Use of Foreign Weapons in Unrecognized Countries

By: Camillah Agak K.

Suppliers of Foreign Arms

The use of foreign weapons is not a new phenomenon in the context of armed conflict, war, or a matter of protection of sovereign state’s interests.

According to a report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent research group that collects detailed data on major weapons transfers, including the countries they're exported to and imported from, worldwide major arms imports and exports had risen by 7.8% between 2014—2018.

The United States topped the list of global arms dealers: providing at least 98 countries with combat aircraft, short-range cruise and ballistic missiles and guided bombs. SIPRI also reported that Russia exported approximately $15 billion worth of weapons to 53 countries around the world in 2017.

About $6.14 billion of that $15 billion was of major weaponry, including military aircraft, ships, armored vehicles, guided munitions, and more.

While SIPRI's data doesn't include unguided munitions, small arms, and other equipment, the data is quite representative of which countries are buying the most weaponry as a whole from Russia.

Institutions such as the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons deal with the aspect of small arms.

Besides SIPRI other research institutions dedicated to monitoring arms control are: International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

The purpose of supply of foreign weapons depends on the need of a particular state. These range from enhancement of national security, paramilitary activities, organized crime, military aid. Countries facing attacks by insurgents, including jihadists, reportedly purchase large quantities of arms.

Every country has the right to take measures necessary for the protection of its sovereignty. This makes it necessary for countries and unrecognized unrecognized countries alike, to take necessary armament measures.


On August 14, 1992, 'a fratricidal war,' as put by Human Rights Watch, broke out on the resort beaches of Abkhazia, a small territory located on the Black Sea coast of the newly independent Republic of Georgia, today and independent unrecognized country.

A sixteen-month conflict ensued between, on the one hand, Abkhaz forces aided by local civilians as well as fighters from other countries, primarily neighboring areas of the Russian Federation, and, on the other hand, the central government of Georgia, in the form of National Guard, paramilitaries and volunteers.

The Abkhaz forces fought for expanded autonomy and ultimately full independence from Georgia; the Georgian government sought to maintain control over its territory.

Intensive battles raged on land, air and sea. Several thousand were killed and many more wounded on both sides; hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes.

According to Human Rights Watch, whereas Russia has endorsed the territorial integrity of the Republic of Georgia, Russian arms found their way into Abkhaz hands, Russian planes bombed civilian targets in Georgian-controlled territory, Russian military vessels, manned by supporters of the Abkhaz side, were made available to shell Georgian-held Sukhumi, and at least a handful of Russian-trained and Russian-paid fighters defended Abkhaz territory in Tkvarcheli (Tkvarchal).


In the territory of Somaliland for instance, a semi-autonomous region which is internationally recognized as a part of Somalia, is not allowed to purchase weapons due to the United Nations arms embargo on Somaliland.

Consequently, military officials from the region rely on repairing and modifying old ‘inherited’ equipment. Some also claim that weapons are at times delivered during the night from Ethiopia and Yemen via the port of Berbera.

Although Ethiopia occasionally trains certain Somaliland army men, due to the lack of international recognition, Somaliland cannot be supported formally with military equipment hence has to modify or repair the old arms.

Without proper monitoring and inspection, these small arms and weapons are recycled from conflict zone to conflict zone among fighters, security forces and war profiteers.


Cached in Transnistria was an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 tonnes of Soviet-era weaponry, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and an unknown number of munitions factories whose wares were traced to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By virtue of the customary rule that civilians must not be made the object of attack, international law regulates the use of weapons during armed conflict.

Countries are therefore required to adopt a national mechanism or procedure to the effect that any use of weapons does not violate international humanitarian law principles.

This may also entail ratification of arms trade treaties to regulate exchange of ammunition. In the ambit of international customary law (ICL), states are bound by internationally accepted standards and practice. ICLs are dictates that are applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.

Violations of these norms constitute an offence under international law as well as the legislation of several States, including the affected countries.

Use of Weapons in Unrecognized Countries

When unrecognized countries are supplied with foreign weapons, the subsequent use of weapons should not violate local and international law.

The Martens Clause specifically under International humanitarian law (IHL), stipulates that in cases not covered by IHL conventions, neither combatants nor civilians find themselves completely deprived of protection.

Instead, in such cases, the conduct of belligerents remains regulated by the principles of the law of nations as they result from the usages of international law, from the laws of humanity, and from the dictates of public conscience.

It is under this protection that the use of foreign weapons during conflicts in unrecognized territories are regulated. The use of certain weapons is prohibited in its entirety. IHL classification of weapons is as follows: Weapons that are by nature indiscriminate.

These are weapons that cannot be directed at a military objective or whose effects cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law.

It is generally accepted custom that states/territories must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets.

Some of these weapons whose use is prohibited include: chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; anti-personnel landmines; mines; poison; explosives discharged from balloons; V-1 and V-2 rockets; cluster bombs; booby-traps; Scud missiles; Katyusha rockets; incendiary weapons; and environmental modification techniques.

Other prohibited weapons classified under IHL are riot control agents; herbicides; expanding bullets; exploding bullets; blinding laser weapons and weapons primarily injuring by non-detectable fragments. There are restrictions in place on the use of landmines i.e recording of the placement of landmines, removal or neutralisation of landmines.

According to SIPRI, the largest suppliers of foreign weapons to Africa are USA, Russia, France, Germany, China.

Developed countries have turned weapons supply, conflicts and wars into a foreign weapons commercial enterprise. A number of organizations that help monitor arms control and regional blocks’ security have since been established.

International Organizations & Unrecognized Countries

Countries have been clustered regionally, through adoption of treaties, and multinational agreements that help in collectively ensuring sustainable peace amongst members.

These organizations include, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (Wassenaar Arrangement), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) among others.

With 57 States from Europe, Central Asia and North America, the OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance created pursuant to the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty and comprises 29 members from North America and Europe.

Wassenaar Arrangement

The Wassenaar Arrangement was established in order to contribute to regional and international security and stability, by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilising accumulations.

Participating States seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals, and are not diverted to support such capabilities. The aim is also to prevent the acquisition of these items by terrorists.

Established in 1996 and Currently consisting of 42 Participating States from around the globe, the states agreed to a number of guidelines, elements and procedures as a basis for decision-making.

The states apply export controls with the objective of preventing unauthorised transfers or re-transfers of listed ammunition; report their arms transfers and transfers/denials of certain dual-use goods and technologies to destinations outside the Arrangement on a six-monthly basis.

Governments have a responsibility to ensure public safety and have a vested interest in providing human security and development to their citizens.

ECCAS reiterates that, to eradicate illegal arms trade, need commitment from supplying states to succeed.

In regards to unrecognized countries, it is the primary responsibility of the self-declared independent territories to ensure that the weapons and all small arms in its possession is not used in a manner that contravenes international law and principles.


Abkhazia: The Long Road to Reconciliation, Available at < >

Christian Joburg, International Weapons Exports Deutsche Welle (DW) Business Mar 11, 2019 Available at <> Accessed Jan 29, 2020

Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict, Human Rights Watch, March 1995 Vol. 7, No. 7 Available at <>

Hussein, Abdi. Somaliland’s Military Is A Shadow of the Past, Somalia Report, Aug 13, 2011, Available at: < > accessed Jan 29, 2020.

SIPRI Yearbook 2018: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security Available at: < >

Witold Rodkiewicz, OSW, Transinistrian Conflict After 20 Years, A report by an International Expert Group Centre for Eastern Studies:OSW, 2011 Available at <accessed Jan 15, 2020>

#TransnistriaTravel #AbkhaziaTravel #SomalilandTravel

Recent Posts

See All