The Women, Peace and Security Agenda: The two silent "Ps": Proliferation and Profit

Friday, July 13, 2012
Maria Butler

The Women, Peace and Security Agenda
The two silent “Ps”: Proliferation and Profit

Maria Butler
July 2012

War is an international business based on profits and the proliferation of weapons. These are the words of my colleague, Annie Matundu-Mbambi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Her work challenges not only the consequences of war but also the root causes and drivers of conflict: specifically, the economic incentives of militarization, profit, and the arms trade. Focusing on comprehensive conflict prevention is the transformative dimension and potential of the United Nations' Women, Peace and Security agenda (WPS) and Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325), and the basis within the WPS Agenda to challenge the proliferation of weapons and profits of war. To date, the interpretation of the WPS agenda by the international community, particularly member states, has focused on the first two pillars of the Agenda: Protection, and to a lesser extent, Participation. However, there has been a collective failure to address the third pillar – Prevention—and what I call the two silent “Ps” of this pillar: Proliferation and Profit.

In this paper, I will examine this gap in the interpretation and implementation of the WPS agenda. I will discuss how the WPS Agenda must be strengthened if the promise of conflict prevention is to be realized, and if the WPS agenda is to effectively address the rights and demands of women affected by conflict. Insufficient attention to conflict prevention promises to perpetuate the downward cycle of violence begetting violence and profits justifying arms sales. By looking at the arms trade and military spending as an aspect of militarization more broadly, I will present immediate and long-term opportunities for addressing Proliferation and Profits within the WPS Agenda. Their effect on women in conflict and the effective implementation of the WPS agenda presents an opportunity for further analysis.

When Annie talks about the business of war, she is referring to her own experience living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She lives in a country plagued by protracted armed conflict ridden with high levels of sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups and armed government forces and influenced by a wide range of external actors. The DRC is only one example of how the easy availability of arms and the pull for profits exacerbate the violence that women and girls experience. These conditions impede women's ability to participate in decision-making processes (as called for in SCR 1325), fuel human rights violations, and impede the full realization of civil, political, social and economic rights. Despite the undeniable and substantial risk that arms will be used to perpetrate serious human rights abuses, their trade and transfer continues to be permitted and remains largely unregulated.

Behind the unregulated risk of the international arms industry are enormous profits. Each year, global arms sales amount to 45-60 billion dollars, and in 2011, world military spending is estimated to have been $1.738 trillion. In July 2012, States will attempt to negotiate the first-ever international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which will represent a historic opportunity to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms. The ATT negotiations also present an unprecedented opportunity to integrate a gender perspective and the commitments outlined in the WPS agenda into the global conversation on arms trade regulations. I address later how the ATT must incorporate a gender perspective.

How does the WPS agenda address the two silent “Ps”- Profit and Proliferation, and where are the gaps and opportunities?

WILPF has highlighted, in our work, the importance of addressing the root causes of conflict as a core condition for the effective implementation of SCR 1325. We also underline that SCR 1325 does not exist in a vacuum but builds upon and references human rights and the Beijing Platform for Action, which specifically calls for the control of excessive arms expenditure. Women's civil society organizations, the key proponents of the WPS agenda, continue to advocate for conflict prevention, emphasizing that WPS is not about making war safe for women - it is about ending war. This is the transformative dimension and potential of SCR 1325; it is also the basis within the agenda to challenge the proliferation of weapons and profits of war.

However, while easily put into words, it is proving exceedingly difficult to put into meaningful action. The interpretation of WPS agenda remains too narrow with an exclusive focus on the protection aspect rather than holistic conflict prevention. This is often reflected in the Security Council's work. For example, from PeaceWomen's monitoring of country-specific resolutions (period 2000-2010) only 4% (7) of those resolution with language on Women, Peace and Security (174), refer to women's role in conflict prevention compared to 37% (64) refer to sexual and gender-based violence.

Moreover, some activists even believe there is a co-option of the agenda by various actors–including military bodies and governments—who continue to not only narrowly interpret SCR 1325 but also wrongly equate SCR1325 with “more women in uniforms.” As a result, the original intention of the WPS agenda has become obscured, even unrecognizable, and original supporters, particularly women on the ground, for whom armed violence and conflict is a daily reality, find themselves further removed. We must avoid this misinterpretation of WPS by reclaiming the integrated approach to conflict prevention.

Where are the opportunities for action?

Despite these gaps in implementation and narrowing of the agenda, there are numerous immediate and long-term ways all actors - member states, UN entities and civil society, - can address the silent P's of Proliferation and Profit. Here, I want to highlight 5 areas for action, ranging from fundamental shifts in government budgets to policy actions.

1. Prioritize the prevention of conflict, particularly reduction in military spending, as an integral aspect of WPS Agenda

States must prioritize the advancement of peace, rather than the arms industry, in their national budgets. In 2011, world military spending is estimated to have been $1.738 trillion Military expenditure is one element of militarism yet excessive spending on financial, technological, and human military resources directly and indirectly diverts and reduces available resources for social and economic development, including resources for gender equality. Through disproportionate military spending, states fall short in facilitating the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Women from the Middle East North Africa region came together in Geneva with WILPF in June 2012 to discuss these challenges. The conversation resulted in an unprecedented joint statement: “Militarization, increased defense spending and the global arms trade, violate human rights and dignity, and create human insecurity across the (MENA) region. Social and economic justice must be prioritised. Like in MENA, these challenges seem to be universal. In order to raise these issues in the Human Rights Council, we (WILPF) recently made a submission on the 2012 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of United Kingdom, highlighting the UK's $65 billion military expenditures in 2009 and $ 5.5 billion nuclear weapons expenditure in 2011(Global Zero, 2012). Furthermore, the UK adopted a new budget with cut-backs that disproportionately impact women's rights: “an estimated 72% of the 8 billion worth of changes come out of women's pockets, while only 28% come from men's.” The costs and consequences of policies that prioritize nuclear weapons and the arms trade, along with the austerity measures taken in the current economic crisis, serve to undermine UK obligations to human rights treaty bodies and resolutions (UN Charter, CEDAW, ICESCR, SCR 1325).

2. Demand States and non-state actors stop selling arms that inherently violate human rights in conflict zones, at home and abroad.

Stop arms sales to any country that violates human rights. Countries in the MENA region, such as Libya, Egypt and Yemen, have and continue to experience the devastating impact of arms proliferation. We witnessed the excessive force used against peaceful protesters during the Arab revolutions, which included the use of tear gas, crowd control ammunition, sniper rifles, and armored vehicles. In addition to holding the importing national authorities accountable, we must ask: who is selling these arms and who profits? A recent Amnesty International Report shows that the majority of the weaponry, munitions and related equipment used against protesters in MENA region were sold and supplied by European countries, Russia, and the USA. In fact, globally just six countries export 74 % of the world's weapons: US, Russia, Germany, UK, China and France. The US sells 35% of the global total. This cannot be silenced or ignored and I would be remiss if I did not take this time to reiterate that these top-sellers also represent the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The policies of arms exporters are incongruent and contradictory, and often unquestioned. It is no wonder that these UN Security Council members have contributed to a narrowing of the WPS agenda, when the world's arms trade is policed by the very actors who are profiting most from their sale around the world.

The UK Government's 2010 Human Rights Annual Report identified 26 “countries of concern”; yet that same year, the UK approved arms export licenses to 16 of these countries, including Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The weapons in Annie's community and throughout the DRC are not manufactured in the DRC or on the African continent, but instead largely originate from States that often call themselves “Friends” of women, peace and security. The arms and military equipment prevalent in the DRC are most commonly supplied by the United States, France, China, the Ukraine, and South Africa. These same exporting States continue to discuss the implementation of WPS resolutions in the Security Council in DRC, focusing on protection issues and sexual violence but failing to address their roles in exporting weapons that fuel the cycle of conflict and the business of war. This dual personality of peace and war does not have to be the ‘normal state of affairs.'

In October 2010, I sat in the UN Security Council chamber, listening to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talk about the horrific mass rapes in DRC. She described a failure of the international community to bring the conflict to an end and to protect women and children. “We all must do more and we must think creatively,” she said. “And yes, we may have to challenge some conventional wisdom about how best to end the impunity of those who not only conduct these horrible violations of human rights, but those who permit them to do so.” Despite this call for change from the highest-ranking diplomat in U.S. government, the American arms trade to the DRC has not decreased in real dollar terms or in terms of the negative effects to the population. In February 2010, the US government delivered military equipment including over 5 million rounds of ammunition to the national army of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo – FARDC), who were in 2012 listed as parties to conflict responsible for patterns of rape by the UN Secretary-General in his Report to the Security Council.

These kinds of arms transfers demonstrate that decision-making process are driven by profits, national security and foreign policy concerns, at the cost of lives and human rights. There is not the political will to address the complex financial interests, which fuel the war and the rapes in the DRC or the violence against peaceful protesters in Middle East region. This is what needs to change - the conflicting policies of exporting States. This is what needs to be challenged.

3. Include WPS commitments into all aspects of policy negotiation, notably in the Arms Trade Treaty processes (ATT).

States should not sell weapons to countries committing human rights violations or where there is a risk they will be used to facilitate sexual and gender violence: this must be included in legal regulations. As UN Secretary-General noted the causes and consequences of armed violence are highly gendered in a report on small arms to the Security Council. States who allege commitment to the WPS agenda must support language in the ATT that reduces violations and reduces weapons. As the negotiation for the ATT are still ongoing as I finish this paper, it remains unclear how gender-based violence will be included, or if at all. Here again, we are faced with the real risk of silence and lack of inclusion of WPS resolutions in international peace and security policy arena related to armaments and arms restrictions.

WILPF has consistently called for the inclusion of a specific gender criterion in the negotiated text, in addition to reference in the preamble of the text. We recently launched a Joint Policy Paper on Gender and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) with Amnesty International, the Women's Network of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), and Religions for Peace, calling for a specific criterion in the treaty to “require states not to authorize an international transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.” This call has resonated with civil society and over a hundred organizations around the world have supported it.

To apply this criterion, States would have to conduct a meaningful assessment of that risk. In other words, they must act with all due diligence when assessing an arms transfer application. To meet the due diligence standard, States should determine whether it could be reasonably foreseen that the proposed end users are likely to use the arms to perpetuate patterns of abuse. In turn, the ATT should require licensing authorities and government officials to review objective and verifiable sources of information, specifically addressing the risks of gender-based violence that may arise from a transfer of conventional arms. The substantial risk is, in part, evidenced by lack of an effective regulatory system to control arms and prevent such violence, and by evidence of acts or patterns of gender-based violence.

4. Make National Action Plans on Women Peace and Security (NAPs) strong in area of Prevention and Disarmament.

National Action Plans are one tool for advancing implementation of WPS agenda. To date, 37 national governments have approved NAPs and numerous others are in the drafting phase. NAPs can be key policy documents where Proliferation and Profit are systematically integrated. However from our monitoring in PeaceWomen/WILPF, we have identified the integration of disarmament as a critical gap. Most notably, the three major arms exporting countries with Action Plans - France, the UK, and the US - fail to address military spending and/or arms and their impact on women in conflict and post-conflict countries and within their own borders. The US NAP adopted in 2011 was silent on Proliferation and Profits despite strong and specific recommendations from civil society consultations facilitated by WILPF-US, whose comprehensive Report stresses that, “war has become a profit-making venture, with large corporations carrying disproportionate political clout and national deficits, in the words of one participant, burdening two and three generations with a legacy on war.”

Despite the notable gaps, a handful of the 37 existing NAPs do contain references to the issue of small arms and light weapons, as shown in WILPF's PeaceWomen Project NAP monitoring initiative. For example, the Philippine NAP supports an Arms Trade Treaty accompanied by local legislation on small arms regulation, and commits to confiscating, surrendering and destroying loose arms, and apprehending individuals illegally possessing small arms. The NAP highlights that within the Philippines, "women are intimidated, threatened, harmed and violated with the aid of small arms." The Serbian NAP also acknowledges that seven percent of women who were victims of family violence were attacked by or threatened with firearms. Furthermore, the Irish NAP commits to conducting small arm and light weapon risk education initiatives. The Liberian NAP commits to training women to address issues related to small arms and the Ugandan NAP commits to putting in place regional mechanisms to combat arms trafficking and the illegal acquisition of arms.

5. Strengthen aspects of WPS: Protection, Sexual Violence; Participation in Peace Process and by using a prevention lens

Small arms, the most common weapon used against women in general, facilitates rape and other gender-based assaults both during and outside conflict. In the DRC, the numbers are shocking. According to a UN investigation of once incident that took place on 31 December 2010, at least 47 women between the ages of 16 and 65 were subjected to sexual violence in the North Kivu province. Several women reported that the military fired their weapons on the ground or in the air to intimidate them before subjecting them to rape or sexual violence. One woman recounted being told, “If you resist, we'll shoot you.” Testimonies of women from Sierra Leone explain how the assaults were also endured at gunpoint. “They put their guns to our throats and stomachs to make sure that we followed their orders,” one woman reported.

These are not isolated incidents. In her official Statement to the UN Security Council, former UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström noted, “Conflict-related sexual violence is not specific to one country or continent: it is a global risk. The terror of unarmed women facing armed men is age-old and universal.” Yet the links between the perpetration of sexual violence and the proliferation of arms are rarely examined, analyzed and acted upon. Even the new UN instruments on sexual violence, including the UN monitoring, reporting and analysis arrangement, fail to adequately address the impact of widespread and easily available arms. This is a huge gap.

Women's participation in peace processes is another glaring omission. Without women's participation at and during peace processes, peace talks are “men with guns forgiving other men with guns for crimes against women.” This quote (by Donald Steinberg reflecting on his time as US Ambassador in Angola) underlines the importance of both the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace process and having women at the table during peace talks. Violence against women is rarely mentioned in ceasefire agreements or peace agreements. Even in the case of the Liberian Peace Agreement (2003) – in which women most explicitly played a key role – the issue of rape was not addressed. Studies of 300 peace agreements relating to 45 conflicts situations since the end of the Cold War show that sexual violence or gender-based violence has been addressed in only 10 conflict situations and 18 agreements. Sexual violence has been identified as a ceasefire violation in only six ceasefire agreements.

Overall, women's rights to participate in peace processes and in all arms control processes must be more systematic in order to guarantee that their experiences are accounted for in policies and decisions. The necessity of including women has already been recognized in the UN General Assembly resolution 65/69 (2010) "Women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control" but its fulfillment is far from reality.


The Women, Peace and Security agenda is a tool for conflict prevention first and foremost, and therefore can not be silent on the weapons of war or the profits of violence if it is to address the root causes of conflict and the problems endemic to a flawed system. There is no panacea to address these complex issues; but we must be brave in our work to expose the lies, consistent in the face of conflicting interests, insistent in the face of vested silence, and diligent in our work to propose transformative shifts in policy and using ever more effective strategies.