The humanitarian impact of UN arms embargoes: Can arms embargoes end or limit violent conflict?

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© Copyright by Ernst Jan Hogendoorn. 2008. All rights reserved.

Abstract (summary) Confronted with bloody civil conflict, the UN, if it acts, often defaults to imposing an arms embargo. Yet while arms embargoes have been increasingly imposed since the end of the Cold War, there remains significant disagreement about the impact and effectiveness of arms embargoes for ending, or at the very least limiting, violent conflict. This study analyzes the impact of UN arms embargoes on internal conflict. It seeks to understand what role UN arms embargoes can play in ending or limiting violent conflict. It does so by both closely examining the theory and assumptions of how arms embargoes ostensibly work and analyzing with statistics and through case studies the impact of past and current arms embargoes on civil conflict. Arms embargoes may have little effect, because the Security Council underestimates the challenges of influencing combatants and relies on a flawed theory of the impact and utility of arms embargoes. Impartial arms embargoes have rarely succeeded in preventing a sufficient re-supply of arms to all participants to sustain the embargoed conflict. Thus, the military conflict drags on interminably. The hope then is the arms embargo may motivate the combatants to agree to a peace settlement. But without a significant change in the military dynamics, there will seldom be a change in the status quo political calculations of the combatants and thus little motivation to negotiate meaningfully and compromise. The solution—absent other assertive action—may be the imposition of a partial embargo. While a partial embargo cannot stop all supplies to the embargoed force or forces, it will have an impact on the relative supply of arms and could thus help change the relative balance of forces. This in turn would change the political calculations of the combatants, and may help promote a settlement. Statistical analysis suggests that impartial arms embargoes do prolong conflict. Case studies of four UN arms embargoes, Bosnia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Somalia demonstrates that impartial arms embargoes do not impede the flow of arms sufficiently to end the war. In fact, in some instances the arms embargo may do more harm than good. More importantly, in the three cases where the conflict has ended (Bosnia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) it was the imposition of a formal or de facto partial that helped bring an end to those wars. The dissertation does not assert that imposing a partial arms embargo is a solution to all civil conflict. But the reason the Security Council continues to implement arms embargoes inappropriately is because it often fails to understand the possible and real impact of arms embargoes. Therefore arms embargoes are poorly implemented and rarely part of a clear strategy to restore peace and stability to the embargoed country or region. Arms embargoes can be an important and powerful tool for the Security Council for dealing with a humanitarian crisis, but only if they are an element of a comprehensive strategy that realistically appraises the difficulty of promoting peace. If implemented poorly or without careful analysis, arms embargoes may often do more harm than good.


The Humanitarian Impact of Arms Embargoes: Can Arms Embargoes End or Limit Violent Conflict? CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION


I. The Need for this Study A. Are UN sanctions irrelevant?

3 6

II. Argument in Brief A. Unexamined Arms Embargo Theory B. The Impact of Arms Embargoes on a Conflict C. The Need for Strategy

7 9 17 20

III. Analytical Methods Employed in this Study A. Statistical Analysis B. Country Case Selection

21 22 23

IV. Plan of the Study




I. Intervention on the Cheap


II. Goals of Arms Embargoes A. Containment B. Deterring or Compelling Changes in Behavior C. Establishing peace

35 36 37 39

III. Why it is difficult to influence war A. The Destructiveness of Modern Warfare i. The Impact of Modern Weapons on Warfare ii. Impact of Modern Transportation and Communication Technology B. Intractability of modern conflict: The challenge of modern tactics and the propensity to stalemate C. Weak States and Resilient Insurgencies

39 40 41 44 47 50

IV. Can Arm Embargoes Alone Establish Peace? Flaws in the Logic A. Do fewer arms result in less death and destruction? B. How much of a reduction in arms can be achieved by and arms embargo? i. Problems with monitoring and enforcement ii. Institutional hurdles to effective enforcement iii. Few legal incentives for compliance iv. Limited resources

52 53 55 56 58 62 63

V. Incentives to Negotiate and End War A. Incentives to negotiate: Tolerable versus hurting stalemate? B. War Termination

64 66 69

CHAPTER THREE: IMPACT OF ARMS EMBARGOES I. Impartial Versus Partial Embargoes A. Relative Military Capability

74 77 79


II. Possible Strategic and Tactical Responses to Arms Embargoes A. Possible Strategic Level Reactions i. Military Strategies ii. Economic Strategies iii. Political Strategies B. Possible Tactical Level Reactions III. Unintended Consequences A. Strengthen the aggressor B. Stalemate C. Prolong war D. Proliferation of factions E. An arms embargo impacts the type of arms supplied to combatants. F. Criminalization and Co-option


83 84 85 89 93 94 96 96 98 99 100 101 102


I. Introduction


II. The Model and Hypothesis i. Hypotheses

105 105

III. Challenges of data analysis


IV. Data


V. Summary Statistics


VI. Regression Analysis i. Modeling Decisions ii. Findings A. Impact on Duration B. Impact on Humanitarian Variables iii. Robustness

109 109 110 111 113 114

V. Conclusion



117 120 121

I. Background to the conflict A. Plenty of weapons B. Nationalists Planning C. Geopolitical Interest D. War in Slovenia and Croatia E. Initial Security Council Action F. The Beginning of the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina i. Initial Arming of the Warring Parties

121 122 124 126 126 129 131 133

II. Impact of the Arms Embargo on the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina



A. The First Year of War in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Embargo Favors the Bosnian Serbs B. Stalemate i. Croat-Muslim Civil War C. The Croatian Pipeline Expands and the Tide Turns i. Bosnian Attrition Strategy D. Increasingly Undermined Arms Embargo i. The United Nations Security Council: Gradually Taking Sides ii. Violations of the Arms Embargo iii. Local Production V. Endgame: The Bosnian and Croatian Wars in 1995

137 139 142 144 146 149 149 152 159 160

III. Unintended Consequences of the Embargo A. Strengthen Aggressor B. Stalemate and prolonged War i. The proliferation of factions C. Criminalization

163 163 164 166 166

VI. Conclusion



174 179 181

II. The Slow Collapse of Somalia A. Background i. An Abundance of arms B. The Collapse of Somali Central Government C. Humanitarian Crisis

182 182 184 186 189

III. International Intervention: UN Arms Embargo and Military Intervention A. United Nations Arms Embargo B. International Military Intervention

190 190 191

IV. Impact of the Arms Embargo A. Continued flow of Weapons i. Limited arms for a limited number of fighters ii. Limited covert/overt military assistance. B. State interests and the arms embargo in Somalia i. Ethiopian and Eritrean intervention in Somalia ii. Covert assistance not always destabilizing iii. Rise of the CIC and the Global War on Terror C. Factors Undermining the Arms Embargo i. Lack of Enforcement ii. Private, Regional Arms Market iii. Regional Rivalries IV. The rise of Islamic groups in Somalia

193 194 196 197 202 202 206 207 209 209 212 219 224

V. Perverse and Unintended Effects of the Arms Embargo and International Intervention A. Stalemate and Prolonged Conflict B. Stalemate and the Proliferation of Factions C. Criminalization and Co-option i. Criminalization

227 228 231 233 233


ii. Co-option


VII. Humanitarian Impact of Prolonged War in Somalia





245 248 250

II. Background and Early Period of War in Liberia A. Background B. NPFL Invasion

250 250 254

III. Regional Intervention and Strategic Stalemate A. Stalemate and the Proliferation of Factions B. NPFL-Offensive “Operation Octopus” i. Regional and International Arms Embargo C. The Battle for Monrovia III D. Nigerian Appeasement and Decisive Intervention

259 262 265 266 271 272

IV. The Impact of the Arms Embargo A. ECOMOG Enforcement and Violation of Arms Embargo i. Ineffective UN monitoring B. Continued Arms Flows C. Fewer Heavy Weapons D. Factors Undermining the Arms Embargo i. Resources and War Economies ii. ECOMOG Corruption and Complicity iii. States

273 274 276 279 281 282 283 286 288

V. Perverse and Unintended Effects of the Arms Embargo and Intervention A. Prolonged Conflict B. Proliferation of Factions C. Criminalization D. Corrupting Regional States

292 292 293 298 301

VI. Fighting Resumes in Liberia and Arms Embargo Only Enforced Against Taylor A. Consensus Builds Against Taylor B. Increased International Pressure i. UN Panel of Experts on Liberia ii. De Facto One Sided Embargo D. Regional States Unite Against Taylor

303 306 311 312 313 315

VII. Humanitarian Impact of Prolonged War


VIII. Conclusion





I. Introduction A. Why Sierra Leone? B. Roadmap

326 326 328

II. War Begins in Sierra Leone A. Background B. RUF/NPFL Invasion C. NPRC Coup

329 329 331 333

III. The Sierra Leone Government seeks allies A. Regional Allies B. ULIMO C. Ceasefire and RUF Shift to “Jungle Warfare” D. Government of Sierra Leone hires mercenaries

334 334 335 337 339

IV. UN Impartial Arms Embargo A. AFRC-RUF Coup in Sierra Leone B. UN Arms Sanctions and Other International Pressure C. The Campaign to Reinstate the President

342 342 343 345

V. Partial Arms Embargo A. Continued Liberian Support B. Renewed Conflict in Freetown, January 1999 C. UNAMSIL and the Collapse of AFRC-RUF Command and Control D. UK Intervention E. UN Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone F. Stability Finally Comes to Sierra Leone

346 347 349 350 352 354 354

VI. Humanitarian Impact


VII. Conclusion




II. A comprehensive peacemaking strategy A. Arms Embargoes Alone? B. A Carrot and Stick C. Who Chooses Which Party to Support? D. An Arms Embargo as Part of a Strategy E. The Role of the UN Secretary-General and the UN Secretariat

364 365 366 367 367 368





44 214 305 318


Acknowledgements The list of people to thank is a long one and this acknowledgement will invariably miss some who have been important to my education and research. Princeton University is a wonderful institution with excellent faculty and amazing resources. Special thanks to Professor Aaron Friedberg, who agreed to take over as my advisor mid-way through the process. Thanks also to my other advisors, Professor Gary J. Bass, Professor Jeffrey I. Herbst, Dr. Michael O’Hanlon, and Professor Thomas J. Christensen. In researching and writing this dissertation, I drew upon more than ten years of work on human rights, the arms trade, and conflict at Amnesty International USA, the Human Rights Watch Arms Division, and as a member of both the first UN Panel of Experts on Somalia and the first UN Panel of Experts on Sudan (Darfur). Amnesty International opened my eyes to the problem of protecting non-combatants in internal conflicts. The Human Rights Watch Arms Division gave me the opportunity to learn much more about the arms trade and to conduct research in a number of regions in conflict. The Directors at Human Rights Watch, Steven Goose and Joost Hiltermann, afforded me these opportunities and made me a better researcher and writer. Numerous other colleagues at Human Rights Watch, especially Lisa Misol, Arvind Ganesan, and Alex Vines, are wonderful friends and were generous co-workers. The United Nations gave me the opportunity to learn first hand the challenges of promoting peace. While working for the United Nations, the dedicated staff at the Sanctions Unit in the Security Council Affairs Division of the Department of Political Affairs gave invaluable, and largely unheralded, assistance to our work. Thanks also to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs for its support and the school’s staff for their kind and professional assistance. My fellow PhD candidates were good friends and colleagues, many thanks to: Josh Handler, Sada Aksartova, Maya Tudor, Luda Krytynskaia, Tyler Dickovic, Conor Healy, Jordan Tama, and Marty Stein. A personal thanks is also due to Dean David Redman for allowing me to take two leavesof-absence to join the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia and UN Panel of Experts on Sudan (Darfur). Those opportunities were both personally interesting and helped inform the research for this dissertation. Lastly, but not least, I would like to thank my daughter Barbara for her love and my wife Mercedeh Momeni for her love, support, understanding, and good counsel.


Chapter One: Introduction Confronted with images and reports of increasingly violent internal conflict, escalating civilian death and destruction, and streams of destitute and starving refugees the international community, and more specifically the United Nations Security Council, often chooses to impose arms embargoes.1 This has been the case for most recent examples of extreme human rapaciousness, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Bosnia, and latest Darfur. Yet, while arms embargoes are increasingly imposed by the Security Council since the end of the Cold War, there remains significant disagreement about the impact and effectiveness of arms embargoes for ending, or at the very least limiting, violent conflict. Arms embargoes and other sanctions are a popular policy option, because they are more forceful than mere diplomacy but not as costly and risky as military intervention. The most forceful sanction is a total economic embargo (which would also ban all trade in arms), but comprehensive economic sanctions have fallen into disfavor. This is so, because they rarely affect the economic well-being of the elite they are trying to influence, the humanitarian cost to innocent civilians is often considered too high, and neighboring states often pay a very heavy economic price in lost trade. Instead, the Security Council has increasingly chosen to impose targeted or “smart” sanctions, such as arms embargoes, prohibitions on the trade in particular commodities, and travel bans and


The first multilateral treaty to attempt to restrict the flow of arms to regions of conflict was “The Brussels Act of 1890,” an agreement signed by 13 European States, the United States, Persia, Zanzibar, and the Congo Free State, in part to limit “the pernicious and preponderating part played by firearms in operations connected with the slave trade as well as internal wars between the native tribes.” Art. 18, “The Brussels Act of 1890,” in Keith Kraus and Mary K. McDonald, “Regulating Arms Sales Through WWII,” Encyclopedia of Arms Control and Disarmament, Vol. II, Richard Dean Burns, ed., (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999), p. 708.


asset freezes on particular individuals, to pressure leaders. In the case of conflict the UN—if it acts—will invariably impose an arms embargo, often in combination with a number of other targeted sanctions. The UN can impose either a voluntary or mandatory arms embargo. Voluntary arms embargoes “call upon” states to halt the supply of arms, ammunition, and other military assistance. These embargoes are considered largely symbolic, because states are only requested to stop arms transfers. Mandatory arms embargoes require that member states “shall” halt all arms transfers to the embargoed state or party and are binding on UN member states. The use of mandatory arms embargoes has become increasingly popular.2 In its first forty-five years, the Security Council passed two mandatory arms embargo—against South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. Since 1990, the UN Security Council has declared 20 mandatory arms embargoes.3 Most of these—11—were imposed to end or, at the very least, limit the scope of fighting and humanitarian suffering. Of these 11 arms embargoes, nine were impartial, imposed on all parties to the conflict.4 This study will focus on the impact of arms embargoes that were imposed on internal conflicts in order to hasten their end, or at the very least to lessen the death, destruction, and suffering caused by the fighting. This is not to suggest that there are not 2

Arms embargoes have only been excluded from two UN sanctions regimes (Cambodia in 1992 and Sudan in 1996). 3 Technically, the UN has imposed 27 mandatory arms embargo resolutions, since 1990, but 12 of those are modifications to existing arms embargo regimes. Damien Fruchart, Paul Holtom, Siemon T. Wezeman, Daniel Strandow and Peter Wallensteen, United nations Arms Embargoes: Their Impact on Arms Flows and Target Behavior (Stockholm: Swedish International Peace Research Institute, 2007) p. 2. 4 Eight of these embargoes were impartial (levied on all parties to the conflict) from their imposition. Two of these impartial embargo regimes, the arms embargoes on Rwanda and Sierra Leone, were later modified (after the targeted governments were overthrown) to partial embargoes. One partial embargo, the embargo on non-state groups in the region of Darfur in Sudan, was quickly expanded to include a ban on the supply of arms to all forces in Darfur.


many other reasons why the Security Council or states may impose an arms embargo, but those are beyond the scope of this study.5

I. The Need for this Study The need to understand the impact of arms embargoes is important because the United Nations Security Council, regional bodies, and states acting unilaterally have increasingly chosen to impose arms embargoes, on a state or region in conflict, specifically to influence the conduct of the belligerents, limit the humanitarian consequences of the fighting, and hasten the termination of the war.6 Accordingly, it is necessary to consider whether arms embargoes are an appropriate, and helpful, policy response to war-induced humanitarian crises. By conducting a rigorous examination of the effects of arms embargoes on past conflicts this study seeks to help resolve the ongoing debate about the utility of such embargoes, and could help the implementation of more effective international intervention in internal conflict. Clearly shortening, or at the very least limiting, conflict is a laudable goal. Modern conflict is extremely destructive, in terms of lives lost, assets destroyed, money squandered, and foregone development. Not only is war costly for those unfortunate enough to live in the country at war, but also for the region and international development. Too often wars spill over borders, directly affecting neighboring people. And, there is frequently a large economic cost in lost trade and investment for the region. 5

In a number of cases, the Security Council, and other groups or states have imposed arms embargoes to put pressure on governments to change domestic policies, such as the violation of human rights or the production of weapons of mass destruction. In other cases, states impose arms embargoes unilaterally for moral reasons, that is not to profit from other peoples’ suffering. Sometimes, some critics contend, states impose arms embargoes simply to assuage pressure groups and show that the international community is “doing something.” 6 The stated goals of UN arms embargoes are usually a variation on “for the purposes of establishing peace and stability.” See for example, resolution 733 (1992), “for the purposes of establishing peace and stability in Somalia;” and resolution 1160 (1998), “for the purposes of fostering peace and stability in Kosovo”


Moreover, the international community usually bears a huge cost as well, sending billions of dollars in emergency humanitarian assistance (which is often diverted from long-term development projects). Further billions are often expended on peacekeeping operation and post-conflict reconstruction. So, for example, the war in Bosnia is estimated to have cost, overall, some $53.5 billion dollars from 1992 to 1998. The military cost for the UN and NATO missions alone was an estimated $19 billion. Humanitarian operations cost another $12 billion. The direct economic cost to Bosnia was estimated at $6.3 billion and the lost trade and investment cost was estimated at another $10 billion. The cost to other countries is impossible to quantify, given the number of states countries affected by or involved in the war, but as a representative example, the U.S., Germany, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, the U.K., and Japan alone spent some $6.28 billion on humanitarian assistance to people in Bosnia between 1992 and 1998.7 This total, of course, has increased dramatically over the subsequent decade with the continued need for a NATO stabilization force, international political supervision, and further repair and reconstruction. Clearly, the cost of conflict increases the longer the war lasts. More people die, additional assets are destroyed, further money is squandered on troops and arms, continued insecurity prevents refugees and internally displaced from returning, and instability defers reconstruction and development. Ending a conflict quickly can save lives, prevent further destruction, and save a great deal of money.


Andrea Kathryn Talentino, “Bosnia,” in Michael E. Brown and Richard N. Rosencrance eds., The Cost of Conflict (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Pub., Inc., 1999) pp. 25-44.


In the alternative, advocates argue that arms embargoes may limit violence conflict. It does appear that arms embargoes may contribute to containing the fighting by helping to prevent internal conflicts from evolving into regional conflicts.8 There is, however, little evidence to suggest that embargoed conflicts are less violent, destructive, or abusive. In fact, as will be argued below, some arms embargoes may actually help create the anarchic conditions that beget wide-scale war crimes. The challenge for the international community in general, and for the Security Council specifically, is to influence the conduct, evolution, and outcome of war; a complicated, dynamic, and literally life-and-death struggle between two or more forces that will anticipate, react to, and seek to benefit from the actions of the international community. Rather than passive actors following dictates from the United Nations or other great powers, these forces and their leaders will respond strategically to limits imposed from the outside. The strategic responses to an attempted cut-off of arms and military supplies can range from simple efforts to evade the embargo, to adjustments to limit its impact, and even attempts to manipulate outside intervention in the conflict to benefit one side. Thus, for example, in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosnian government (also known as the Bosnian-Muslims or Bosniaks) responded to the arms embargo in a number of ways: it continued to import weapons, ammunition and other military supplies in violation of the United Nations arms embargo on all factions in Bosnia; it emphasized and privileged resources for the local production of arms and ammunition; and it shrewdly used the international impression that it was unfairly suffering (relative to its opponents, the Serbs and Croats) under the embargo to solicit 8

States often continue to give covert, and thus deniable, assistance to embargoed states and groups, but rarely provide large-scale direct military assistance in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions. A notable exception is the Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia.


huge sums of money from Muslim states and individuals—which it used to violate the embargo—and to force the international community to intervene, e.g. to impose the nofly zone and create “safe areas,” on its behalf. Since targets of arms embargoes will seek to evade, mitigate, and even benefit from embargoes, the international community needs to think deeply and strategically about what the expected reactions of sanctioned groups (and their supporters) will be, and thus what may be the consequences—both short and long term—of the imposition of an arms embargo. Many commentators have argued that, even if insufficient to stop the fighting, an arms embargo can only help the humanitarian situation on the ground. However, a conclusion of this study is that, since the targets of arms embargoes will react strategically to intervention from the outside, a blanket arms embargo is rarely a sufficient response to a crisis, and in some instances the imposition of an arms embargo may do more harm than good. This assertion is not made lightly, but rather is based on careful analysis of past arms embargoes.

A. Are UN sanctions irrelevant? A number of scholars have argued that sanctions are often irrelevant9 or only imposed by the Security Council members to appear to be responding to a war-induced crisis.10 It is true that often arms embargoes (as well as other sanctions) are not enforced and may only be imposed by the Security Council as a sop to public opinion. Yet, that does not entail that even poorly enforced arms embargoes have no impact on the ground,


See for example, Dominic Tierney, “Irrelevant or malevolent? UN arms embargoes in civil wars,” Review of International Studies Vol. 2005. 10 See for example, David Cortright and George A. Lopez, eds. The Sanctions Decade (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000); and Simon Chesterman, and Beatrice Pouligny, “Are Sanctions Meant to Work? The Politics of Creating and Implementing Sanctions Through the United Nations,” Global Governance 9 (2003), pp 503-518.


or on countries and other international actors who are concerned about what is happening in the embargoed country. As is argued in detail below, even a poorly enforced arms embargo will reduce both the number and the types of arms available to the combatants relative to what they would probably be able to obtain absent an embargo. An arms embargo does this by limiting the number of willing suppliers, by increasing the price of arms, and by limiting the amount of covert assistance states are willing to give embargoed groups for fear of incontrovertible exposure and censure. The result is that combatants in embargoed conflicts often still have plenty of small arms and lights weapons (the arms most easy to smuggle) but much fewer heavier and sophisticated arms (which are easier to trace back to suppliers). Thus, reduced flow of arms may possibly lower the intensity of fighting, but it will often have detrimental unintended consequences, such as the prolongation of the conflict and continued brutal fighting. Perhaps as important, the imposition of an arms embargo almost always defers more robust action by the international community. Invariably, the Security Council sanctions committee overseeing the embargo will wait for at least several reporting cycles of its monitoring mechanism to decide whether additional measures should be taken. Those interim measures usually will be additional sanctions that again will be monitored until it becomes clear that additional action is required to compel a resolution to the conflict. The delay often lasts years, if not indefinitely.

II. Argument in Brief The dissertation’s central argument is that faced with bloody civil conflicts, and lacking the political will for better options, the Security Council, if it acts, has often


defaulted to imposing arms embargoes. An arms embargo will reduce the amount of available arms, but arms embargoes have rarely succeeded in preventing a sufficient resupply of arms to sustain the embargoed conflict. At the same time, arms embargoes do often deny embargoed groups the ability to obtain enough heavy and or sophisticated weapons or sufficient foreign military support necessary to alter the balance of forces. Thus, the military conflict drags on interminably. The hope then is that the arms embargo may motivate the combatants to agree to a peace settlement. But rarely are these negotiations conducted in good faith or are the combatants motivated to lower their demands in the interest of peace. Without a significant change in the military dynamics, there will seldom be a change in the status quo political calculations of the combatants and, thus, little motivation to negotiate meaningfully and compromise. The solution—absent other assertive action—may be the imposition of a partial embargo. While a partial embargo cannot stop all supplies to the embargoed force or forces, it will have an impact on the relative supply of arms and could thus help change the relative balance of forces. This in turn would change the political calculations of the combatants, and may help promote a settlement. Furthermore, an impartial arms embargo is not better than no action, because arms embargoes often have unintended, perverse effects not anticipated—or otherwise ignored—by the UN Security Council that can prolong the conflict, exacerbate the warinduced humanitarian crisis, and complicate both peace-making and peace-building efforts.


This is not to say that arms embargoes should never be part of a broader attempt by the international community to bring about an end to conflict. The reason the Security Council continues to implement arms embargoes inappropriately is due to both an unwillingness to appreciate the challenges of influencing combatants fighting a life and death struggle, and to a reliance on a flawed theory of the impact and utility of arms embargoes (discussed below and in greater detail in chapter two). Failing to understand the possible and real impact of arms embargoes (discussed below and in greater detail in chapter three), arms embargoes are poorly implemented and rarely part of a clear, coherent strategy to restore peace and stability to the embargoed country or region.

A. Unexamined Arms Embargo Theory The Security Council often imposes an arms embargo as an understandable compromise between pure diplomacy and robust military intervention, but this is based on a poor understanding of how difficult it can be to influence combatants fighting a life and death struggle. Moreover, the decision to impose an arms embargo is also based on a logical but flawed theory of the impact and utility of arms embargoes on influencing both conflict and the political calculations of combatants. Arms embargoes are, essentially, intervention on the cheap. More forceful than mere diplomacy but not as costly and risky as military intervention, arms embargoes are still attempts to influence both the military dynamics of a conflict and the political calculations of the combatants. Yet, this study argues, the Security Council underestimates—or is unwilling to acknowledge—the difficulty of influencing a modern conflict. War has always been a complex, and dynamic, life and death struggle, but its destructiveness and intractability have been compounded by modern technology and


globalization. The development of highly-lethal-yet-cheap, plentiful, and easy-to-operate modern arms, combined with access to automobiles, a globalized economy, and inexpensive, but sophisticated telecommunication equipment, has vastly increased the potential size of the modern battlefield and amplified the destruction and dislocation caused by modern warfare. Modern technology has paradoxically also made war more likely to stalemate. While wars can still be won quickly and decisively by very unequal opponents, when combatants are more closely matched, the likely outcome is military and strategic stalemate and prolonged war.11 This is compounded by the fact that guerilla warfare is the most difficult type of war to fight, especially by weak governments with poorly trained and equipped armed forces. Furthermore, the Security Council also often sets unrealistic goals for arms embargoes. The possible objective of arms embargoes can range from relatively modest to ambitious. Yet as the intended goal of the arms embargo increases, so does the difficulty. Placing pressure on states not to intervene overtly in an internal conflict is much easier than trying to modify the behavior of parties that are already at war. Even more difficult is to attempt to force combatants to lay down their arms and negotiate a lasting peace.12 The Security Council also relies on a flawed theory of the impact and utility of arms embargoes. The flaws stem from a number of questionable assumptions, as well as


James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin have found that the current prevalence of civil war is due to the steady accumulation of protracted conflicts since the 1950s and 1960s. James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Fall 2003) p. 75. 12 A similar conclusion is reached by Elizabeth S. Rogers looking at economic sanctions more broadly. “Sanctions are best adapted for containment, next-best adapted for prevention, and least well-adapted for resolution.” Elizabeth S. Rogers, “Using Sanctions to Control Regional Conflicts,” Security Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Summer 1996) p. 45.


a poorly articulated theory of how an arms embargo will encourage parties to a conflict to negotiate in good faith or ultimately alter their minimal demands to end a conflict. The implicit and rarely articulated theory of how arms embargoes operate is quite simple and intuitively plausible. If the international community imposes an effective arms embargo, the flow of arms and ammunition will be significantly reduced (both because of supplier adherence to the arms embargo and the fact that embargo-busting arms dealers will charge combatants a premium—making arms more expensive and thus reducing the quantity of arms and ammunition that can be purchased with a given amount of money).13 The reduction of arms and ammunition flowing into the conflict region will then impact the combatants’ ability to commence and sustain operation and thereby resulting in fewer and shorter military maneuvers. Consequently, less death, destruction, dislocation, and other human rights violations will occur in an embargoed conflict. In addition—it is argued—the inability of all parties to the conflict to fully prosecute the war (due to lack of sufficient supplies) creates political space and incentives to negotiate rather than to pursue military solutions to the conflict.14 While the logic of this theory of the impact of arms embargoes is reasonable,15 there are a number of assumptions embedded in the theory that are rarely questioned.


For example, the UN Secretary General’s report on “The causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa,” argues that “the imposition of an arms embargo can help to diminish the availability of arms with which to pursue a conflict by making the acquisition of weapons more difficult and more expensive.” Report of the Secretary General, “The causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa,” A/52/871-S/1998/318, April 13, 1998, p. 7. 14 See for example, Peter Wallenstein, Mikael Eriksson, and Daniel Strandow, Sanctions for Conflict Prevention and Peace Building: Lessons Learned from Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia (Uppsala, Sweden: Universitetstryckeriet, 2006) p. 3; and Simon Chesterman, and Beatrice Pouligny, “Are Sanctions Meant to Work? The Politics of Creating and Implementing Sanctions Through the United Nations,” Global Governance 9 (2003) pp 503-518. 15 Two authors have called the logic “impeccable.” David Cortright and George A. Lopez, Sanctions and the Search for Security: Challenges to UN Action (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Pub., 2002) p. 153.


First, that the UN has the ability to effectively impose an arms embargo. Second, that fewer arms will necessarily result in less fighting and less death and destruction. Finally, that an arms embargo will change the political calculations of the combatants. It is far from clear that in most cases the UN Security Council has the ability to reduce the flow of arms, ammunition and other military supplies to a point where fighting is untenable. Or, for that matter, that a reduced flow of materiel will induce combatants to sue for peace rather than change their strategy and tactics to accommodate a marginally reduced supply of arms and ammunition. The unfortunate reality is embargoed forces will already have substantial stockpiles of arms and ammunition, will continue to want arms and materiel, and will do everything in their power to obtain these supplies. What is clear from even a cursory analysis of past arms embargoes is that they were unable to reduce the supply of arms to target groups and states sufficiently to force an end to the conflict. Many have argued that this is due to the lack of monitoring and enforcement by the United Nations and member states.16 However, this study argues that there are a number of institutional and structural constraints within the UN system that often prevents the UN from enforcing a completely effective arms embargo.


See for example, Alex Vines, “Monitoring UN Sanctions in Africa: the role of panels of experts,” Verification Yearbook, 2003 (London: Vertic, 2003), pp. 247-263; David Cortright and George A. Lopez with Linda Gerber, “Sanctions Sans Commitment;” Michael Brzoska, “Putting More Teeth in UN Arms Embargoes,” and Loretta Bondi, “Arms Embargoes: In Name Only?” in David Cortright and George A. Lopez, eds., Smart Sanctions: Targeting Economic Statecraft (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2002); David Cortright and George A. Lopez eds., The Sanctions Decade (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000); Randy Rydell, “Monitoring Arms Embargoes,” paper presented at the First Expert Seminar on “Smart Sanctions, the Next Step: Arms Embargoes and Travel Sanctions,” Bonn, Germany, January 2000; Design and Implementation of Arms Embargoes and Travel and Aviation Related Sanctions—Results of the “ Bonn-Berlin Process,” (Bonn: Bonn International Center for Conversion, 2001); Peter Wallenstein, Carina Staibano, and Mikael Eriksson, eds., Making Targeted Sanctions Effective: Guidelines for the Implementation of UN Policy Options (Uppsala University, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, 2003).


In most cases, the United Nations, and the UN Security Council specifically, appears largely incapable of coercing recalcitrant states into abiding by its resolutions forbidding the transfer of arms. Only once in its entire history has the UN Security Council imposed secondary sanctions (that is sanctions for violating a previously imposed sanctions regime) on a state for violating a UN arms embargo.17 Two current embargoes highlight this problem. In the case of Somalia, it is quite clear both Ethiopia and Eritrea have consistently and in large-scale violated the impartial UN arms embargo on Somalia.18 Similarly in the case of Darfur, it has been demonstrated by numerous reports that both Chad and Sudan were arming different groups in the region, despite a UN arms embargo on all forces operating in Darfur.19 Yet none of these states have been sanctioned or otherwise penalized for their violations of the arms embargoes. Because of the challenge of exacting compliance from states, the United Nations and the “international community” often prefer to focus on the role of individual arms dealers, but, because of inadequate laws, remarkable lack of cooperation, and unwillingness to antagonize other governments, there have been conspicuously few successful prosecutions. A notable example is the infamous Russian arms dealer and businessman Victor Bout, who has been named, since the mid-1990s, in a slew of UN, individual government, and NGO reports as a major embargo buster. Bout reportedly lived quite openly in Moscow and until recently his companies continued to conduct


This was on Charles Taylor and his government for its support of the embargoed Revolutionary United Forces in Sierra Leone. See the chapter Eight on Liberia. 18 See reports of the Panel of Experts on Somalia, and the Monitoring Group on Somalia. 19 See reports of the Panel of Experts on Sudan.


business with a range of clients including the United States, other allied governments, and UN agencies.20 Furthermore, when outside support is insufficient, embargoed governments and groups can also respond by developing or increasing domestic production of arms and ammunition or modifying their tactics and strategies to best accommodate a reduced supply of weapons and military supplies. So, for instance, during the war in Bosnia the Bosnian government made domestic ammunition production a priority and devoted a considerable portion of its limited resources to ramping up and expanding production at arms factories under its control. At the same time, the Bosnian army consciously adapted its tactics and strategy to deal with its lack of heavy and sophisticated weapons and limited ammunition supply, by emphasizing light infantry tactics and a strategy of attrition warfare. An attrition strategy usually prolongs the war and invariably results in greater casualties. Even when warring groups do not have access to sophisticated arms factories, they can convert civilian goods and rudimentary explosives into effective weapons and adapt them to battlefield use. For example, in sparsely populated regions of Africa, insurgents frequently turn trucks into “technicals” or “battlewagons” by mounting machine guns or cannons on the flat-bed of a pick-up truck; currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the insurgents use a wide variety of improvised explosive devices to attack better-armed opponents; and in the Gaza and Columbia insurgents use crude home-made rockets and mortars to strike at well-defended targets.


Doug Farah and Kathi Austin, “Air America: Victor Bout and the Pentagon,” New Republic, 23 January 2006, pp. 11-13. Victor Bout was arrested in Thailand, in March 2008, based on a US indictment for attempting to sell arms to the FARC—not for UN arms embargo violations.


Another flawed assumption is that less arms and ammunition results in less fighting and translates into less death and destruction. As has been infamously demonstrated during the Rwandan Genocide and the prolonged humanitarian crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that is not necessarily the case. This is not to say that modern weapons (which were eventually embargoed) were unimportant in those conflicts. Without the arming of the Interahamwe militias (who were responsible for implementing the genocide) with modern weapons, the Hutu leadership could not have organized the people and terrorized many into assisting in the commission of genocide in Rwanda. Likewise, in eastern DRC it was, and remains, the prevalence of private militias (serving as proxies for a number of African states) that drives the ethnic killings and the concomitant displacement and depravation. Yet, what is remarkable about these conflicts, as well as many other war-induced humanitarian emergencies, is the relative paucity of modern weapons, especially heavy weapons.21 Even without large quantities of modern weapons, relatively small armed groups can continue to prey on large, defenseless populations and destabilize vast regions. Destabilization, especially if long lasting, can exact an enormous humanitarian toll in lost food production, heath crises, destroyed infrastructure, and lost development. For example, during the on-going crises in DRC, where an arms embargo is in place on the militias, an estimate 5.4 million people have died from war induced starvation and disease, and a further 1.7 million were internally displaced, in the past seven years.22 Likewise, in Darfur, where an arms embargo is in place on the region, but remarkably not on the government of Sudan, 21

What is often most notable from disarmament exercises carried out in embargoed conflicts over the last decade is the poor condition of the weapons and the small number of functioning heavy and sophisticated weapons. 22 See, International Rescue Committee, Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Ongoing Crisis, 2007. Available at


several hundred thousand people have died and four million people are displaced, since the conflict began in 2002. Lastly, it is far from clear how an arms embargo will increase incentives to meaningfully negotiate and compromise.23 Clearly, many factors influence the success of negotiations, but indisputably, success or failure on the battlefield has a significant impact on negotiation.24 At the same time, all sides need to be willing, or resigned, to modify their demands to reach a tenable and stable peace. Proponents of arms embargoes have argued that they can hasten the establishment of a “hurting stalemate,” a situation where the parties to the conflict are trapped in a painful deadlock.25 However, as the originator of the concept of “hurting stalemate” has concluded, a stalemate is not a sufficient condition for meaningful negotiation. Often a stalemated conflict is tolerable to the combatants—as opposed to civilians. A growing body of literature demonstrates that belligerents resolve their conflict only when they are ready to do so, and only when they determine they cannot attain their goals militarily.26 As William Zartman and Stephen John Stedman have noted, the inescapable implication is that often conflicts that are not treated “early” appear to require a high


I make this distinction, since often parties to a conflict will agree to a negotiation simply to buy some time to rest and recuperate their forces. 24 I William Zartman, “The Timing of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe Moments,” The Global Review of Ethnopolitics, Vol. 1, No. 1 (September 2001) p. 13. 25 This concept has been most developed by I. William Zartman. See, I. William Zartman and Michael Berman, The Practical Negotiator (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982); S. Touval and I. William Zartman, eds., International Mediation in Theory and Practice (Boulder, CO: Westview Press); and I. William Zartman, Ripe for Resolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). 26 I. William Zartman, Ripe for Resolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); and “Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond,” in Stern, P. and Druckman, D., eds., International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000); and Stephen John Stedman, “Alchemy for a New World Order: Overselling “preventive Diplomacy,’” Foreign Affairs (May/June 1995) p. 20.


level of intensity of fighting before belligerents may recognize they are in a mutually hurting stalemate and meaningful negotiations to begin.27 In the case of prompting a settlement to the conflict, it appears that the only utility of arms embargoes is in increasing the influence of outside actors through their real and potential ability to either increase or decrease the relative balance of power among the belligerents. Critics of arms embargoes argue that it is difficult to see, even in theory, how embargoes could lead to political settlements. Power in civil wars is relative, and participants tend to think in zero-sum terms. If the embargo maintains the military status quo, nothing changes politically between the parties. And even if an arms embargo weakens one side’s ability to fight and thus increases their incentive to negotiate, it proportionately strengthens their rivals, and decreases their incentive to negotiate.28 This study argues, however, that if properly applied, an arms embargo can change the military dynamics of a conflict, and—more importantly—give the international community much greater leverage in forcing the different sides to compromise during peace negotiations.

B. The Impact of Arms Embargoes on a Conflict While current sanctions theory may be flawed, the military impact of arms embargoes is relatively straightforward. An arms embargo can influence the situation on the ground, either by reducing the availability of arms or changing the proportion of arms


I William Zartman, “The Timing of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe Moments,” The Global Review of Ethnopolitics, Vol. 1, No. 1 (September 2001) p. 13. 28 Dominic Tierney, “Irrelevant or malevolent? UN arms embargoes in civil wars,” Review of International Studies, vol. 31, (2005) p. 648.


going to the combatants. An equal incremental reduction in the supply of arms to all sides, however, will not change the balance of forces. Table 1: The Military Impact of Arms Embargoes on Armed Combatants Type of arms embargo Impartial embargo Impartial embargo Partial embargo Partial embargo

Relative military power among combatants when embargo imposed Equal (stalemate) Unequal (advantage better armed combatant) Equal (stalemate) Unequal (advantage better armed combatant)

Change in relative military power among combatants Equal (stalemate) Unequal (advantage better armed combatant) Unequal (advantage non-embargoed combatant) Unequal or equal (better armed combatant even greater advantage or weaker combatant gaining advantage)

Yet, the outcome of military conflict is usually determined by the relative military capability of armed groups. Furthermore, the greater the disparity between the military capabilities of these groups generally the quicker and more decisive the outcome of the conflict. Accordingly, a conflict between a highly capable army and one that is poorly trained, led, and equipped will often end quickly and with minimal use of force and destruction, whereas a conflict between more evenly matched units (either highly or poorly trained and equipped) is likely to grind on indecisively with concomitant greater loss of life, treasure, and destruction. Admittedly, the military capability of an armed group is a complex, interacting product of the arms used by the group, force employment, size, environment, and leadership and morale, but only a few of these factors, principally the supply of arms and/or money (for arms), training, or direct intervention, can be influenced significantly by external actors. Therefore, if the international community wishes to influence the conduct and outcome of a war without becoming directly involved, through training or


direct support, it can only do so by affecting the relative supply of arms to the different armed groups. So, for example, in the Bosnian conflict, which has been to date the best monitored sanctions regime on a country at war, the impartial arms embargo did not stop the fighting, and peace negotiations were only successful after the Bosnian government army began to dominate the battlefield (in part because of massive arms embargo violations) and NATO forces intervened on the Bosnian government’s behalf. Likewise, in Liberia, the thirteen-year-long civil war ended only after UN Security Council enforced the impartial arms embargo, and other sanctions, on Liberian president Taylor, but disregarded reports by the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia that neighboring states were systematic violating the arms embargo by aiding Taylor’s opponents. Lastly, the civil war in Angola finally ended conclusively only after the UN Security Council imposed a partial arms embargo, and later additional economic sanctions, on the UNITA rebels. This is not to say that a partial arms embargo is always the solution. In some instances the arms embargo may not be enforced sufficiently to reduce the supply of weapons to the targeted group or groups to adequately change the military dynamics between the belligerents. In other cases, the non-sanctioned group or government may not have the military wherewithal to act decisively on their military advantage. Yet, in those cases, the arms embargo may still be a useful element of a more complete strategy to re-establish peace and security in a war-torn country. Thus, for instance, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on all nongovernmental forces in Sierra Leone (principally the Revolutionary United Front


responsible for mutilating and murdering thousands of civilians), but the Government of Sierra Leone and the international force supporting it lacked the military capacity to force an end to the war. The embargo, however, did weaken the insurgents sufficiently that only a modest unilateral intervention by British and later Guinean troops helped to force the rebels to sue for peace. A similar situation occurred recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where again the government was unable to defeat embargoed militias but when modestly aided by UN peacekeeping forces was able to place enough military pressure on rebel groups to persuade them to negotiate a meaningful peace treaty.

C. The Need for Strategy As former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy has noted, “too often sanctions have been a substitute for more resolute action and sustainable solutions,” and often “getting sanctions right has been a less compelling goal than getting sanctions adopted.”29 The result is that too often sanctions are imposed without a clear understanding of what they can or will do or strategy for how the arms embargo will contribute to the Security Council’s goal of establishing peace and stability. The aim of an arms embargo (and other sanctions as well) should be to change the military dynamics of a conflict, either by preventing a group or groups the ability to operate, or limiting their ability to do so sufficiently that they would rather negotiate a peace settlement than continue fighting. Therefore, proponents of an arms embargo must analyze and anticipate carefully the probable impact of the arms embargo on the different parties to the conflict and clearly lay out how that will contribute to the international community’s goal of ending the conflict. 29

Lloyd, Axworthy, “foreword,” in The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s, David Cortright and George A. Lopez, eds. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000).


III. Analytical Methods Employed in this Study The dissertation uses both statistics and detailed case studies to test its theoretical arguments. Each method helps to compensate for problems with the other. The statistical analysis enables us to analyze the impact of arms embargoes within a set of data on all civil wars since 1945. This allows inferences to be drawn on the impact of arms embargoes on a number of variables that capture (if very broadly) the humanitarian suffering inflicted in internal conflict. It also allows the study to control for other variables that may also prolong or exacerbate a conflict. It should be noted, however, that most civil war data is inexact (as it is often based on poor government records, inaccurate record-keeping, and even speculation), there is not enough data to conduct more exact statistical analysis; and it is impossible to capture in the data the continual shifting support of states for or against the arms embargoes. The bulk of the dissertation is, therefore, composed of a detailed analysis of four internal conflicts on which the UN did impose arms embargoes in an attempt to end the conflict and limit the humanitarian impact of the fighting. The cases, Bosnia, Somalia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, were chosen to highlight different factors that affect the usefulness of arms embargoes, including when the embargo was imposed in the conflict cycle, political importance to the powerful states, the degree of monitoring/enforcement of the arms embargo, domestic production of arms and ammunition, and combatant access to resources that could be exploited to purchase weapons on the international illicit arms market.


A. Statistical Analysis The statistical analysis is of a data on all civil wars since 1945. It is built on a dataset of civil wars compiled by Drs. Nicholas Sambanis and Michael Doyle. Although their dataset was created to analyze the impact of U.N. peacekeeping and peacebuilding endeavors, for the purpose of this study, a number of additional variables on whether and what type of arms embargo were imposed were added. The data is a relatively simple collection of statistics on the duration and destructiveness (including estimates of battle deaths, total deaths, number of internally displaced persons and number of refugees) of a particular conflict and a number of socioeconomic data identified in the literature as important to explaining the duration and severity of an internal conflict as control variables. These data include duration of the war, access to valuable commodities (e.g. diamonds or oil), whether the conflict was based on ideological or ethnic differences, the degree of development, and the type of government controlling its armed forces. In this study, the dependent variable is humanitarian suffering, proxied by data capturing the death and destruction occurring during conflict. These variables include duration, battle deaths, civilian deaths, number of internally displaced people and refugees, and changing life expectancy. The independent variable is the imposition of an arms embargo. An unknown intervening variable is the amount the flow of arms was reduced by the arms embargo. However, it must be noted, much of the data is rough and imprecise, and thus many of the conclusions drawn from the statistical analysis must necessarily be tentative. In addition, panel data (annual data on the important variables) would have been much


better at establishing the impact of arms embargoes on many of this study’s proxy variables, e.g. deaths; but, unfortunately, there is little, if any, reliable yearly data on any civil war. Nonetheless, the results are offered to help further the debate about the utility of arms embargoes. It should be noted that one result is quite robust (p