Few regions of the world better illustrate the intimate nexus between human development and security than does Central America. A region of inherent economic and social promise, its fortunes have often been frustrated by a plethora of serious security challenges related to small arms, drugs, and criminal gangs. Although a long and innovative roster of instruments has been developed to counter these scourges, a lack of technical and financial support has often prevented their full realization. Moreover, institutional vulnerabilities at the local and state levels have further complicated the implementation of national and regional strategies designed to break this cycle of violence and underdevelopment. Today, the global economic downturn further threatens to reverse progress made to date, and again place some countries of the region squarely on a downward economic and security trajectory.
At present, more than $2 billion is spent annually on global nonproliferation assistance by G-8 and partnering governments. Using a Resolution passed by the Security Council in 2004, a portion of this funding should be leveraging existing Central American counter-trafficking initiatives, border-strengthening efforts, tertiary education and training programs, rule of law initiatives, and a host of technical and other assistance measures aimed at ameliorating the triple threat of small arms, drugs, and gangs that have trapped Central American countries in a catastrophic cycle of insecurity and underdevelopment.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, no issue has had a greater impact on the stability and development in Central America than has crime. The Central American region has emerged as the most violent in the world, with the average number of homicides in Central America in 2008 rising to 33 per 100,000 people-three times the global average. While these statistics are rooted in a complex array of social, political, and economic circumstances that have depressed opportunity and inflated levels of violence, Central American scholars and regional government officials generally agree that their security and development challenges are rooted in a “culture of illegality” embodied most graphically by the triple threat of small arms proliferation, drug trafficking, and criminal gangs. Countering these threats is a clear priority for all governments of the region requiring not only the preservation of existing assistance streams, but also the identification of innovative new sources of technical and financial assistance. Specifically, this means identifying novel streams of assistance to address capacity shortfalls.
Significantly, by addressing these key priorities of regional governments, the net result will be the simultaneous promotion of more sustainable nonproliferation. In short, “dual-use” assistance could not only promote global nonproliferation, it would address directly the critical security and downstream development concerns of Central American governments. This innovative, “whole-of-society” approach is necessary to bridging the security/development divide that would leverage donor investments in both security assistance and development assistance, so as to ensure recipient state buy-in and an enduring return on investment.
In this regard, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) presents one valuable platform from which to launch this new model for security and global development. The Resolution mandates that all member states implement a set of supply-side controls and criminalize proliferant activities within their territories. Significantly, the Resolution includes a provision that encourages states with the capacity to provide international assistance in meeting the 1540 mandate to do so; and, in turn, encourages states in need to request any assistance that will enable them to meet the requirements of 1540. As such, the Resolution provides a significant opportunity for poorer countries to tap into traditional security-related assistance available from donors to help them meet their “dual use” internal development goals and security priorities while simultaneously meeting international nonproliferation obligations.
There is perhaps no region that could benefit from this approach to security and development more than Central America. Long plagued by a socioeconomic underdevelopment reinforced by weak borders, small arms proliferation, drug trafficking, and the rise of youth and other organized criminal activities, the region will require the type of robust dual-use assistance that will respond to these local scourges while simultaneously promoting implementation of global nonproliferation objectives. Early outreach in the region suggests that such an approach can bear fruit. Recently, the Central American Integration System (SICA) requested assistance in implementing this dual-use approach through the hiring of a regional coordinator to help Member States identify implementation gaps and new opportunities for assistance in filling them. New assistance pathways can now be identified for a broad variety of needs via the assistance template offered by the UN 1540 Committee and backed by nonproliferation “donors” around the world. Responding affirmatively to SICA’s request is a critical first step toward catalyzing enduring support for nonproliferation while simultaneously addressing key priorities of government in the region.