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NATO Should Promote Responsible Arms Sales

Open Letter to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Foreign Ministers

This is an open letter to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Foreign Ministers regarding Promotion of Responsible Arms Trade Practices.

We believe NATO has an important role to play in promoting responsible arms trading practices by its partners and in assisting with the responsible disposal of surplus weapons. We have engaged in a dialogue with Secretary-General Robertson and his predecessor, Javier Solana, on this topic. In addition, we have raised concerns about arms-related issues directly with individual EAPC governments, including by exchanging correspondence with a number of PfP countries about national arms trade controls and surplus weapons stocks.

We have been pleased to see a growing commitment by NATO and PfP countries, acting through the EAPC and in other fora, to address the problems posed by the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons. In particular, efforts by the ad hoc EAPC working group on small arms have led to important action on several fronts, including the development of programs offered within the PfP framework to assist partner countries with stockpile security and destruction of surplus weapons (as outlined in a new Partnership Work Program chapter on small arms), as well as various meetings held to discuss scope for EAPC action on arms export controls.

We understand that these consultations will be reported at the upcoming ministerials and, in light of the EAPC's ongoing work on these issues, we'd like to highlight three areas in which we hope there will be further progress.
Stemming the Flow of Surplus Weapons

Human Rights Watch has called on NATO to help remove excess arms from an already-glutted market by providing funds to finance the responsible disposal (e.g., through destruction) of excess military equipment held by partners and new allies. Such financing should be made available to address larger weapons systems, as well as small arms and light weapons. One precedent is offered by the United States, which in late 1997 purchased twenty-one surplus MiG-29 combat aircraft from Moldova to preempt their possible sale to Iran.

While new PfP programs regarding disposal of surplus small arms are optional, we feel that PfP countries should be actively encouraged to take advantage of all programs that will help address the proliferation of these weapons. In addition, where appropriate, NATO member states should arrange exchanges, by which the transfer of newer military equipment to PfP or new NATO states would be contingent on the recipient country's responsible disposal of quantities of surplus weapons. Such arrangements could do much to prevent weapons from ending up in the hands of abusive military forces.

Harmonization of Arms Trade Controls

NATO also should address the larger problem of the need for strict arms trade controls. A number of PfP countries have a troubling record of arms transfers to human rights abusers, often involving both government-authorized deals and illicit arms trafficking by private traders who are not under adequate government control. We are encouraged to learn that the EAPC working group is considering initiatives to promote improvements in national export controls and has discussed harmonization of such controls. We hope that these initiatives are further developed and approved by the EAPC, and that the highest possible standards are adopted.

Scrutiny of Aspirant Countries

Human Rights Watch holds that NATO should use its considerable leverage to encourage aspirant members to undertake needed reforms. Recognizing that NATO expansion is not formally on the agenda of the spring ministerials, we feel that anticipated discussions on implementation of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program and Membership Action Plans (MAPs) submitted by candidate countries provide an important forum in which arms trade issues should be addressed. In these and future discussions related to NATO expansion, we urge you to explicitly link consideration of each aspirant country's NATO candidacy to the responsible disposal of surplus weapons and, more generally, strict arms trade controls.

Thank you very much for your consideration.


Stephen D. Goose, Acting Executive Director, Arms Division
Lotte Leicht, Director, Brussels Office

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