About the Author: Kelly McCaleb is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Since 2006, ammunition stockpile explosions in Albania, Bulgaria, and Serbia have caused large numbers of casualties and significant property damage, displacing many civilians. In an effort to prevent future disasters, representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia met in Sarajevo, November 2-4, at the third in a series of workshops on the South East Europe Regional Approach to Stockpile Reduction (RASR). In a region where the wounds from past conflicts are still healing, RASR provides a neutral space for these nations to come together and realize common goals.
In many countries, military stockpiles are warehoused in what can be dubbed "dangerous depots," where improper storage measures leave the munitions exposed to environmental conditions that increase the risk of explosion. Such depots are a huge hazard, particularly where residential areas have sprung up around them. In addition to the danger of possible explosion, poor storage practices also increase the risk of stocks being stolen and proliferated illicitly.
By coming together at RASR workshops to discuss these threats, the countries of Southeast Europe are building partnerships, recognizing the challenges that they all face, and establishing shared objectives. The workshop served as a forum for Defense Ministry and General Staff officials involved in stockpile management from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia to build relationships with their counterparts and experts in the region. Over the course of the workshop, participants worked together to develop collaborative strategies for lessening excess and at risk conventional weapons and munitions stockpiles.
Participants in RASR are not bound by any agreement, yet they work in parallel to demilitarize unneeded stockpiles of munitions and weapons that threaten the safety of their people. Going beyond the essential goal of stockpile reduction, the workshop reinforced regional confidence building by fostering collaborative relationships between the governments of these nations. RASR is not owned or run by any single nation or organization. Financial support is provided by a number of contributing partners who encourage these efforts to stabilize the region and prevent humanitarian disasters.
The cross pollination between countries who formerly had hostile relationships showed real diplomacy in action. Representatives from each country shared their experiences in demilitarizing excess stocks, securing what is retained for legitimate use, and managing the consequences of explosions of the dangerous depots. By sharing lessons learned, other participants will now be able to better manage the expectations of their own ministries and governments, and hopefully budget their demilitarization efforts accordingly.
The United States is committed to helping countries in Southeast Europe and around the world reduce and destroy at-risk stockpiles of munitions and conventional weapons, improve stockpile safety and security, and clean up hazards that remain after disastrous explosions at their munitions depots. The Office of Weapon Removal and Abatement in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is one of the United States' focal points for efforts to reduce illicit proliferation, preempt new catastrophic explosions at dangerous depots, and to offer expert assistance and support for clean-up efforts after explosions.
To learn more about the U.S. Department of State's efforts to reduce and destroy excess, unstable, and loosely secured conventional weapons and munitions around the world, visit the PM/WRA website at www.state.gov/t/pm/wra. Information about the RASR Initiative and workshop materials are available at www.rasrinitiative.org.