Arms Trafficking Danger; U.S. Should Join U.N. Effort against It
Byline: Loretta Bondi, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Revelations on Iran's arms procurement, and on the extent of Libya's secret weapons program, have recently exposed illicit arms-trafficking pipelines stretching across the Middle East, Europe and South Asia. In the United States' own hemispheric neighborhood, an Organization of American States investigation linked an arms transaction between Nicaragua and Panama to brokers catering to the "Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia," a terrorist group by OAS definition. Significantly, one of the middlemen in this transaction was also connected to a Lebanese operator detained in Europe and under investigation by several nations for his ties with al Qaeda and suspected role in attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Moreover, a December 2003 United Nations report on the implementation of sanctions against al Qaeda underlined the role of middlemen moving weapons and money on behalf of terrorists. The U.N. investigators noted the growing need for an international treaty to control arms brokering and sanction-busting. Yet the United States has been adamantly opposed to such a treaty and to the creation of a U.N. specialized unit that could keep track of and "blacklist" traffickers across the world and their unsavory clients.
Since the 1990s, investigations have exposed well-honed arms smuggling pipelines and networks operated by globe-trotting brokers, transport agents, dealers and assorted facilitators. Whatever the fate of the ultimate paymasters of covert arms deals, the supporting cast of middlemen and peddlers has remained largely unscathed and outside the reach of the law.
Unlike arms manufacturers, dealers and exporters, brokers are uniquely unregulated. This is because only 16 countries in the world have laws that specifically target and hold accountable those middlemen who have consistently made a mockery of sanctions and arms trade controls.
Scant oversight, combined with governments' ineptitude or reluctance to bust illegal operators, has allowed arms peddlers to circumvent even the limited controls that already exist. For example, brokers have long been able to avoid accountability by establishing their bases in countries with extremely lax export laws. They are skilled at using fraudulent shipping documents and clandestine transport routes, such as off-the-beaten-track airstrips, roads and seaports. They are also masters in greasing their way with corrupt officials.
Shadowy as they might appear, arms middlemen have left detectable traces in their wake and seem to constitute a steady cast of characters. Indeed, some of the most notorious brokers have become "household names" in investigative circles. But the international community has been slow to react. …