. Facilities must be improved in terms of their security as well ensuring soldiers maintain possession of their armaments in order to prevent terrorist organizations from bribing soldiers for their weapons.

The issue of state sponsors of terrorists is a difficult one to address. It again comes down to border security and more efficient tracking of armaments in order to ensure they are not spilling across borders to militant and terrorist groups. Increasing these technological advancements will provide direct evidence to any illegal activities being conducted by a state in supporting terrorist groups. If so proven further sanctions can be placed upon those member states who have disregarded new arms regulations and laws.

Finally member states could suggest such points in regards to the ATT like encouragement of continued discussions on the ATT. Another example would be the proposal that your resolution be a stepping stone for the ATT to work off of.