This is the second blog post in a series looking at an array of issues in 2024 related to weapons use, the arms trade and security assistance, often offering recommendations.
In last year’s Looking Ahead series, John Chappell presaged renewed attention to end-use monitoring in arms transfers. As we look ahead to 2024, we argue that US arms transfers to Ukraine pose significant challenges for end-use monitoring, and that meeting these challenges will require new thinking and practices in end-use monitoring.
End-use monitoring (EUM) in the US is mandated by the 1976 Arms Export Control Act and is implemented by the Department of Defense (Golden Sentry for foreign military sales) and the Department of State (Blue Lantern for direct commercial sales). These programs have encountered difficulties in Ukraine, because “the conflict makes it impractical to request the return of equipment from the front lines to depots or other locations where US government personnel can inspect them in a safer environment.” While there is no reliable evidence of misuse of arms, Ukrainian intelligence did recover US-provided arms that were temporarily diverted by a Russian criminal organization. In May 2023, the Department of Defense Inspector General found that there was not an up-to-date list of EUM-designated arms.
Why End-Use Monitoring?
EUM is supposed to protect US weapons and technology from misuse or diversion. The nightmare scenarios are arms being sent on to a third party, and then being used in ways that are counter to US interest; or arms being captured and turned against US forces or the reverse-engineering of advanced US technology.
Despite EUM infrastructure, there have been notable failures in end-use monitoring. This is especially the case in covert assistance programs such as CIA-led Operations Cyclone (1979-89) and Timber Sycamore (2013-2017). In both cases, advanced weapons systems provided by the US to allied non-state actor groups were lost, stolen, or were ultimately used against the US. Of note, more than 600 of the 2,300 Stinger missiles provided to the Mujahideen in Operation Cyclone were unaccounted for. Javelin and TOW anti-tank missiles provided under Timber Sycamore ended up in the hands of ISIS fighters.
Misuse, loss, unauthorized transfers, and theft of US weapons and equipment have occurred in a host of recipient states. In Guatemala, DoD-provided Jeeps were used to intimidate US embassy officials. A GAO report also found that EUM was not implemented properly, nor were violations or evidence of misuse recorded. EUM also failed to prevent Saudi Arabia from unlawfully transferring US defense articles to non-state groups in Yemen. In some cases, US weapons were used to commit human rights abuses. In Iraq, the DoD failed to keep tabs on over a billion dollars' worth of arms and equipment. Items such as drones, armored vehicles, and missiles were found in the hands of ISIS fighters and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. When the US withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, billions of dollars' worth of military equipment was left behind, and the removal of official audit reports from US government websites did little to foster trust and transparency in the EUM regime.
End-Use Monitoring in Ukraine
Many arms the US has given Ukraine are designated for enhanced end-use monitoring, essentially an additional level of scrutiny because of their technology or vulnerability to diversion. Weapons in this category include Stinger missiles, Harpoon missiles, Javelin missiles, night vision devices, and Switchblade drones. The US has not released the exact number of each type of weapon provided, but we do know that more than 10,000 Javelin systems and 2,000 Stinger missiles have been sent to Ukraine.
In October 2022, the DoD stated it was unable to provide EUM because of the limited US presence in Ukraine. Not much changed over the next year: In November 2023, the State Department’s Inspector General noted that many of the items that should have been subject to EUM “were inaccessible or near combat zones.”
Because US personnel are largely unable to conduct EUM, the State Department’s Inspector General explained that there were risks that Russia could acquire sensitive US defense technologies by capturing US equipment. Evidence suggests that Russia has captured various pieces of Western technologies, including Javelin Missiles and even a Bradley fighting vehicle. This presents a distinct danger to US national security when paired with reports that captured equipment is being sent to Iran for reverse engineering. These examples of EUM failure, even though Ukraine is a cooperative partner, mean that 2024 needs to see revisions and updates to EUM policies.
End-Use Monitoring Needs
We suggest two types of changes to meet the challenges, and the need for accuracy and transparency, of EUM. Bureaucratic changes should address communication, resources, and coordination of US EUM efforts, and new technologies can more securely, transparently, and efficiently conduct EUM.
Bureaucratically EUM needs to emphasize use and end. Effective end-use monitoring should entail knowing how the arms are being used, not just where they end up. If the recipient uses arms in ways that violate human rights, incur significant civilian casualties, or greatly increase the risk of diversion, actions must be taken.
Additional bureaucratic needs include decompartmentalization and updating hiring authorities. Could Blue Lantern and Golden Sentry – the current US EUM programs – be combined into a single oversight program? Given the relative budget disparities between the Departments of State and Defense, it could make sense to require all EUM to be coordinated by the Department of Defense. Decompartmentalization would help prevent miscommunications, finger-pointing when things go wrong, and could increase accountability because monitoring would be the purview of one organization. In terms of hiring authorities, EUM programs have been unable to hire the appropriate staff in Ukraine to conduct EUM. An Inspector General's report recommended updating these hiring authorities. Broadly speaking, having more flexible hiring authorities – even if EUM is consolidated into one program – would enable the US to work with local partners in places where EUM is required but the US has a small personnel footprint.
The final bureaucratic need is for formal policies when EUM needs to be conducted in “non-permissive operating conditions.” The State Department Inspector General found that none of the State department bureaus responsible for EUM had formally updated their procedures for EUM in Ukraine. This policy need could be addressed by leveraging technology.
EUM is resource intensive and requires personnel to physically inspect weapons and storage facilities, and interview operators. As the US has seen in Ukraine, this process is incredibly difficult in a war zone. We suggest that EUM could be more effectively and efficiently conducted by leveraging blockchain technology. Speed and accuracy are challenges for EUM during a conflict: you want to minimize the risks to inspectors, but still have an accurate count of where and how weapons are being used. Could the US work to develop an app that uses blockchain technology – which cannot be forged or tampered with – and scanning or photographs to conduct EUM?
There are already examples of private companies and NGOs using blockchain and mobile phone apps to securely store and transmit data. For example, Volvo developed blockchain-based apps to track cobalt mined for its car batteries, with the goal of not using conflict minerals. There are also multiple use cases for nuclear fuel, with programs being developed by GE as well as the Stimson Center. Can the US government develop a similar low-footprint app and scanning system that could reliably and accurately monitor weapons in storage and weapons deployed? Such an app could use scanning and/or photographs of arms, incorporate geographic data, and would be securely stored and transmitted. The blockchain technology means that the US would have a complete record of each weapon that required EUM.
This idea is not as wild as it may sound. Because of the dangers posed by an active war zone, and the lack of US personnel within Ukraine, EUM has relied on cooperation from different Ukrainian offices, as when Ukraine’s national police unit sent photographs back to the State Department for EUM. Instead of seeing cooperation from local partners as a stop-gap measure, developing a scan/picture and tagging system, secured with blockchain, could make this a feasible and secure way to conduct EUM. Additionally, we know that Ukraine has made use of cellphones and apps during the war, and the ubiquity of cellphones means that an app-based program could have fast and wide uptake.
Regardless of how EUM proceeds, the war in Ukraine has revealed some of the weaknesses within current programs, and we envision that 2024 will bring renewed attention to EUM as the US tries to comply with its own legal and ethical guidelines.
Dylan Cordle is an MA Candidate in Political Science at the University of New Hampshire.
Jen Spindel is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire and expert listed by the Forum.
Inclusion on the Forum on the Arms Trade expert list, and the publication of these posts, does not indicate agreement with or endorsement of the opinions of others. The opinions expressed are the views of each post's author(s).