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From the Bad to the Worst... Helsinki Commission Hearing Sets Sights on Arms Sales to Rogue Regimes
Monday, July 07, 2003

By Bob Hand
CSCE Staff Advisor

The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 5, 2003, to examine the transfer of arms to rogue regimes by certain participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in violation of non-proliferation obligations set forth in OSCE commitments.

Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing entitled “Arming Rogue Regimes: The Role of OSCE Participating States.” Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton testified on behalf of the Administration. Also testifying were Roman Kupchinsky, editor of Crime and Corruption Watch for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Terence Taylor, President and Executive Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the United States.

Co-Chairman Smith, in opening the hearing, stressed the importance of examining the capacity and readiness of certain OSCE participating States to be sources of supply. He emphasized the Commission’s desire to focus on the role of suppliers in the effort to curb the spread of dangerous weaponry and militarily significant equipment and technology to rogue regimes around the world.

Mr. Smith noted that, particularly among former Warsaw Pact States, several countries remained vulnerable to the lure of responding to the demand from rogue regimes for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), delivery systems and small arms or light weapons. He cited press articles and official investigations reporting that Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia, Serbia-Montenegro and Ukraine have supplied dangerous regimes and combatants with military equipment or militarily-significant technology and resources. In some cases, these revelations were followed by government efforts to stop the flow and address those responsible. However, in other cases, government officials have attempted to cover-up and deny involvement.

Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) said, “While some may claim a lack of technical know-how impedes their ability to track arms transfers, we must not lose sight of the important element of political will.” He added that the United States “cannot afford to turn to a blind eye with respect to the complicity of senior civilian and military leaders in transfers that violate international commitments or are otherwise detrimental to the security interests of the United States.” Campbell added, “At a time when the OSCE is assessing ‘new threats’ to security, it would be foolhardy to overlook the multidimensional threats posed by corruption and international crime.”

Commissioner Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) stressed his belief in the importance of such a hearing as a forum to learn the hard facts in order to benefit the world community. Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) stated that the OSCE has a particular responsibility to make sure that weapons of mass destruction are not made available to rogue regimes and terrorist organizations. Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) expressed concern as to whether the governments of France and Russia fully understand the implications of doing business deals with rogue regimes.

The three witnesses confirmed that a number of OSCE participating States possess the technology and ability to supply rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and combatants in regional conflicts with militarily significant equipment and know-how. The end of the Cold War left several Warsaw Pact States with huge stockpiles of military hardware, while economic downturns have made their military industries and research institutes desperate for funds.

Under Secretary Bolton asserted that the United States has encouraged these countries to maintain tight control over such facilities and has invested in programs to destroy surplus equipment and convert the factories into industrial production. Still, several countries remain vulnerable to the lure of responding to the demand by rogue regimes for sophisticated weapons systems as well as small arms or light weapons. Organized crime and widespread corruption compound the problem, as well as a widespread attitude that what the purchasers do with arms they buy is neither the concern nor the responsibility of the supplier.

Among specific OSCE countries cited was Belarus, where the Lukashenka regime threatens the security of others by facilitating the proliferation of arms and militarily significant equipment to rogue regimes and conflict areas around the world. “Belarus is one of the least responsive OSCE members states, and has done little to show it is serious about non-proliferation,” Bolton said, adding that since Iraq kept intricate details of all arms transactions, the United States expected to uncover significant details regarding Belarus’ role as a supplier.

Russia’s role was also discussed, especially in light of concerns about Russian technology and expertise and Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Under Secretary Bolton underscored his ongoing engagement with Moscow on non-proliferation issues and reported some progress in cooperation with the Russian Government to control exports. At the same time, questions were raised about Russia’s willingness to make greater inroads toward non-proliferation and the possibility of an “oligarch” outside the government who may be in control of deals with Iran concerning that country’s Bushehr nuclear reactor.

While President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Government may at times be very much aware of what is happening, Russian oligarchs are nevertheless a major problem. One alleged arms dealer, Victor Bout, continues to reside in Moscow despite being wanted in Belgium and the United Kingdom on an Interpol warrant, according to Mr. Kupchinsky. He alleged that the protection that Bout has in Russia is “very high-level” and that Russian Interpol has not acted on warrants that have been given to them.

Ukraine remains a major player in arms sales and transfers. Co-Chairman Campbell said President Leonid Kuchma’s personal authorization of the Kolchuga sale “renders him an unreliable partner and casts a shadow over relations with Ukraine as long as he is in power.”

Under Secretary Bolton noted that the Kolchuga incident was duly noted by other governments. “Well, I think certainly the Kolchuga incident got their attention in a major way,” he said. “And I think the Government of Ukraine is still trying to deal with that.”

Bulgaria, slated to take over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2004 also featured prominently in the hearing. It was noted that Bulgaria had a well-developed arms industry from its days as a Warsaw Pact member that led to significant arms transfers in the 1990s. Mr. Kupchinsky stated that, from his observations, the Bulgarians have not been concerned with the ultimate destination of their arms shipments and that this was an attitude persisting in most of the former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet successor states.

Mr. Taylor expressed particular concern about individuals in the private sector who are likely to be unaware of the need to protect themselves from those seeking to buy their equipment, resources or technology. Taylor also advocated greater transparency in reporting transfers of militarily-significant items and spoke positively of OSCE efforts in this area, especially with regard to small arms and light weapons.

Commissioner Cardin sought recommendations on how to make transparency laws and controls more effective internationally. Mr. Taylor said that a good framework for dealing with proliferation issues already exists on paper; however, the real challenge is ensuring that states follow through on their commitments by insisting on full compliance, thorough reporting, and accountability.

Strong export controls provide major contributions toward preventing illicit arms transfers. Mr. Bolton said that U.S. export control assistance is largely responsible for over a dozen European and Eurasian countries adopting comprehensive export control laws that meet international standards. This program was created initially to address the proliferation concerns among former Soviet Union states and others. A number of OSCE countries still need additional assistance to develop appropriate legal frameworks and increase enforcement capabilities to combat the transfers of sensitive goods and technologies.

Under Secretary Bolton stressed the top priority given by the Bush Administration to discouraging proliferation of WMD. In this regard the steps that OSCE members take toward their commitments on non-proliferation are especially important. However, as encouraging as OSCE declarations are, they are worthless if the participating States do not take them seriously. It is therefore necessary for the United States to continue its strong leadership role in both bilateral and multilateral fora to stem the proliferation of WMD and the means to deliver them, including robust enforcement of U.S. non-proliferation laws.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.


United States Helsinki Commission Intern Michael Peterson contributed to this article.

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