Arming ISIS accidentally

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Ever wondered how ISIS and the early insurgency in Iraq got so many decent weapons so fast? It wasn’t just by capturing them after big surrenders by the Iraq Army.

Here’s Al Jazeera English, quoting an Amnesty International report on how the United States carelessly created the conditions necessary to arm ISIS fully:

“From 2003 to 2007, the US and other coalition members transferred more than one million infantry weapons and pistols with millions of rounds of ammunition to the Iraqi armed forces, despite the fact that the army was poorly structured, corrupt and ill-disciplined”.
[…]
“Hundreds of thousands of those weapons went missing and are still unaccounted for. During this period, illicit markets flourished, as did covert supplies from Iran, making arms and ammunition readily available to armed groups operating in Iraq.”

 
Yet another reason to be so wary of Western efforts to arm various groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, or anywhere else in the world right now.

Turkish riot dispersal industry takes a hit (really)

The business section English-language Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports “Water cannon producer’s stock dips after Turkey’s ruling AKP loses majority.”

The largest supplier of police water cannons in Turkey has seen a steep fall in its stock prices, hours after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority.

Shares in Katmerciler Ekipman, the company that manufactures the riot control vehicles popularly known as TOMAs, decreased 10 percent early June 8.

The fall was worse than the average decline in Borsa Istanbul stock prices, which saw a fall as low as 8.15 percent in its opening following the June 7 general elections.

 
The reason? Turns out it will be probably harder to win government contracts to hose down protesters when they voted for the government’s likely coalition partners. It’s also hard when your company depended on a suspiciously close relationship with the ruling party very specifically:

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had said the government “would buy 10 new TOMAs for each one destroyed” by ongoing street protests in the country.

The company, which is owned by a former AKP deputy, İsmail Katmerci, emerged as one of the biggest winners from the nationwide Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013.

 
The new big winner is likely to be less partisan alternatives for acquiring riot dispersal tools — like UK-based manufacturers for example. The AK Party may have lost its majority in Turkey and may be on the verge of joining a coalition, but the Conservatives in Britain just got out of a coalition and into a majority government. That means five more years of extremely enthusiastic government approvals of arms sales to governments engaged in suppressing popular demonstrations by their own people. With rigorous oversight, of course. Wink.

And regardless of who comes to power in Turkey’s next government, there will still be a purchases to be made: Turkish passion for authoritarian over-reactions to mild criticism is sadly likely to continue for a while longer.

Riot police in action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul, June 16, 2013. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia)

Riot police in action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul, June 16, 2013. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia)

With omnipresent video, foreign arms in Ukraine stand out

One of the advantages of quality video cameras in phones becoming accessible to the masses around the world is that it is now easier than ever to track arms flows in conflicts. While we have seen this method used to spot weapons in the recent/ongoing wars in Libya and Syria, the Ukraine conflict has provided a particularly exceptional chance to test it by differentiating locally available weapons from Russian Federation weapons suspected to be entering the stockpiles of Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of ARES [Armament Research Services], was able to positively identify 20 weapons systems in Ukraine that had never previously been exported from their country of origin. Nineteen of those came from Russia, and one was from Poland. He calls these “flag items” because they can be clearly tied to outside nations.

From Russia, ARES identified exotic killing tools like the VSS suppressed marksman rifle, heavy armor like the T-72B3 main battle tank, and newer thermobaric rocket launchers like the MRO-A that have not been seen outside the Federation’s borders.

The lone Polish flag item was the PPZR Grom man-portable air defense missile system, which ARES spotted in a YouTube video released by the Ukrainian military. The missile was manufactured in 2007, according to markings painted on its exterior.

But the report also draws conclusions that counter the widely accepted narrative that the insurgents depend on Russian matériel.

By analyzing photographs of captured ordnance, ARES also determined that existing stockpiles of weapons were the single biggest source of military goods used by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Israeli Military-Industrial-State Complex

On our last radio episode, Persephone made a case that countries that sell weapons around the world as a big revenue source have a conflict of interest on fostering peace, in that it might affect their export revenues.

In many of the British examples we discussed, the sales are generally from private firms. In the United States, it’s a mix of private sales versus government discounted arms transfers and surplus equipment sales to allied armed forces, for strategic and fiscal reasons. A country’s government has an especially strong incentive to sell weapons to other countries when it devotes significant expenditures to research and development of the weapons. It’s a way to make some of it back.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, published an article today on the Israeli defense industry’s ramped-up production and foreign sales efforts during the recent bombardment, shielding, and ground operations against the Gaza Strip. Although there have been some major privatizations in recent years, much of the country’s defense industry is still composed of wholly-government-owned state enterprises. They have long been burdened with debt and were facing budget cuts. That means that if the companies — and by extension their government owners — were going to turn things around financially, they had a strong incentive to sell a lot of weapons to other countries. And as the article explores, through repeated examples, nothing sells a new weapons technology like real-life combat tests.

Some of the companies were even rushing brand new products off the assembly lines and into the field. And even as they were being deployed in the Gaza Strip, purchasers were flocking to Israel for explicit sales pitches, Haaretz reported:

“For the defense industries this campaign is like drinking a very strong energy drink — it simply gives them tremendous forward momentum,” says Barbara Opall-Rome, Israel bureau chief for the U.S. magazine Defense News. “Combat is like the highest seal of approval when it comes to the international markets. What has proven itself in battle is much easier to sell. Immediately after the operation, and perhaps even during, all kinds of delegations arrive here from countries that appreciate Israel’s technological capabilities and are interested in testing the new products.”

 
From new light arms ammunition to new tank shells and tank defenses, Israel’s private defense firms (which have excellent lobbyists and ties to the government) and public state defense companies (which are expected to minimize balance sheet losses and turn a profit for the government if possible), there’s a lot of really warped policy incentives in favor of pursuing a very aggressive, even hair-trigger “defense policy” in the Palestinian Territories.

Similarly, with highly experimental, very expensive, and very re-sellable technologies like a missile defense system co-designed by a state defense company, it could be suggested that goading an entity into firing daily barrages of missiles at a shield that will catch virtually all of them is an excellent way to prove to buyer countries that they should purchase the system for their own defense needs.

A country with big, financially struggling, government-owned defense firms puts itself under a lot of pressure to enable situations that will allow for combat demonstrations to foreign observers who can buy products and put money back in the government coffers (or at least reduce the need for direct budget expenditures). It’s possible to resist that pressure, but it’s there.

It’s hard to make peace when your finances are aligned in favor of making war. That’s true to some extent with the United States and many of the other countries we mentioned on our radio segment. But it’s particularly worrying with regard to Israel, where government and the defense industry are even more intertwined.
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July 30, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 94

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Topics: Big Ideas in U.S. Reform – Measuring government performance; Arms control; Libya crisis. People: Bill and Persephone. Produced: July 27, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Big Idea: Can government programs’ performance be measured objectively — or is it inherently political?
– Should the U.S. and its NATO allies completely stop selling and giving weapons to other governments, especially repressive ones?
– Is a general from Virginia about to become the next dictator of Libya? Should the U.S. pick a side?

Part 1 – Measurement:
Part 1 – Measurement – AFD 94
Part 2 – Arms Sales:
Part 2 – Arms Sales – AFD 94
Part 3 – Libya Crisis:
Part 3 – Libya Crisis – AFD 94

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

– AFD: Should government programs be funded Moneyball-style?
– NYT: The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often
– AFD: In Mass., Goldman wants in on prison profit stream
– AFD: United State of Unemployment

Segment 2

– AFD: UK has a real arms sales problem on its hands
– Middle East Monitor: Kerry says US will deliver Apache helicopters to Egypt soon

Segment 3

– AFD: US embassy staff moved out of Libya
– AFD: Meanwhile in Libya
– Previously on the show: July 2013 debate on types of U.S. involvement in Syria

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

UK has a real arms sales problem on its hands

No. 10 Downing St (Credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC - Ministry of Defense via Wikimedia)

No. 10 Downing St (Credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC – Ministry of Defense via Wikimedia)

A parliamentary report has found that the British government has not revoked arms sale licenses to Russia in compliance with sanctions against the country following its annexation of Crimea, despite bold claims by the Cameron government.

This comes on the heels of detailed allegations that UK firms sold dual-use (military or police) weapons to Turkey immediately following the vicious 2013 crackdown by Turkish police in several cities, and it echoes revelations that, in 2012, the UK government knowingly approved exports of a key ingredient in Sarin gas to the sanctioned regime in Syria during the Civil War (which were only blocked by the EU).

Details on the new Russia report, according to The Guardian:

More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sights for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.
[…]
Sir John Stanley, former Conservative defence secretary and chairman of the Commons arms control committees, said there was evidence that appeared to directly contradict the prime minister’s claim that he had already stopped all arms exports to Russia.
[…]
Stanley had already written to Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary, asking him to explain why, according to official figures given to the MPs, of 285 current licences for Russia, only 34 had been suspended or revoked.

 
Why can’t David Cameron’s government get it together to halt British companies from selling weapons to governments they shouldn’t be doing business with, by law? Is it intentional negligence to keep the arms and money flowing?

On Syria, the laughable line from the government was that the system had worked. This time:

“We will not a grant a licence where there is a clear risk the equipment might be used for internal repression.”

 
So when exactly does it become clear that Russia or Syria might use weapons for internal repression? Or what about Turkey, literally right after it engaged in internal repression?

And what do we make of this accusation in the Russia report?

It says the most significant change in the government’s policy on arms exports over the past year is the dropping of the wording in the arms sales criteria that: “An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed … by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression”.

You know, in the sense, that that action is exactly the opposite of the supposed policy stated by the government spokesperson.

The United Kingdom is the 7th largest arms exporting country in the world by dollar value annually, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

More questionable UK weapons export authorizations discovered

Investigative journalists at BuzzFeed put in a lot of hard work (and Freedom of Information requests) to uncover hundreds of deeply dubious authorizations last year for the sale and export of dual-use weapons to Turkey immediately following a violent government crackdown that began in late May 2013. The crackdown and clashes with protesters across the country resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people and injuries to literally more than 8,000 others.

The authorizations for the sale of controlled goods were made at a high level and almost no requests were denied despite the unfolding repressive response to the protests.

According to a Freedom of Information request made by BuzzFeed, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills granted multiple export licences to arms companies to export sniper rifles, bullets, gas masks, drone parts and other assorted military equipment to the country.

Ministers scrutinise the export of weapons, ammunition and other military technology to foreign countries and have to grant an explicit licence to companies looking to sell controlled goods.

Responding to the official request for information, the department told BuzzFeed that there had been 196 licences awarded by the UK government to firms since the clashes began in May, with only five requests refused.

The UK licenced over £90 million in military and dual-use licences to Turkey, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

 
It’s not unusual for the United Kingdom, the United States, or other manufacturers of advanced military and anti-riot hardware to sell to questionable governments — indeed there was heavy criticism that many of the tear gas canisters fired at protesters during the Arab Spring several years ago said “Made in the U.S.A.” in big letters.

And it’s also likely true most of the hardware being sold to Turkey last year was indeed for military use, rather than law enforcement use. That would separate it from the government and police, whose response last year was more or less separate from the erstwhile rivals in the Turkish Armed Forces. But a lot of it falls under the “dual-use” header, which means it could be used for a “legitimate” purpose but could also easily be used for a repressive or illegal purpose.

And, either way, selling it during and immediately following a crackdown (especially in a state where the military violently seized power as recently as 1980 before several more less successful attempts) seems like poor decision-making.

Moreover, poorly timed UK weapons sales to dubious governments in the region has not been limited to sales to this latest discovery. Just last September, a different journalistic investigation discovered horrifically worse sales had been authorized the year before (though fortunately were blocked externally in time). Here’s what I wrote last year:

Nearly a year into the brutal Syrian Civil War [in 2012], the British coalition government somehow decided to issue a license for a UK firm to export to Syria the chemical components used in sarin gas manufacturing. To a regime known to hold chemical weapons. In the middle of a civil war. The exports were only blocked by external, EU trade sanctions added 6 months later.

 
Granted, authorizing the sale of “dual-use” components that can be used to make chemical weapons, to a regime with just such a stockpile in the middle of a civil war, is an order of magnitude less explicable or justifiable than the Turkish deals.

And the UK government probably believes that there is no reason for it not to authorize weapons exports to a fellow founding member of NATO, Turkey, which is (a bit) more reliable than neighboring Syria.

We have no idea, according to BuzzFeed, whether the sales went through in this case, after authorization, because that’s proprietary information of the companies. But we do know that the licenses were granted and the Department for Business still doesn’t see a problem with it:

“The UK government takes its defence exports responsibilities extremely seriously and aims to operate one of the most robust export control systems in the world. All export licence applications are assessed thoroughly on a case-by-case basis against rigorous, internationally recognised criteria. If circumstances change, licensing decisions are reviewed quickly.”

 
Assessed thoroughly? If circumstances change, licensing decisions are reviewed quickly?

I mean, that’s an amazing claim to make from a government that had authorized weaponizable chemical sales to Syria the year before and then literally had the Prime Minister’s office declare that having the exports blocked only by the European Union’s intervention later with sanctions that didn’t exist earlier was “the system working.”

And the best part of that story is of course that the same UK government is trying to renegotiate its membership in the European Union before holding a deeply misguided referendum on whether or not to leave altogether.

Once outside the EU, I suppose, the United Kingdom will be free to export as many weapons to questionable states on the other perimeter of Europe to its heart’s content.

I’m sure Thatcher would be proud.

Riot police officer in action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul, June 16, 2013. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia)

Riot police officer in action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul, June 16, 2013. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia)