Tracking Small Arms Ammunition
International shipments of Small arms ammunition can be easily traced and tracked, ending or greatly reducing the illegal trade that is rampant. By implementing procedures that are already worldwide standards in most industries, rogue operators and smugglers could be quickly put out of business.
The first step is for Governments to have the will to end the current state of affairs regarding the illegal circulation of small arms ammunition.
This paper will describe steps needed to be put into place for a global process that can track, and is able to trace all small arms ammunition movements, from the manufacturer, through the various agents, middlemen, shippers, customs agents, and transshipment ports all the way to the soldier or rebel that inserts a round into a weapon and fires it.
Many reports have been prepared dealing with the illegal trade of Small arms and ammunition, and the need to control or curtail it. These reports outline the problems and consequences, statistics, costs related to rebel activities, estimated deaths that result each year and many other important points, without offering effective solutions. This paper outlines steps that need to be implemented within the commercial sectors involved, but mainly within the shipping industry, that will trace and track each shipment, making it next to impossible for smuggling or diverting to continue.
None of the steps needed to be implemented are new to Industry. Food, drugs, aircraft spare parts, soft drinks, chemicals and many other items already have tracing and tracking mechanisms in place. Industries that are considered “special” have been forced to adapt to very strict and tight controls, from the manufacturing cycle, thru the logistics cycle all the way to delivery to the end user. If governments would consider the small arms ammunition industry as sensitive to humans and global security as is the aircraft spare parts industry, then effective steps to prevent smuggling would have been put into effect long ago.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has shut down companies that deal with aircraft spare parts that are not from OEM sources. They are able to locate warehouses that deal with non original parts through simple yet effective tracing and tracking measures in place. These measures involve players at each step of the Supply Chain, from the manufacturer through various agents to the delivery at the final location.
Mercedes Benz, in the year 2000 stopped sending temporarily to
and Kosovo automobile spare parts, unless the VIN (Vehicle Identification Numbers) of the auto to be repaired was provided. Due to the large number of stolen Mercedes that were smuggled out of Albania Europe and into these Balkan countries, the manufacturer was attempting to find a scheme to locate stolen vehicles. It was successful in many cases.
Just after the
September 11, 2001 attack on the , the financial industry was forced to make major changes in its modus operandi. Financial institutions that offered any type of money transfer services were forced to register themselves as such, and obtain information about their clients. Failing to do so resulted in not being able to work with other industry partners. Limits to amounts being transferred were also introduced. Overnight, a “money tracking” scheme was introduced globally. Financial operators that worked outside this system were labeled as “illegal” and unable to partner with the others. World Trade Center
In the year 2007, a containerized shipment of ammunition destined for the Chinese contingent working under the UN flag in
Darfur was intercepted after leaving while in transit. The shipment has not been recovered, but many rebel groups in the region may be using the stolen cartridges. If some simple tracing and tracking mechanisms were already in place, it would be easy to verify which rebel group, or military group is in possession of the shipment. Knowing which group is currently using this ammunition would also show links between various players. Port Sudan
The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has been living in the bush, between
South Sudan, the DR and Congo for more than 20 years, and is still heavily armed. There is only speculation on how the LRA is re-supplying itself with weapons and ammo, but if effective tracing and tracking measures were to be put in place, it would be easy to “name and shame” who the supplier(s) is, as well as the entire supply chain. Central African Republic
The United Nations in the DR Congo was asked to help relocate several government military ammo depots, to more secure locations. The government was worried about these items falling into rebel hands, either through insider trading, or through attacks. This request points out the need for ammunition tracing and tracking procedures, even to assist with ammo depot management. Without these procedures, the Government of DR Congo will never know if the rebels they are fighting are shooting with the same bullets that belong to its regular army.
The DR Congo has been under an arms embargo for several years, yet dozens of armed rebel groups operate. Where do these arms and ammunition continue to come from? The United Nations Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) has the world’s largest military Peace Keeping army, and these armies routinely receive fresh ammo shipments from their home country, which are exempt from the arms embargo. There have been several cases of alleged selling/trading of arms and ammo by these Peace Keepers to various Rebel groups. If there were tracing and tracking mechanisms in place, the United Nations would be in a better position to prove as false these allegations.
In mid December 2009, a cargo aircraft was inspected after landing in Bangkok, and 35 tons of weapons and ammo were found on board. If tracing and tracking mechanisms were in place, the supplier, end user and middle-men agents, including any complacent Customs Agents, Freight Forwarders and Carriers could have been identified and punished/sanctioned.
The list of Industry examples that use some type of tracking on its supply chain is endless. The list of examples of mis-directed ammunition shipments is also endless, but these losses could be ended. Consider the 7 points below:
1. The production of small arms ammunition must be globally declared as a “Special Item”. Manufacturers must be identified, registered and their production monitored.
2. Small arms ammunition, better known as cartridges, need to have markings that indicate a production lot. The manufacturer must participate, or risk sanctions.
3. Shipping documents including invoices need to show the
Lot numbers and have a special indication that Ammunitions are being shipped.
4. Shipping documents must clearly indicate origin, transit points and final destination as well as the final end user. At each step of the shipping process, the next and previous point must be informed/notified.
5. Customs and Clearing agents that process these documents need to be held responsible for their actions, and have a name, rather than generic title indicated on the documents. Failure to comply would result in sanctions.
6. All of the Freight Forwarders and Transportation Carriers involved in the Logistics Chain must be responsible for reporting Ammunitions that they carry. Failure to do so would result in sanctions.
7. A data-base to record International ammunitions shipment could easily be established and maintained. The entire world is connected via the Internet, and every Clearing Agent, Freight Forwarder and manufacturer on the globe has access, even if limited access to the internet.
Most products that are sold have some type of lot number that indicates the manufacturer, the date of production and other basic information. All cartridges and their packaging should have markings as well. Currently, most officially recognized ammunitions manufactures already put a marking on the bottom ring of each cartridge. But, the markings are not standardized. There is a need for a standardization system that identifies, as a minimum, the country of origin, the manufacturer, the date of production, and a consecutive
Lot number. Some manufacturers use recycled cartridges with the markings from other manufacturers. This practice should be banned.
Commercial and Shipping documents must include this standardized
Lot number, which is key to any type of tracing and tracking.
Currently, Airway bills, ocean Bills-of-Lading and road transport documents throughout the world are not required to have specific information that identifies ammunitions, which allows for loop holes and vague documentation. Many international shipping documents and commercial invoices make mention of “see attached”, or “as agreed” or other ambiguous phrases. It is important for all documentation to be clear and precise, stating exactly what type of ammunition is being sent, the
Lot number, the quantity being sent, the Shipper, Consignee and End User, all listed on one document.
The Shipping documents must also indicate the Manufacturer, the port/airport of origin, transit points, transshipment points and the “final destination”. Often times, sensitive shipments either disappear or are rerouted at transit points. If all transit and transshipment points are indicated in advance on the original shipping documents, and Customs Officials and Customs/Clearing Agents held responsible for untransparent actions, fewer sensitive shipments could be diverted. There must also be communication between these points of origin, transit and final destination, to inform all concerning the arrivals and departures.
Many Freight Forwarding companies throughout the world are registered with industry associations, lending a sense of reliability and accountability. However, not all Forwarding agents are registered. Similar to the financial institutions that were required to register their money transferring activities and clients (just after
Sept 11, 2001), all Freight Forwarding companies should also be identified and registered. Freight Forwarders are the main player that deal with all the cargo that circulates the globe. As such, it is this group of operators have the greatest impact and most important role in making any tracing and tracking system work.
Nothing in the world, whether licit or illicit, moves across borders without the involvement of a Freight Forwarding company or its Agent.
Shipping companies around the world also have trade associations and industry standards. IATA is the standard bearer for air carriers, and when an air carrier does not maintain the established standards, the world is informed by IATA. Air Carriers that do not comply with these recommended conditions and standards should be prohibited from carrying sensitive cargo and reported to Industry Associations. The same condition should hold true for Ocean transportation carriers. Road transportation is more complicated due to a lack of any world wide governing association. But, regional governments like the East African Community, Gulf Cooperating Countries, ECOWAS, and EU can create and enforce Regional road transportation regulations.
If the various carrier organizations and associations would band together to enforce, or be forced to enforce the recommended standards dealing with ammunitions shipments, and identify those carriers that do not accept the recommended standards, illegal shipments would be limited to an identifiable group of carriers. The same principle holds true for other players in the Logistics Chain, like Freight Forwarders, Manufacturers and Clearing Agents.
If the above recommendations were in vigor, how could a rogue supplier and his accomplices then be identified? Through “reverse logistics”.
For example, a village in DR Congo is attacked by an unknown group, and shots are fired. The first step is to recover empty spent cartridge casings. To recover empty cartridges in the middle of the bush is not as difficult as it may seem. The DR Congo, as well as many other countries in conflict, have many UN Peace Keeping soldiers or other humanitarian operators that respond to incursions to provide aid or support. From these empty cartridges, the manufacturer and
Lot number can be identified, providing all the relevant info needed to trace the shipment back through the reverse supply chain, from the declared end user and final delivery location thru the various ports all the way to the point of origin. For example, whether the final declared destination was or Uganda would already narrow the search for the source of who supplied these “rebels”. How was the shipment delivered inland from the sea or air port? By identifying the Clearing and Forwarding Agents, and in-land transporters, much can be learned. Rwanda
Even if the shipment was done before the recommended standards went into effect, the cartridge casings would at least indicate, more than likely, the country of origin. Within the DR Congo and other countries that have Peace Keeping troops, to have a record of their ammunition supplies means also being able to prove non-involvement.
Currently, the various Peace Keeping contingents do not have records about their ammunition supplies, and therefore are not able to show non-involvement, despite allegations.
RESPONSABILITIES OF EACH PLAYER IN THE LOGISTICS CHAIN:
1. MANUFACTURER: To ensure that the all cartridges produced have the designated markings and that all packaging includes the
Lot number. Every shipment that exits the premises is to be recorded and registered.
2. CLEARING AGENT/FREIGHT FORWARDER: To make sure that all shipment documents related to any ammunition shipment includes the data indicated above on the
Air Way bill, the ocean Bill-of-Lading or whichever type of transportation document is used. The Forwarding agent should ensure that any ammunition shipment is added to the established database used to track small arms ammunition shipments. The carriers’ agent in each port/airport should update the database to indicate the current location and the next port/airport. Once the shipment is delivered to the Final Destination, the database must be updated to indicate its delivery. Shipments that do not get updated after leaving the manufacturer should be considered as rogue.
3. CUSTOMS AGENTS: To make sure that all ammunition shipment documents conform to the items being shipped, as well as the packaging. Once the Custom agent logs the entry, the office must inform the next Customs office, based on the transit plans. The transit and final Customs offices must confirm to the previously visited Customs station, that the shipment arrived in tact or with discrepancies. This system follows the same principles of Customs tracking already in vigor around the world.
4. THE CARRIER: The carrier must log the presence of all ammunition shipments in the Captains or Pilots log. It should be the responsibility of the Captain or Pilot in Command to make sure that local authorities are immediately informed upon arrival, of the presence of ammunition on board.
5. END USER: To update the data base and to close the circuit.
In summary, the illegal trade and movement across borders of small arms ammunition can be stopped, but requires the input from International Organizations and Governments to impose small changes to some industry regulations. And these stakeholders must have the will to do this.