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Transnational Arms Flows in the Syrian Civil War


This paper looks at small arms transfers to non-state actors in the Syrian conflict as an under analyzed aspect of intervention in intrastate war that is both globalized and potentially destabilizing. I challenge the dominant narrative that the international community has failed to intervene in Syria, by pointing to the manifold government-funded arms transfers to opposition groups beginning in 2012. I find that there are two significant networks of arms trafficking: one through Jordan with Saudi Arabian and American support; the other through Turkey with Qatari support. These patterns and rivalries between donor countries have contributed to three processes within the transformation from revolution to civil war: militarization, increased sectarianism, and fragmentation of the opposition. I review two mechanisms of international arms control: multilateral embargoes and the recent Arms Trade Treaty. Their weaknesses, as evident in the case of Syria, are related to the problems of self-monitoring and enforcement by states that have contradictory incentives. Next, I address the related issue of surplus arms by looking at how the failure of disarmament measures in Iraq and Libya had a direct impact on arms proliferation in Syria. I conclude with a discussion of the legality of arms transfers to non-state actors and the need to focus on political rather than military solutions to globalized conflict.

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