Zim a good bad arms control example: SIPRI


Zimbabwe illustrates the difficulties in maintaining responsible export principles when key members of the international community are not convinced that internal repression is a sufficient reason to interfere with a country’s sovereign right to buy arms. That is the conclusion of new research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The think tank says the European Union (EU) and others have responded to political violence in the South African neighbour by imposing arms embargoes. But other states, notably Russia and China, have expressed no concerns about the situation. “The most prominent supplier of arms to Zimbabwe has been China, which supplied more than one-third of the volume of Zimbabwe’s major weapons between 1980 and 2009,” SIPRI says.
“Although China has been Zimbabwe’s main arms supplier for the past decade, it is not exactly clear what has been delivered. For example, in 2004 it was reported that Zimbabwe was in the process of acquiring 12 Chinese FC-1 combat aircraft and more than 100 Dongfeng military vehicles in a deal worth an estimated US$200 million. However, while it is believed that Zimbabwe took delivery of Chinese-produced armoured vehicles, assault rifles and support materiel via the Mozambican port of Beira in early 2005, the FC-1 deal was not completed.
“Since 2000 it has been a challenge to clearly identify transfers of arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe. For example, several states’ data in the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database list Zimbabwe as the destination for small arms and light weapons (SALW) and ammunition, but it does not identify whether the items are destined for civilian or security force use. For example, Brazilian customs data shows the export of shotgun ammunition worth $2.3 million to Zimbabwe in 2003, but it is uncertain if this was used by hunters, the police or the military. It is also difficult to identify the purpose for particular acquisitions, such as three MiG-23MS combat aircraft that were supplied by Libya in 2003 but which were never used operationally by Zimbabwe,” the report says.
“In July 2008 the UK and the USA tabled a draft UN Security Council resolution to impose targeted sanctions on [Presidet Robert] Mugabe’s government, including an arms embargo in response to the serious human rights violations and political violence that accompanied the 2008 elections.” Then-British foreign minister, David Miliband, suggested that the decision to table a draft resolution was in part influenced by Russia’s agreement at a G8 meeting to impose targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe. “However, China and Russia vetoed the draft resolution, while South Africa, Libya and VietNam also voted against the resolution.
“China and Russia justified the use of their vetoes on three counts. First, they stated that the situation in Zimbabwe did not represent a threat to international peace and therefore rejected the invocation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the Security Council to determine the ‘existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression’ and to decide or recommend which measures shall be taken in order to ‘maintain or restore international peace and security.
“Both Russia and China stressed the policy of non-interference in internal matters of other states enshrined in Article 2 of the UN Charter. Second, they expressed concerns that the talks between President Mugabe and the opposition, organised by South African President Thabo Mbeki, could be seriously hindered by the imposition of international sanctions. Third, they stressed that the most relevant regional organisations, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), had not pushed for UN sanctions but had asked for more time to conduct negotiations, and that therefore the Chinese and Russian positions were taking African wishes into account. The South African ‘no vote’ is therefore also notable in this regard.
“At the same time, however, as discussed above, both China and Russia have regarded Zimbabwe as a market for their exports of arms and military equipment, and China has a range of economic interests in Zimbabwe,” SIPRI noted.

It adds “China’s and Russia’s narrow interpretations of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, specifically what constitutes international peace and security with regard to the situation in Zimbabwe, demonstrate the difficulties of imposing UN arms embargoes and sanctions in relation to intrastate conflicts, despite the past invocation of Chapter VII in response to a number of intrastate political conflicts in Africa since the end of the cold war. Past experience suggests that a global moratorium on the provision of arms, ammunition and other military and paramilitary equipment to Zimbabwe
during an election year [2008] would have signalled to President Mugabe the international community’s condemnation of political violence. However, such moves are unlikely to be put on the international agenda.
“At present, there are diverging interpretations of existing obligations by UN members with regards to the provision of arms and military equipment to states that use such materiel in internal disputes. Nevertheless, this is an issue that many in the international community would like to address within an ATT [Arms Trade Treaty]. What needs to be further developed is the construction of an ATT that can effectively tackle arms transfers to countries with internal conflicts and human rights abuses. The pattern of arms transfers to Zimbabwe along with the vetoing of UN sanctions illustrates the differing views of major arms suppliers. For some it is ‘business as usual’ and for others embargoes and sanctions help restrict human rights violations.
“The Zimbabwe case also reveals another reason why an ATT is desirable: the current situation, in which the Zimbabwean government is capable of bypassing European and US efforts by buying and attracting investment elsewhere, exposes the limits of unilateral embargoes. Only a global ban could have restricted Zimbabwe from importing arms legally, thereby potentially leading to a change in the country’s critical political situation.”

SIPRI concludes the case of Zimbabwe illustrates “the difficulties in maintaining responsible export principles when key members of the international community are not convinced that internal repression is a sufficient reason to interfere with a country’s sovereign right to buy arms.”

Pic: The Chinese Hongdu K8 Karakorum fighter trainer of the Zimbabwe Air Force at AAD2008 in Cape Town, September 2008.