Armin Rosen writes today in The Atlantic about a recent headline grabbing study by Conflict Armament Research. The study is focused on the Iranian regime’s role in supplying ammunition and various small arms to Africa. As the report indicates, and Rosen relates, Iranian arms are likely reaching far flung conflicts on the continent via a pipeline that leads from Iran, to Sudan, and then to other points further afield. The case studies in the report include Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, South Sudan, Niger, Nigeria, and Uganda, a disturbingly politically and geographically diverse set of countries. Luckily there is a silver lining:
[T]he researchers found encouraging evidence that international sanctions on Iranian arms exports successfully stanched the flow of Iranian ammo to some parts of Africa. Bevan says that a transaction between the governments of Guinea and Iran was closed shortly before international sanctions on Iranian arms went into effect in 2007. Kenya, which bought ammunition directly from the Iranian government, stopped doing so as soon as sanctions were passed. This is one area where international law is working– the report recounts how a massive shipment of Iranian mortars, impact fuses, hand grenades, rockets and ammunition was seized in Nigeria in 2010.
Rosen goes on to highlight some other ways in which Iran’s negative impact on regional stability in Africa can be mitigated. He cites Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, who says: ”There’s no international requirement that says that Iran must report on its arms or ammunition exports. And so it is very easy for their exports to get into the hands of irresponsible actors.” This is something that can obviously be changed, and in rather short order. Luckily there will be an opportunity when the UN convenes to discuss a global arms trade treaty in March.
The other realistic option put forward by Rosen is this:
[T]o continue stigmatizing and isolating a government (Sudan) with such close ties to the most destabilizing state (Iran) and non-state actors in the Middle East. Sudan is an especially nettlesome test-case for the larger sticks versus carrots debate: sanctions, scrutiny, and even the International Criminal Court indictment of its highest-ranking leaders has failed to affect much meaningful change in Khartoum, but a more conciliatory policy, like the one pursued by former Obama administration Sudan envoy Scott Gration, hasn’t yielded many results either. The CAR report is additional proof that the dilemma’s difficulty hardly lessens its urgency–and of the human and geopolitical cost of Iranian policy in Africa.