- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

Kathi Austin, director of the Arms and Conflict Program with the Fund for Peace in Washington, recently spoke with Washington Times reporter Steve Park about arms trafficking and ways to prevent it.
Question: The United Nations uses arms embargoes as a means to control the illegal flow of small arms. Are the U.N. embargoes effective?
Answer: No country has adequate national laws to stop arms dealers from running their businesses. Moreover, the U.N. has no means of enforcing their embargoes. The arms dealers' industry is a small but transnational circle. Consequently, some kind of international regime [to monitor and control arms traffic] is necessary.
Q: If you say that the business of arms trafficking comprises only a small circle of dealers, couldn't individual countries simply arrest them and prevent future flow of weapons without creating an international regime?
Simply arresting big names such as Victor Bout would not stop the arms-trafficking industry. So far only 12 countries have adopted laws that define and enunciate the legal requirements of arms brokers.
Q: But the U.S. Congress in 1996 made an amendment to the Arms Export Control Act that requires all U.S. national and foreign brokers to register and obtain licenses for all arms deals that they transact whether on or off American soil. Isn't this sufficient to prevent arms dealers from engaging in illegal arms sales on U.S. soil?
The United States has the best laws on the book. Nevertheless, there has yet to be a single prosecution of an arms dealer under our laws due to bureaucratic and legal loopholes. Because of these loopholes, many arms dealers including Victor Bout have been reported [by the U.N.] to have operated in Texas and Florida. He is also suspected of having delivered weapons to al Qaeda just days before the September 11 attacks.
Q: Do you know of any other arms brokers who do business in the United States?
Others include Sarkis Soghanalian and his accomplice Charles Acelor. They air-dropped about 10,000 Kalashnikov rifles from Jordan to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1999. Fred Keller is another American arms dealer who flew arms to [the Great Lakes region of] Africa.
Nevertheless, the U.S. government did not arrest him because he was also delivering weapons to the Sudanese People Liberation Army, an ally of the United States.
Q: Where are these arms dealers now?
Sarkis Soghanalian is right now in Jordan, since July of 2001. His accomplice Charles Acelor is in jail in Germany after being arrested by the Interpol. Fred Keller was last seen in Congo in 1997.
Q: Mr. Bout remains free in Russia today avoiding extradition to Belgium. How would you describe the U.S. government's response to this matter?
It is at best lukewarm. What is fascinating to me is the U.S. government's hypocrisy. On the one hand we say we want international agreement on arms brokers. But we are wary of arresting covert arms dealers because we had a long relationship with them and also because they are potential national security resources in the future.
Q: Do you notice any changes in the U.S. government's attitudes toward arms dealers and illegal weapons sales since the September 11 attacks?
I do think that under the Bush administration, with the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government is forced to take notice of the damage that these traffickers have committed. However, I think that we are still far from being pro-active. I still don't see them wielding the muscle because they haven't quite prioritized fighting illegal-arms trafficking.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide