Weapons exports fuel instability in the MENA region

Weapons exports fuel instability in the MENA region

In its latest report, Amnesty International (AI) details the proliferation of small arms and heavy weaponry in the MENA region through the poorly regulated sale of advanced weapons to fragile regimes in volatile countries. The armaments end up on battlefields from Mali to Syria and wreak havoc across borders and conflicts.

A recent report by Amnesty International details the way in which groups like Islamic state and Hezbollah have acquired heavy and advanced weaponry through the collapse of fragile regimes and corrupt national armies.

In Libya, Qaddafi’s army either had its stores looted or sold their weapons leaving modern assault rifles, like the Belgian made F2000, in the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon. When the Iraqi army was disbanded after the 2003 US invasion, some 400.000 soldiers were left with no means of employment and stores full of weapons. Hence, the weapons recorded in ISIS hands are mainly from the old Iraqi army – captured or looted.

The Libyan connection

The 2012 Turaeg uprising in Mali was in part made possible by heavy weapons from Qaddafi’s defeated army, which pushed the government in Bamako to the brink of collapse.

Regimes like Qaddafi’s enjoyed fully legal imports of weapons from Western and Chinese manufactures who freely sold heavy weapons and modern small arms. Because of rampant corruption, their armies often sold said guns to armed groups.

Impact on stability

The proliferation has been hard to control in the face of thriving cross border trade and smuggling networks that are embedded across the region from northern Mali through to Syria and Iraq.

Heavy weapons in the hands of ill-trained groups without an intelligence apparatus or state resources has enabled otherwise weak rebel groups to mount credible campaigns. These force multipliers greatly complicate efforts at conflict resolution because so many groups have the ability to, figuratively and literally, shoot down any peace negotiations.

Financing guns

How are these arms are being paid for? Terrorist finance is linked to money laundering and the concealment of the illicit activities that generate funds.

Smuggling of narcotics as a means to finance terrorism and non-state groups has become increasingly common with parallels to South America, where cartels earned enough money through trafficking drugs to rival state power.

Risks to the economy

The political risks of operating in the MENA region are already manifold but with the added element of easily available weaponry, dangers to investors may be felt directly. If governments are outmatched by rebels and other armed groups, stability may deteriorate to the point of a total loss of investment should oil and mining operations become untenable.

In the long term, economic growth in the region will continue to stagnate if government monopoly over the use of force continues to decline.

About Author

Jesper Bak-Christensen

Jesper Bak-Christensen: Is an international security analyst with a focus on African security, natural resources and non-state groups. He has worked on mapping shadow networks of corruption and their impact on politics and mining operations. He holds degrees in International Relations and Security Studies from the University of Maastricht, Netherlands and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.