Anchor Marco Werman talks with Matt Schroeder, director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists, about the complicated issue of arming the rebels in Libya. Download MP3
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. The fighting continues in Libya, at this point, the conflict there appears to be a stalemate. The regime of Muammar Gaddafi is holding the west while continuing to do battle with the rebels in the east. Earth strikes by US and United Forces are said to have diminished Gaddafi’s military power, but the regime still has the upper hand. The rebels are reported to be ill-equipped and that has prompted a debate in Washington and elsewhere, about supplying them with better weapons. Matt Schroeder directs the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists; he says one of the most important issues to consider is that weapons given to the rebels could end up in the wrong hands.
Matt Schroeder: Historically speaking, there are few, if any, examples of efforts to arm non state actors that have not resulted in the diversion of at least some of the weapons that are provided to those actors. There are steps that can be taken and have been taken in previous efforts that are similar to this one, or that may be similar to this one, such as controlling which units get the weapons and monitoring their use of the weapons, and not providing them too many weapons at any given time, keeping track of serial numbers, keeping track of inventoriesâ€¦
Werman: I imagine that the kind of weapon also comes into play. I mean, it’s one thing to hand a rightful over to rebels, it’s an entirely different question to hand over a service to air missile, I guessâ€¦
Schroeder: Exactly. There are certain weapons that should be taken off the table immediately, andâ€¦
Werman: Like what?
Schroeder: Well, portable, guided anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The terrorist and insurgent threat from those missiles is simply too great for the US to either provide those weapons, or to sanction the provision of those weapons to the Libyan rebels. And, any effort to arm the rebels should include as part of the planning, a very thorough analysis of the inventories and of the ammos of the terrorist groups, insurgent groups and other criminal groups in the region. So, if certain groups have AK series of assault rifles, for example, one might be more hesitant to provide large quantities of ammunition for those assault rifles. So, a little bit of analysis and some very, very careful planning can go a long way.
Werman: And, this is not theory. I mean, tell us a bit, and remind us about instances in the past when some of the same concerns that we’re discussing now about Libya have been raised and how they played out.
Schroeder: Right, well, I think that one of the best known examples of diversion of weapons provided to non-state actors are the stinger missiles that were provided to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, during their war against the soviets. Those weapons were extremely effective; they decimated, at least for a period, soviet aircraft that were operating largely with impunity until the stinger was introduced. At the same time, despite reported efforts by the CIA to keep very careful track of the missiles, to only hand out additional missiles at an expanded launch that had been turned in to punish groups that were guilty of large scale diversion, despite these efforts, several hundred missiles, reportedly, were unaccounted for, even several years after the effort, and despite a 50 million dollar buyback program. So, even in those cases where we had a government, the Pakistani government, that had close ties to the rebels, we had years of planning, we had very thorough efforts by the CIA to prevent diversionâ€¦ even in those cases, missiles were diverted and they ended up in the hands of terrorist groups in South Asia, the Chechen rebels, hostile regimes in Iran and other places. So, it’s a very important lesson.
Werman: I mean, there has been a lively debate about arming the Libyan rebels, I’m just wondering if the caution in that debate can be dated all the way back to the stinger episode in Afghanistan.
Schroeder: Yeah, I imagine, given the players involved in that debate, that that is in the back of their minds. I should also mention, however, that when one talks about arming the rebels, there’s a wide array of items that could be provided. And, I think some are much less problematic, such as providing spears for existing military vehicles, providing communications equipment that isn’t particularly sensitive, some of that could have significant operational effect while posing little or no diversion threat.
Werman: Matt Schroeder, director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a think tank in Washington D.C. Matt, thank you very much.
Schroeder: Thank you.
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