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Regional Seminar on MANPADS

Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr., Special Envoy for MANPADS Threat Reduction
Remarks at the Regional Seminar on MANPADS Hosted by the Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA)
Nairobi, Kenya
July 2, 2008

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this regional seminar on MANPADS, and thank you to the Regional Centre on Small Arms for hosting this important event. I know I speak for all of my colleagues from the United States, and I will add the UK, in thanking our Kenyan hosts for their warm welcome and gracious hospitality these past two days. All of us have truly enjoyed being with you in this beautiful city. I also want to thank each of the seminar participants for taking time out of your busy schedule to address the critical security issues relating to MANPADS. I appreciate your hard work over the past two days as the group has discussed ways to stem the spread of these weapons, which can be so dangerous in the hands of non-state violent extremists.

We were honored and very fortunate yesterday at the opening of this seminar to hear the strong message from the Assistant Minister of State for Defense, Major General Joseph Nkaissery, about the importance of the work you are performing. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the leadership and vision of Dr. Francis Sang, the Executive Secretary of RECSA, and the fine work of his able staff. Dr. Sang’s dedication and commitment to the goals of RECSA are an inspiration and a key to our shared success. It has been a privilege for the American team to work with RECSA and with the Focal Point members from participating states. Thank you all for your efforts.

If you will permit me to mention one of my own associates, I wish to note the singular role of my colleague from the State Department, Ms. Stephanie Pico, working in partnership with Dr. Sang and RECSA from its inception to bring us to this level of productive cooperation. I am in her debt for advancing my own mission here and in the surrounding region.

As Francis mentioned, in January of this year, I was appointed by President Bush as the U.S. Special Envoy for MANPADS Threat Reduction, a step further emphasizing my government’s recognition of the challenges posed by MANPADS proliferation outside of responsible state control.

Like all of your countries, the United States is deeply concerned about the illicit acquisition of these weapons and the possibility that they may be used by extremists. Therefore, since 2003, the U.S. has partnered with 25 countries to destroy over 26,000 excess and obsolete MANPADS. In addition, we have partnered with several regional organizations to adopt the MANPADS control guidelines discussed during this seminar. Over 95 countries have agreed to these strict controls.

Yesterday morning Ambassador Ranneberger challenged us all to commit to specific plans and activities before the proceedings are closed today. As my American colleagues described earlier today, the U.S. can and will work with participating states to offer several specific follow-on programs and consultations. These include stockpile assessments, physical security and stockpile management training, airport vulnerability assessments, weapons destruction programs and export control assistance, all of which are part of an effective security architecture for the Great Lakes, Horn of Africa and bordering states region. Along with the many undertakings described by presenters from other states, it is clear to me that we have met Ambassador Ranneberger’s challenge.

Yesterday, the seminar began with a discussion of the MANPADS threat. As you know, since the 1970s over 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS, causing an estimated 28 crashes and over 800 deaths worldwide. The lethality, concealability and easy portability of these weapons make them a weapon of choice for terrorists and other irresponsible non-state actors. As the 2002 Mombasa incident illustrated, terrorists will use these weapons against civilian targets in any country, on any continent if measures are not taken to inhibit their activities.

We have considered here what is at stake. In addition to the horrific loss of life, a successful MANPADS attack on a civilian aircraft in the RECSA region could result in severe economic losses and humanitarian consequences. A MANPADS attack can cause a lasting downturn in economic activity and have catastrophic effects on the participation of a country in the global economy. Effective, timely response to the MANPADS threat can help reduce the possibility of an incident, and thereby reinforce a positive climate for investment and economic development.

I have personally met with airline executives in this region, and it is clear to me that the hopes for a more prosperous future are riding on major commitments of precious government funds to purchase new civilian aircraft and modernize airports. Tourists and business travelers will stay away from any location where aviation security is perceived to be at high risk. Our work is essential to help these countries pursue their aspirations of a productive place in the global economy.

Addressing the challenge of MANPADS requires a comprehensive approach, which includes cooperation amongst different policy offices of government as well as law enforcement and the military. It is vitally important to achieve open and robust cooperation between law enforcement and military sectors in sharing the responsibility for addressing the MANPADS threat; each player has a role. This cooperation is not always easy; it will require political will.

One step that every country can and should take is to review its requirements, if any, for these man-portable air defense weapons to serve legitimate military purposes. Those weapons deemed necessary by governments should be properly stored and secured. Surplus and obsolete MANPADS should be safely destroyed. In this regard, I want to recognize the good work of our colleagues in Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who shared their destruction experiences yesterday.

Export and border controls are another important dimension of a comprehensive solution. As you heard yesterday, regional bodies and multilateral organizations around the world recognize the threat of illicitly held MANPADS and have been working to standardize export controls. The Wassenaar Arrangement, the Organization of American States, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the International Civil Aviation Organization have all adopted guidelines to promote stricter export controls, including a ban on transfers of MANPADS to non-state actors.

These organizations have all highlighted the importance of regional cooperation and information-sharing as critical ingredients for curbing MANPADS proliferation and avoiding a catastrophic MANPADS incident in their region. So a lot of significant progress is being achieved in several regions of the world. And now, we can say with conviction that the Great Lakes, Horn of Africa and bordering states area, through the good work of RECSA, is moving purposefully to set its own high standard in dealing with the MANPADS threat.

I know that since the Nairobi Declaration was signed in 2000, RECSA states have been at the forefront of controlling small arms in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa. As a group you have led the continent in creative solutions to combat the problem of illicit weapons trafficking. Today I want to end not only by saluting your ongoing work, but by making a request.

I ask that you continue this leadership by adopting a strong set of MANPADS control guidelines. These guidelines could include strict and effective controls on the import, export and transfer of MANPADS, rigorous stockpile management, improved security standards, and identification and timely destruction of excess weapons. Adopting clear guidelines would facilitate collaboration among RECSA member states on this critical security issue and once again show leadership by setting an example for the African community at large and other regions that have yet to recognize or deal with the problem.

You do not face this challenge alone. The United States is but one of many countries with a commitment to assist others in addressing this threat. I urge you to seek assistance as needed from the United States and other potential partners. We stand ready to help you fulfill your vision of an effective and collaborative regional security system leaving no opportunities for extremists to exploit.

I look at the work of RECSA, and think about my own diplomatic mission, and sometimes wonder if it appears that we are only here because terrorists, criminals and illicit traffickers made it necessary for us to be here. I wonder if observers would say that non-state actors have succeeded by forcing our governments to expend extra resources and efforts and manpower in reaction to their violent threats against civil society.

I suppose one could look at our work that way. But after listening to the presentations here in Nairobi, I see a very different picture. Our work is not fundamentally about non-state actors; it is about state actors. It is about us. Our governments are responding to the basic mandate of our peoples that we stand together, that we help each other, that we learn from each other, and that we reclaim ownership once again, on behalf of peaceful law-abiding citizens, of their borders, their transportation systems, and their territory.

Above all, we are building an edifice of friendship, cooperation and trust, serving the public interest by ensuring that governments will retain a monopoly over military force, and not allowing the promise of globalization to be poisoned by a small minority of extremists and profiteers. By working together in this manner, we are taking back the future on behalf of society at large.

And so I thank you again for inviting me to be a part of this important event. It is an honor to be with all of you. Together we will increase the security, stability, and the prosperity of our countries—and indeed all countries -- by controlling the availability, spread and use of these very sensitive military weapons. On behalf of the United States, I thank you for your commitment to addressing this challenge; I welcome our continued partnership, and wish you every success in your important endeavors.


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