Global Policy Forum

Security Council Loosens Somalian Arms Embargo


The Security Council has unanimously agreed to lift a 21-year-old arms embargo on Somalia. The resolution has also reauthorized 18,000 peacekeepers to remain in the country to help the federal government reclaim territory held by the extremist group al-Shabab. Despite the resolution being passed, some Council members expressed concern that weapons will flow into non-government hands. Even if arms reach their intended destination, the Somali military is made up of an amalgam of former militia members, who may not be responsible with increased access to weapons.

By Rick Gladstone

March 6, 2013

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to temporarily rescind part of a 21-year-old arms embargo on Somalia, the East African country once considered synonymous with warlordism, piracy and anarchy, portraying the easing as part of an effort to strengthen the fragile Somalian government’s authority by permitting it to purchase light weapons.

A resolution adopted by the council also reauthorized, for one year, theAfrican Union Mission to Somalia, a force of nearly 18,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country. Those troops are considered largely responsible for helping bring a measure of calm and stability to Somalia over the past 18 months by retaking territory formerly held by the Shabab, a fearsome Islamist militant group affiliated with Al Qaeda.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed, who took office six months ago and has been strongly supported by the United States and Britain, had been pressing for an end to the United Nations arms embargo, arguing that it was outdated and impeded his ability to further empower Somali forces by ensuring that Shabab militants and their affiliates remain in retreat.

But a number of Security Council members worried that terminating the embargo would once again allow all manner of weapons to flow into the country, and not necessarily into the government’s hands.

There was also concern among some diplomats that the Somali military remains little more than an amalgam of former militia members who are not so disciplined as to warrant unfettered access to weapons.

The resulting language in the Security Council resolution, which was drafted by Britain, reflected a compromise.

“The council has struck the right balance,” Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador, told reporters at the United Nations after the resolution had been adopted. “It sends a positive political signal to President Hassan Sheikh, but it continues to give the council oversight of weapons flows into Somalia.”

He said the one-year suspension reflected the council’s desire to “support the federal government of Somalia in its own efforts to establish its own security and justice systems so that Somalis can have the peace and prosperity they deserve.”

The resolution permits the sale of weapons like automatic assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other firearms with calibers that do not exceed 12.7 mm, which means a broad array of weapons remain off limits. These include surface-to-air missiles, antitank guided weapons, mines and night-vision goggles.

The arms embargo was imposed in 1992, after Somalia had descended into chaos with rival clan warlords dissecting the country into fiefs. Over the next two decades, the country became a haven for Islamic militants as well as profiteering pirates who raided ships off the Horn of Africa.

Some semblance of normality began to return a few years ago. An election for president and prime minister in 2012 was the first since 1991.



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