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Arms embargo spells bitter defeat for Somali troops

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Left unprepared and under-supplied, the Somali National Army's 4th Brigade bears mute testimony to the unintended consequences of an ill-conceived attempt to control the flow of arms and ammunition to this part of Africa.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - After the Somali government collapsed and rival warlords began to tear the country apart in 1992, the United Nations imposed what was intended to be an arms embargo on the country. The embargo was intended to halt military supplies to the area and bring the fighting to a halt.

Instead, it has become abundantly clear after more than 20 years of constant civil war that the embargo catastrophically failed. When the rump of the government was struggling to hold the line against al-Shabab over the last few years, the authorities repeatedly argued that the embargo only limited them from getting the tools they needed to defeat the rebels.

The embargo was one of good intentions. What earlier passed as the national defense force in Somalia usually looked and behaved more like just another militia than a legitimate, disciplined army.

A painful reminder remains that the arms embargo patently failed to shut down the illicit trade in arms and ammunition, in particular those for rebel forces trying to seize control of the state. Weapons were freely available in Mogadishu's markets, and the war raged on for two more decades.

Negotiators are now sitting in New York trying to reach agreement on a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty. The treaty places trade in weapons themselves under encouragingly tight controls.

However, the treaty shunts ammunition and spare parts to an annex with far loser restrictions. If those restrictions continue to allow a black market to flourish, the treaty fails, especially in places like Somalia.

An alarming statistic that the government has estimated is that there are four or five assault rifles to every household. If there production of AK-47s stopped today, there would still be more than enough of them to keep the conflict going for years!

But to quote aid agency Oxfam -- an assault rifle without ammunition is just a heavy metal stick.

The lesson of Somalia for the ATT negotiators is that any agreement that fails to control every aspect of the arms trade including ammunition is a wasted opportunity.

The soldiers of the Somali army's 4th Division would prefer their opponents to have a tougher time getting rounds in their magazines than they do.

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