Gender, security and the arms trade

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By Claire Willman, Executive Assistant to the Director-General and Chief Executive

If one were asked to picture a person with a gun, of the many images that may come to mind – a soldier or police officer, a member of a rebel militia or gang, a sniper or a hunter – it is unlikely to be a woman. Indeed, a much smaller number of gun owners are women. In the United States, for example, men are three times as likely as women to personally own a gun, by 37% to 12%. Worldwide, men are six times more likely to commit armed murder than women. They are also more likely to be killed by a gun, representing 90% of small-arms homicide victims.

But women are disproportionately the victims of the effects of armed violence. The new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) contains provisions that are meant to address this reality, but the treaty language may prevent it from succeeding.

The ATT, approved by the UN General Assembly in April 2013 and opened for signature on Monday 3 June, will regulate the multi-billion-dollar global trade in ‘conventional weapons’ – including small arms, light weapons, landmines, shells, rockets and missiles. The ATT is the first treaty to acknowledge the link between the arms trade and its effect on women worldwide. Article 7.4 obligates states to ‘take into account the risk of the conventional arms … being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children’. As such, preventing ‘gender-based violence’ is a legally binding consideration for the export process.

The treaty recognises that women suffer hugely as a result of conflict, whether through fatalities, injury, widowhood, displacement and economic deprivation resulting from conflict. Women are also predominantly the victims of sexual violence that accompanies conflict. Female Bosnian victims of rape during the 1990s Balkan conflict are estimated to number between 20,000 and 50,000; the figure for the 1994 Rwandan genocide is a quarter of a million, and for the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the figure is as high as one million.

However, a country does not have to be at war for women to suffer the effects of armed violence. In a 2003 study, the presence of a gun in a US home was found to increase a man’s chances of sustaining fatal injuries by 41%, but a woman’s by 272%, because of the prevalence of domestic assaults. Domestic violence is widespread, responsible for anywhere between 40-70% of female homicide victims. The proliferation of guns plays a significant role in facilitating human trafficking, which mainly involves female victims.

While admirable in its attempt, however, the ATT’s gender provision has its critics. A particular issue with Article 7.4 is that its language, bracketing ‘women and children’ as a group, defines women as de facto vulnerable, and fails to recognise the key roles they can play in conflict. Women can undoubtedly be guilty of violence themselves, whether participating in combat or crime, or facilitating the violent behaviour of others.

They also have an important role to play in enacting the treaty in the areas of conflict resolution and disarmament, much like female peace activists in Liberia.

Article 7.4 on gender-based violence comes under Article 7, setting out the factors that states are obligated to consider when exporting to other nations. They must assess whether arms exports could ‘contribute to or undermine peace and security’. The language is problematic, because peace and security can be ambiguous, perhaps even subjective concepts, and how states choose to frame the treaty obligations could vary.

A country does not have to be at war to be violent. More people were fatally shot in Brazil in 2005 than during the first three years of the Iraq War. Neither Bangladesh nor South Africa are at war, but in the latter, a woman is killed by a domestic partner every eight hours; in the former, a WHO study found that nearly half of women interviewed in rural areas reported being raped by their husbands. Exporting arms to these regions could further threaten women’s security.

Article 7.4 is a significant step forward, but fails to address important realities of armed violence and its associated effect on women. An international enforcement mechanism is also lacking. The treaty’s gender-based-violence provision serves as a potent example of why, for many, the ambitious ATT is at once an historic victory for regulating the arms trade, but may fall short of its ambitions and purpose.


China’s new maritime focus ‘not all bad’

Chinese naval ships near James Shoal Photo Navy 81 CN

China has clearly turned its eyes to the sea in its new defence white paper, which for the first time officially suggests ‘safeguarding maritime rights and interests’ and ‘protecting overseas interests’. The fact that Beijing followed up these words with a naval excursion in March to the James Shoal (or Zengmu Reef), the southernmost point of its extensive claim to the South China Sea, has only increased the nervousness among its neighbours as to what its increasingly dominant presence in regional waters will mean.

But, IISS Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security Christian Le Miere counsels in a new piece for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin, China’s ‘return to the sea’ may not be all negative.

Beijing’s renewed naval focus has prompted a reorganisation of its maritime agencies, ‘merging four of the five “dragons” that have been at the forefront of its ongoing sovereignty disputes in the South and East China Seas’. With a unified command, our senior fellow argues, there is a clearer sense of who to call to ensure disagreements do not escalate. Similarly, Beijing will not be able to disavow the actions of its agencies.

Furthermore, ‘it is possible that China’s increasing strength could be directed towards beneficial outcomes’. Given its desire to ensure the security of shipping, for example, Beijing could be encouraged to assist in policing international maritime thoroughfares. Since its return to the sea is inevitable, encouraging Beijing to subscribe to current international maritime laws may be the best way forward.

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Chinese-US defence spending projections

MB13 China–US Defence Spending Projections
By Giri Rajendran, Research Associate for Defence and Economics

In preparing the latest edition of the Military Balance, launched last week in London and this week in the United States, the IISS team behind the book decided to try an experiment. Since the United States and China are the world’s biggest spenders on defence, and China a distant second, we wanted to see when both countries’ defence spending might converge.

We based our projections on several hypothetical scenarios, including one in which the trend rates of defence-spending growth over the past decade in the US and China were to continue, and another in which Chinese defence-spending growth was constrained by an economic slowdown. (Looking at past examples, particularly the 1980s Latin American debt crisis, we assumed that China’s economy would start booming again by 2031.) The US budget sequester was another variable we had to factor in.

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Hard truths about Singapore’s defence

Singapore recruits during training Photo Cyberpioneer

By William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security

Recent months have seen national service and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) popping up as topics of discussion and debate among Singaporeans. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday a new committee would conduct a comprehensive review of the support network around national service. Recently, Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a member of parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh constituency, called for a defence tax on permanent residents and foreigners.

Last year, nearly 70% of Singaporeans polled in an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey said that having a male child who had completed NS is an important characteristic of being ‘Singaporean’. And director Jack Neo’s Ah Boys To Men two-parter hit – movies about the trials and tribulations of a group of recruits – has broken new records at the box office, reflecting popular interest in national service.

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Why China sent its aircraft carrier to Qingdao

Chinese aircraft carrierLiaoning arrives at Qingdao. Photo English.news.cn

By Christian Le Miere, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

China’s recent announcement that it would base its first aircraft carrier in Qingdao, in the country’s north-east, surprised those who had watched a massive naval base being built from scratch on southern Hainan Island over the past decade and expected that showcase construction project to house the showcase vessel. Hainan’s Yulin base is a complex and modern facility replete with an underground submarine base. But there are other reasons for China to choose instead to base its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its North Sea Fleet at Qingdao.

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Future of the British Army

Soldiers standing on parade Defence Images

The institute’s Ben Barry has contributed to a piece published by the BBC today, asking how recently announced defence cuts will shape the British Army of the future. The restructured force will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2017, while the number of reservists will double to 30,000.

Brigadier Barry, who left the army in October 2010, calls it the ‘most radical reorganisation for 50 years’.

‘The Army 2020 design [as the plan is called] displays many innovative ideas and structures,’ he writes, ‘reflecting many hard lessons of the Iraq and Afghan wars and the likely challenges of future land operations, particularly fighting “hybrid” enemies and the increasing requirement for urban operations.

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Behind the Mali headlines, an issue of airlift

RAF C17 Transport Aircraft. Photo MoD under an Open Government Licence

By Douglas BarrieJames Hackett and Henry Boyd, Defence and Military Analysis Programme

Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.

But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.

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