War, Peace, and the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Posted by Michael L. Ly
August 20, 2014
A Member of the Security Forces Returns a Rifle to a Rack in the DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled through years of war, which have claimed more than five million lives and littered the country with landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  A serious security challenge for lasting peace, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and other munitions from poorly managed and secured stockpiles fuels the ongoing violence in the country and creates constant risk of illicit trafficking across the DRC’s porous borders.  This poses a threat for even wider regional instability.

Strengthening security and stability is essential for the DRC’s future. Since 2006, the United States has invested more than $7 million in support of conventional weapons destruction programs to safely dispose of excess weapons and ammunition and improve the security of remaining arms inventories to help prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.  This aid complements the U.S. role as the largest donor to the UN stabilization mission in the DRC and its commitment to the regional implementation of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework Agreement, which the DRC and ten other countries in the region signed in February 2014. The U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the DRC leads U.S. engagement in the Framework peace process, which aims to resolve the root causes of conflict and instability in the region.

With U.S. funding, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has worked in conjunction with national authorities in the DRC to improve security and safety conditions in many armories throughout the country and destroyed more than 130,000 at-risk weapons, including 10,000 small arms and light weapons and 75 tons of surplus, unstable, and obsolete munitions this past year in the Northern and Southern Kivu Provinces. In partnership with MAG, DRC authorities have secured remaining weapons by taking steps to improve the security of arms storage sites, marking small arms to better conduct inventories and prevent thefts.  In addition to safely disposing of these excess weapons, DRC authorities have also partnered with U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to help train a company of military engineers to address landmine and ERW challenges across the country.

The ongoing conflict in the DRC continues to jeopardize the livelihood and safety of the Congolese people as well as undermine the stability and security of the African Great Lakes region.  While significant work remains, these successes are a powerful testament to the United States’ commitment to making the DRC safer and more secure.  As the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russell D. Feingold, recently reaffirmed, “The U.S. is committed to helping the DRC and the Great Lakes region permanently break the cycle of violence and realize its democratic and economic potential.”

The United States is proud to be the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance to help countries address this serious humanitarian challenge.  Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.3 billion in aid to over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction.  These programs address not only clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, but also destruction of stockpiles of excess or loosely-secured munitions to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, and better stockpile management of munitions to prevent depot explosions that could endanger civilians.  Our efforts have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate, and assisted 15 countries to become free from the impact of landmines.  Conventional weapons destruction in countries like the DRC helps set the stage for post-conflict recovery and development and is one tangible way the United States is working to promote regional and international peace and security.

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.

About the Author: Michael L. Ly is an intern in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, currently studying at the University of Virginia. Follow @StateDeptPM on Twitter.

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