Gender, security and the arms trade


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.

Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga: Bargaining over North Korea


Tensions have subsided on the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang withdrew its Musadan missiles from its east-coast launch site earlier this month, and the US and China have turned their attention to more pressing issues.

But the next time North Korea increases tensions, the United States will again look to China to rein in its ally. And Beijing might look for concessions in return, writes IISS’s Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga for the China–US Focus website.

‘China is able to wield North Korea as leverage because the Obama administration has outsourced its North Korea policy to Beijing,’ he argues.

The Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has failed to accomplish its intended goal of curbing North Korean provocations. Making Pyongyang’s cessation of hostilities a condition for direct US–North Korea contact leaves the United States no choice but to court Beijing for solutions.

It could be time for the United States to approach Pyongyang directly, particularly because Beijing may no longer be interested in bargaining.

‘The US “rebalancing” to Asia has increased Chinese suspicions of US intensions in the region, and thereby reduced Chinese goodwill to cooperate on resolving the North Korea issue, leaving Beijing seeking compensation for cooperation,’ he adds.

‘The United States can decrease the value of North Korea as a Chinese bargaining chip by increasing dialogue with China on US intensions in the region and by reclaiming its North Korea policy through reviving direct talks with the Kim regime.’

Read the full article.

Christian Le Miere: An exercise in deterrence


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

Although the Shangri-La Dialogue will hold much of the Institute’s – and international – attention over the coming week, the IISS will remain active on other issues.

Yesterday, the IISS’ Bahrain office held the NATO Gulf Strategic Dialogue, bringing together a range of practitioners and academics, and in just under a week the Geo-Economics and Strategy Programme will run a seminar on Oil, Gas and Maritime Security.

The timing of these two sessions is not entirely coincidental. Just last week, the US Navy wrapped up its second annual two-week International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (IMCMEX). Involving participants from 41 different countries, the exercises are essentially a form of deterrent diplomacy.

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India and Japan: a confluence of interests


By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives in Tokyo this week for what may well be his most important foreign visit in his second term in office. The visit’s importance derives as much from the particular economic interests of India and Japan, as both economies seek to boost growth, trade and investment, as it does from the realisation that they must work together to temper China’s ‘new assertiveness’ in its neighbourhood.

Confluence of the two seas
After a gap of nearly six years, there may once again be a meeting of minds between Prime Minister Singh and his host, Japan’s bold ‘new’ leader Shinzo Abe, who, during his first term in office in 2006–07, took the initiative to seek a ‘new relationship’ with India.

On a visit in August 2007, he told the Indian Parliament that Japan had ‘rediscovered’ India ‘as a partner that shares the same values and interests and also as a friend that will work alongside us to enrich the seas of freedom and prosperity, which will be open and transparent to all’.

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Obama presses ‘reset’ button for war on terror

Photo Credit: Flickr/White House

Photo Credit: Flickr/White House

In his national security speech on 23 May, President Obama may have focused on the specific issues of the Guantanamo detention centre and drone strikes, but he also used the speech to set out a new approach to national security and counter-terrorism that his administration has been working towards for the past four years.

This speech could mark the point at which the US government begins to shift away from a counter-terrorism approach that has become excessive and unsustainable, towards one that enables resources to be redirected towards more salient national-security issues. Obama noted that the United States could not remain at war forever and needed an exit strategy; the threat from terrorism was now from ‘lethal, yet less capable, al-Qaeda affiliates, threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad, homegrown extremists’.

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The future of oil

The increase in US oil and natural gas production could have a dramatic effect on world energy markets, according to Dr Pierre Noel, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security at IISS–Asia.

Dr Noel appeared on CNN yesterday to discuss the future of the global oil market, the effect of sanctions against Iran, and new figures released by the International Energy Agency indicating increased oil and gas production in the United States.

‘US unconventional liquid supply is growing by a million barrels a day each year, which has the potential to revive the growth of non-OPEC supplies,’ he explained. The effect on future oil prices however is unclear, and ‘depends on the supply–demand balance, and it is very difficult to know what’s ahead of us’, he said.

‘Demand is growing rapidly in emerging economies: China, India but also Southeast Asia – so you may actually need this rise in unconventional supply, especially if other parts of the supply picture disappoint.’ US and EU sanctions against Iran, for example, might also make this unconventional supply a necessity.

Dr Noel discussed the effect the sanctions might have on the Iranian presidential elections in June. He explained that the latest round of sanctions were ‘working’ – meaning that the situation was getting harder for the Iranian population – but that this would not necessarily mean the public would choose a leader more open to engaging with the West. ‘The risk that I see politically is that a larger and larger share of the population will actually reward a politician tempted by a hardening of the Iranian position, rather than a softening,’ he said.

He also discussed the security impact that a hard-line Iranian position would have on the region,  explaining that Iran’s neighbours were worried about the connection between Iran and the crisis in Syria. ‘I think the governments in this part of the world see the future as a very risky one geopolitically,’ he added.

Watch the video.

For more on this topic, watch the IISS’s May 15 panel discussion on the future of the Middle East oil environment, and read the IISS Strategic Comment on the United States’ falling need for foreign oil.

India’s quest for Arctic ice

ARCTIC OCEAN – The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent ties up to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 5, 2009. The two ships are taking part in a multi-year, multi-agency Arctic survey that will help define the Arctic continental shelf.  Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard

Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley/U.S. Coast Guard

By Suvi Dogra, Research and Liaison Officer, Geo-economics and Strategy Programme

From the Antarctic to the Arctic?

Over 30 years ago, India surprised the world with its expedition to the Antarctic. It may have surprised once again by securing observer status at the Arctic Council – a grouping of Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US). For months, the Arctic Council has been debating the issue of admitting observers to its gatherings. Last week the Council decided to admit six new observers  ̶  China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Interestingly, the EU has not yet been admitted.

While the observers have no say in the decision-making process, this inclusion is significant, because it shows the Arctic Council is no longer defining itself in geographic terms and has factored in geo-economic elements. The economic rise of China and India is bound to impact on the Arctic region, both through global warming and their widening maritime footprint and interest in the Arctic’s vast oil and gas resources.

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