Technology & Trade

US Sends Wrong Message To Governments Using Child Soldiers

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The Obama administration announced its determinations with respect to the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 on September 29, 2015 and again gave a pass to governments that routinely recruit and use child soldiers in their national militaries or government-supported armed groups. Yet again, the Obama administration has missed an opportunity to leverage U.S. assistance and encourage countries to stop the despicable practice of using child soldiers.

In 2008, Congress passed The Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) to prevent U.S. arms transfers and training to governments that use or support the use of child soldiers. The law, which took effect in 2010, prohibits transfers of specific categories of military assistance under both Departments of State and Defense accounts and is intended to dissuade governments from using children in their armed forces. Under the law, the president can elect to waive the application of the CSPA’s prohibitions, in part or in full, and allow identified countries to continue to receive U.S. weapons and military assistance.

The president must certify that the offending government “is taking reasonable steps to implement effective measures to demobilize child soldiers in its forces or in government-supported paramilitaries and is taking reasonable steps within the context of its national resources to provide demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration assistance to those former child soldiers; and the assistance provided by the United States Government to the government of such country will go to programs that will directly support professionalization of the military.”

Over the past five years, the Obama administration has widely used the national interest authority, granting 22 of 30 possible waivers – including seven partial waivers and 15 full waivers – which have allowed offending governments to continue to receive U.S. weapons and military assistance.

In the most recent determinations, President Obama yet again employed national interest waivers and granted four of the eight governments identified on the 2015 CSPA list partial or full waivers of the CSPA prohibitions. This year’s list includes Burma (Myanmar), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. However, DRC, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are the only countries that the administration has requested military assistance and/or arms transfers for – assistance that would otherwise be prohibited under the CSPA’s terms.

The DRC, Nigeria, and Somalia each received full waivers, which would allow for more than $130 million in military assistance to flow to countries with persistent child soldier abuses. Additionally, South Sudan received a partial waiver to allow for continued provisions of International Military Education and Training and Peacekeeping Operations – the only assistance thus far requested – amounting to over $30 million in military assistance. For the first time since appearing on the list, Yemen, did not receive a waiver, but the President did delegate authority to the Secretary of State to make a waiver determination and provide a justification to resume assistance if circumstances in the country change. More than $25 million in military assistance is currently frozen under the CSPA.

The Stimson Center has compiled data on CSPA waivers annually to measure the impact of the CSPA. The data sets provide information on the various types of military assistance the U.S. has provided to governments known to use child soldiers in their militaries or in supported armed groups – capturing information from fiscal year 2010 to present. We found that since 2010, the United States has authorized nearly $1 billion in arms sales and military assistance to countries with records of child soldier use. By comparison, the United States has only withheld approximately $35 million – amounting to roughly four percent of the total amount of military assistance and less than two percent of the amount of arms sales that would otherwise have been prohibited by the CSPA.

Of the eleven countries identified on the CSPA list from 2010 to 2014 for using child soldiers, nine were granted some form of national interest waiver and continued to receive U.S. weapons and military assistance. This year, Nigeria appeared on the list for the first time and became the 12thcountry identified on the CSPA list for using or supporting the use of child soldiers since the law took effect. A full breakdown of U.S. military assistance to governments using or supporting the use of child soldiers can be found at Military Assistance and Child Soldiers Data Set. Analysis of the data over the five years of the CSPA can be found at U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act: Five Year Review of Military Assistance Waivers.

The CSPA prohibits U.S. military assistance from the following accounts:

1. International Military Education and Training (IMET): IMET provides grants for members of foreign governments (civil servants) and militaries to participate in any of more than 2,000 courses in U.S. military management and technical training.

2. Foreign Military Financing (FMF): FMF provides grants to foreign governments that are used to purchase weapons, training, and other defense articles and services from the United States

3. Direct Commercial Sales (DCS): Direct Commercial Sales are arms sales concluded between U.S. weapons manufacturers and foreign clients managed and licensed by the State Department.

4. Foreign Military Sales (FMS): Foreign Military Sales are government-to-government sales negotiated by the Pentagon, in which the weapons come from existing Pentagon stocks or new production.

5. Excess Defense Articles (EDA): The United States provides Excess Defense Articles, surplus or obsolete U.S. weapons, to foreign governments and partner countries at a reduced price or as a grant.

6. Section 1206: The Defense Department is allowed to use a maximum of $350 million per fiscal year from its operation and maintenance funds to train and equip foreign militaries for counterterrorism operations. Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) grants the Secretary of Defense with the authority to train and equip foreign military forces for counterterrorism and stability operations – and foreign security forces for counterterrorism operations, notwithstanding the provisions of other U.S. laws.

7. Peacekeeping Operations (PKO): The United States provides military assistance through its Peacekeeping Operations fund to support multilateral peacekeeping, peace support, and regional stability operations that are not funded through the United Nations.

8. Peacekeeping Operations – Overseas Contingency Operations (PKO-OCO): PKO-OCO funds are specifically meant to support U.S. counterterrorism efforts overseas – originally specific to Afghanistan and Iraq. While PKO missions are funded from the base budget and are therefore limited by Budget Control Act of 2011 caps, OCO operations are funded by supplemental appropriations and are not restricted by any caps.

Over the last five years, the Obama administration has taken advantage of the national interest waivers to provide military assistance and U.S. weapons to those governments that have been continually recognized by the U.S. government as using child soldiers. Many of the countries on the CSPA list are repeat offenders, and if the CSPA is to work to stop the use of child soldiers, the president should use the waivers judiciously – that is, in cases where national security is vital and where governments are making a good faith effort to change their behavior. Until such changes are made, governments on the CSPA list will instead receive the message that they can continue to exploit society’s most vulnerable without any consequences.

Rachel Stohl is a senior associate and Shannon Dick is a research assistant with the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center.


Photo credit: Been Buddy Longway via flickr

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