The World has been constantly at war for centuries now – from the Crusades to Islamic Invasions in India to the American Civil War to Colonization of Asia and World Wars. The nature of conflict over time has changed with the advent of Militarization of Tribes in Arabia igniting a prospect of a new century of regional and global conflict that is interconnected at a subtle level. The world today is strife with conflict zones in various regions from the Middle East and North Africa to Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Cameroon to Afghanistan/Pakistan to Burma, Central Asia, Caucuses, Xingjiang and Thailand. Apart from the usual conflict zones there are new conflict zones emerging like South China Sea, Ukraine and Central American states where rebels and drug lords are fuelling riots once again.
The Global Armed Conflicts:
Various Global Armed Conflicts have fuelled the Arms Trade across Regions, which has benefited the Military Industrial Complex of various countries from the US to Britain to Russia to China. Of the Global Arms Trade nearly 80% casualties are the result 0f Small Arms Trade which constitutes the bulk of Arms Trade whether in the Grey Market or in Black to various Nation-States, Groups and Terrorist Organizations. It is estimated that illicit small arms trade amount to about 1 Billion $ and in conjunction with the legal Small Arms Trade it would amount to 5-7 Bn $. During the Cold War, ideologically aligned groups were armed across the world and many of these illegal transfers of arms have come back to haunt the original suppliers. US is now engaged in a fight against Colombian Drug Lords who were ironically armed by the US in 1980s to fight Communism just like the Soviet-Afghan war in 1980s where CIA is said to armed Mujahideen with 4 lakh Kalashnikovs. Post the Collapse of Soviet Union, Eastern European states like Ukraine and Belarus had large Arms manufacturing supply lines from where Arms and Weapons were smuggled across continents to various Groups and Terror Organisations illegally.
Arms Trade in Africa:
Major conflicts have raged in African nations like Algeria, Sudan, Mali, Libya, Angola, Burundi, Congo, Rawanda, Somalia and Sierra Leone. Africa has been a big recipient of Small Arms and its major suppliers are Eastern Europe, CIS and China. Inside Africa, Libya has been a major source of Arm Supplies like Weddeye Rebels in Chad (1999).Libya under Gaddafi had close ties with Muslim Rebels in the Philippines.
Libya supplied Weapons to Rebels in Sierra Leone. Libya signed contracts with France in 2007 to buy anti-tank missiles and radio communications equipment worth $ 405m (£ 199 m). Since 2009, Britain approved export licences worth £ 2.3 billion to 16 states over a 21- month period. Military export licenses to Libya alone since the start of 2009 totalled £ 61.3 million. It is indeed ironical that EU Countries armed Libya from 2004-2005 up to 2010-11 before taking the Gaddafi Regime down in NATO Invasion of 2011 and subsequently the very same arsenal of Gaddafi’s Army was transferred to Syrian Rebels from Benghazi.
In Egypt, in the year 2000, Police Confiscated 100 Automatic Rifles, 200 Military Style Pistols and 50 Israeli made Uzis from Egyptian nationals who frequently travelled to Libya. Chad is another source of illicit arms to terrorists in Upper Egypt via Sudan. Egypt itself was the source of weapons smuggled into Gaza. In Algeria, Israeli made weapons were most frequently recovered during the decade of 1990s. The Algerian Security Service confiscated 400 Uzis and other Israeli made weapons in addition to Belgian and Czech Origin. Western Intelligence Services were well informed about these illicit arms deal but chose to remain blind folded with respect to Algeria.
Sierra Leone is one of the worst affected regions of Western Africa owing to brutal violence and armed conflicts. RUF (Revolutionary United Front) in Sierra Leone has committed one of the worst human rights abuses like rape, abduction, murder and hacking off limbs of men, women and children. Libya flew air cargo arm shipments into Burkina Faso and then onto Liberia where arms were transferred through helicopters and dropped into RUF Territory. Weapons were even transported on Burkina Faso registered planes from Morroco to Liberia to RUF. One of the best-known cases of arms transfer to RUF is of March 1999 where a shipment of small arms from Ukraine (incl 3000 Kalahnikovs rifles, 50 machine guns, 25 Grenade Launchers, 5 SA-7s, and 5 Metis Anti-Tank Missiles and Ammunition) were sent to Burkina Faso onwards to Liberia and RUF. Western Air Cargo companies also appeared to be transferring arms to RUF. In May 2000, when viewing confiscated arms from weapon depots, a journalist reported that there were 12,000 small arms and 3,89, 877 rounds of ammunition at 3 Separate Depots. The Majority of rifles were Kalashnikovs from Ukraine, followed by Iranian-Made G3 Rifles and Belgian made FN Fals.
Sudan is one of the least talked armed conflict with a conflict been driven between a Muslim Dominated North Sudan and a Christian Dominated South. A well-documented case is one of transfer of ammunition cleared by Slovakia with the intended destination of Chad but landing in Khartoum, Sudan where all the cargo was offloaded. Sudan is an Oil-Rich nation with main help of Chinese companies like China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and other partners like Malaysian National Petroleum Corporation (MNPC) and 2 Canadian firms. Arms are shipped to Sudan from China in the guise of Oil Exploration Equipment from CNPC and MNPC. Other sources of small arms are Iran, South Africa, Jordan, Yemen and Qatar. Larger weapons sales have been from Iraq, France and several Eastern European countries. Arms for many Islamist Militias in Sudan were shipped through UAE through leased Russian Cargo Planes. Uganda has been a prime military supplier to Sudanese Rebels like Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA). In addition to Sudan, there are the raging conflicts in Nigeria where Boko Haram has created mayhem in Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon. Somalia and Ethiopia too have been badly inflicted with violence from Al Qaeda like Ansar Al Sham that has ravaged the country and contributed to wide scale Piracy off the Arabian Gulf.
Arms Trade in Europe:
Since the end of the Cold War, a number of East European Arms producers have been known for Grey market transfers since most of these companies are yet heavily state-controlled. Bulgaria has been the most common export destination for arms shipments to non-state actors like RUF in Sierra Leone and UNITA in Angola. Bulgarian arms have also been found in Albania. Slovak arms were reportedly going to Sudan and RUF in Sierra Leone while Czech Republic armed LTTE in Sri Lanka. EU is not immune from this trade as PKK, the Kurdish Militia in Turkey got Stinger Missiles from Greece on a US License and, PKK in turn passed on some of these Stingers to LTTE in Sri Lanka.
One of the major sources of weapons loot was in Albania in 1997 in the Balkans -more than 6 lac small arms were looted from arms depot during the conflict in Balkans. Many KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) weapons came from looted Albanian military depots, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, all countries with large Kosovo refugee populations have also been a source of arms smuggled into the area. With its large militia army and national gun culture, Switzerland is an obvious target as a source of weapons for such illicit weapons transactions. Switzerland has also been used as a financial centre for such transactions. A recent incident involved the illegal use of the emblem of a Swiss aid organisation on trucks supposedly filled with donations for Kosovar refugees that were actually used to transport arms. When it was ascertained that the destination for these weapons was an African country, Swiss authorities arrested two individuals residing in Switzerland involved in the financing of the transaction and, as of August of 2000, had recovered US$ 440,000 (700,000 CHF) of the US$ 2.8 million (4.5 million CHF) deal. The weapons networks built up during the Kosovo conflict have spread small arms throughout the Balkan region. At one point in 1999, Macedonian police estimated that anywhere from 20-30,000 small arms were cached in the western part of the country by KLA operatives and sympathisers. Impoverished ethnic Albanians were reportedly selling Kalashnikov rifles in Macedonia for as little as US$ 25 a piece.
Arms Trade in Russia and CIS States:
The Russian black market in arms has a strong economic component, appearing to be primarily driven by two factors: 1) economic hardship that encourages the Russian military to illicitly sell military weapons stocks and 2) an unprecedented demand for weapons resulting from the wave of organised crime in the region. In 1998, the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB, the successor to the KGB) confiscated 22,000 small arms, 6,500 grenades, and four tonnes of explosives in Russian territory. As of 1999, the Russian Ministry of the Interior reported that it was still trying to retrieve an estimated 36,000 weapons lost or stolen from the Russian Government. Of these, 13 were heavy rocket systems, 18 mortars and other artillery, and approximately 15,000 assault rifles.
Chechnya provides an intricate example of illicit small arms transfers. According to unofficial sources, the first such transfer occurred in May-June 1991, arranged between the ethnic Armenian militia in Nagorno-Karabakh and the National Congress of the Chechen People. The storming of the government offices of the Chechnya-Ingushetia Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) and the seizure of Russian Federation military installations in Chechnya by armed Chechen rebels was actually carried out using these weapons of Armenian origin. After the subsequent overthrow of the government of Doku Zavgayev and the proclamation of Chechen independence, the major source of small arms for the Chechen rebels was, ironically enough, the Russian Federation army itself. An investigation report noted that the quantity of small arms left in Chechnya was practically impossible to assess. According to various estimates, the number is between 41,538 and 57,596 pieces. The Russian Defence Ministry has reported the following figures: 18,832 AK-74s; 9,307 AKMs, 533 Dragunov sniper rifles, 138 grenade launchers, 678 tank machine guns, 319 large calibre machine guns, and 10,581 pistols. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the quantity of ammunition left behind, it is believed that Chechen rebels acquired no less than 740 pieces of anti-tank munitions, about 200,000 hand grenades, and over 13 million rounds of ammunition.
Most of the successor states to the Soviet Union are dealing with a similar problem when it comes to theft of weapons from military arsenals. In 1999, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of the Interior seized 1,095 weapons from organised criminal groups, ‘nearly all’ of which had been stolen from military depots. The war in Chechnya aside, the South Caucasus is a region replete with conflicts and political tensions. Ethnic conflict, together with organised crime and a nascent gun culture – all pervasive characteristics of this region fuel an ongoing demand for small arms. In Georgia, the war in Abkhazia continues while the cease-fire in Ossetia, although holding in general, continues to be breached by sporadic episodes of violence. Border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan also continue in connection with the dispute over the Armenian-controlled enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Add to this, the many well-armed organised crime rings in the area that traffic in arms, drugs, and prostitution and a very volatile situation throughout the entire region emerges. The former Soviet regional arsenals serve as the primary sources for small arms. It is said Azerbaijan received weapons from Turkey. In addition, it is reported that Azerbaijan has received weapons from Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The whole region has fallen prey to a high level of organised crime, and a pervasive gun culture has developed rapidly since the break-up of the Soviet.
Arms Trade in Asia-Pacific:
The scene in Asia and the Pacific is strewn with a series of armed conflicts and insurgencies in which the adversaries often obtain small arms from the same sources. While weapons from the ‘Afghan pipeline’ may not play as significant a role as they did earlier in the decade, the pipeline is still an important source of small arms in the region. Other alleged major supply sources include South-east Asian countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar (Burma), as well as China and some CIS countries. Highly armed societies such as the Philippines also add fuel to the fire.
Afghanistan, which received large amounts of weapons in the 1980s, remains a major source of small arms and light weapons in South and Central Asia. Between 1979 and 1989, the CIA channelled at least US$ 2 billion in weapons aid, or an estimated 80 percent of the agency’s covert aid budget, to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The weapons were sent via Pakistan, which acted as a major transfer facilitator, despite estimates that only 30 percent of the weapons ever reached their intended recipients. This so-called ‘Afghan Pipeline’ ran from Karachi or Rawalpindi in Pakistan, depending on whether the weapons arrived by sea or air, to Afghanistan. Partly as a result of this practice of syphoning off a portion of the arms in transit, Pakistan has become a major source of small arms in South Asia, both in black market arms and in arms supplied covertly to insurgent groups in the region. While there are sometimes ideological incentives in transferring arms, some tribal groups (e.g. in Baluchistan) view these transactions mostly from a financial point of view.
A vast array of military small arms is available in Pakistan, from M-16s and Uzis to Kalashnikovs of different makes, including Russian, Chinese, and Eastern European manufacturers. There is clear evidence that small arms were transferred from Pakistan to rebel groups in the Indian states of Punjab and Kashmir. These transfers were carried out in conjunction with the terrorist training camps operating in Pakistan, which train terrorists to fight in the Jihad in Kashmir. Terrorist groups in North East India also received weapons originating from Pakistan. Three of the major insurgent groups in the northeastern part of the country are the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The ULFA and the NSCN have both received weapons through a pipeline originating in Pakistan and the South-east Asian pipeline running through Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. The ULFA has developed contacts with Sri Lanka’s LTTE, the rebels in Kashmir, the Kachins in Myanmar, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Myanmar has also played a major role as a supplier in the region, especially as a source of weapons for the LTTE and certain rebel groups in Northeast India. Though one of the world’s most economically underdeveloped countries, Myanmar nevertheless has its own domestic small arms industry (PRODUCERS) and also receives significant quantities of weapons from China. Bangladesh is a major transit point for arms in the region. Small arms come across to Bangladesh from Afghanistan and Pakistan on the one side and from Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, and Cambodia on the other. From there, the weapons usually went north to rebels in India’s northeast or south to the LTTE during the Civil War.
The accumulation of small arms in Sri Lanka was driven by a bloody rebel secessionist movement led by the LTTE, fighting for independence from Sri Lanka in the northern part of the country. Weapons purchases were primarily funded by the Tamil diaspora in Switzerland, Canada, Australia, the US, the UK, and Scandinavia. It is also reported that the LTTE derived funds from drug trafficking, primarily heroin. Thus, a well-heeled LTTE was able to purchase even quite sophisticated arms and equipment from various sources. Since the 1980s, arms dealers in Lebanon, Cyprus, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong have purportedly facilitated arms purchases by the LTTE. They also received covert arms shipments from India up until 1987 when the transfers were officially stopped even though, in fact, they allegedly continued until the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. In the mid-1990s, the LTTE turned to Ukraine for weapons and explosives.
The LTTE also received mortar rounds, surface-to-air missiles, and machine gun ammunition from Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. In 1997, Vietnam provided the LTTE with North Korean-made Igla man-portable surface-to-air missiles. Vietnam is reported to have made arms shipments to the LTTE as well. In addition, there are assertions that the LTTE also got arms from Africa, specifically from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Other sources included arms trafficked through the Afghan pipeline and Pakistan. There is sufficient evidence to lend credibility to a case reported in 1999 in which the LTTE obtained eleven Stinger missiles from the rebel PKK in Turkey—missiles manufactured in Greece under US license. Finally, perhaps the most ironic source of LTTE arms has been the Sri Lankan government itself. Indian sources allege that thousands of arms went to the LTTE in 1989, ostensibly so they could fight against the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka.
The Philippines is a hotbed of arms trafficking activities. A host of actors and armed groups within the country are engaged in transfers of small arms and light weapons, both legal and illegal. There is a thriving illicit arms production industry that provides weapons to private individuals and criminal groups. There are also a number of criminal syndicates smuggling arms into the country. This is in addition to the arms flowing into the country to support the insurgency groups. An Islamic secessionist movement in Mindanao, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a peace agreement with the Philippine Government in 1996, received arms from Libya and Sabah, Malaysia. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an offshoot of the MNLF, is reported to receive arms from supporters in the Middle East through Malaysia. A number of island states in the Pacific also find themselves beset with serious political and ethnic tensions. Major rebellions occurred in 2000 in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. In the latter case, rebels were reportedly armed with an array of small arms, ranging from World War II vintage weapons to hunting rifles; to modern assault rifles apparently looted from police armories.
Arms Trade in the Americas:
Argentina has two main sources of black market arms: the illegal sale by Argentine arms producers of unregistered firearms, and the diversion of weapons from corrupt members of the military, police and security forces. One estimate of illegally-held firearms in Argentina puts the figure at more than 2.5 million. First, soldiers expelled from the military as a result of a series of failed military coups in 1987, 1988, and 1990 have formed criminal rings and obtain weapons from contacts remaining in the military. Secondly, active-duty members of the armed forces, police, and security forces rent out assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and sub-machine guns to criminal gangs. Finally, local corrupt police officials sell confiscated weapons.
Chile has also had a number of minor insurgent organisations that were active until the mid-1990s, some of whose members have since turned to organised crime. These criminal groups, characterised by their possession of military assault weapons, are known for their penchant to rob banks and armoured cash transport vehicles. Recent police confiscations of their weapons have yielded US-made M-16s, abandoned in Vietnam when the US pulled out of the country in the 1970s, as well as Soviet-era sub-machine guns and assault rifles that were manufactured in Eastern Europe. Paraguay is a major source of assault rifles and other small arms in Latin America, most significantly for Brazil. In one 1998 case, a shipment of 10,000 Glock automatic weapons destined for Paraguay was unloaded at the port of Santos, Brazil. The weapons were stolen and sold on the Brazilian black market to a group of bank robbers.
The black market in Uruguay is fed by arms smuggled from Brazil and Argentina, as well as the diversion of government and security forces’ stocks through corrupt officials. By far the most publicised Colombian smuggling saga in 2000 involved several Peruvian army officers, Jordanian arms and Russian transport planes, all part of an arms ring operating out of Peru. There are also a number of large indigenous small arms producers, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the United States (PRODUCERS). Soaring crime rates in countries such as Brazil drive civilian demand for weapons intended primarily for personal protection; and finally, Economic Free Trade zones, such as the Cayman Islands and Panama, provide ship registry flags of convenience for traffickers.
The United States, with its huge stores of privately-held firearms, is a source, a supplier, and a recipient of illegal small arms. Within the US itself, gun control is a hotly debated issue. As for Mexico, the US is the largest source of illegal weapons for the country. The trafficking of arms between the two is often closely linked with the drug trade. It would fair to state that Illegal and Grey market transfers of arm have fuelled more conflict than the bigger weapon systems which many times act as a deterrent. The illegal trafficking of small arms to state and non-state actors represents an image like the one captured in the Hollywood Movie ‘The Lord Of War’. Truth as they sometimes say is indeed stranger than fiction.