- Armament and disarmament
- Conflict, peace and security
- Peace and development
III. Early efforts to control MANPADS
IV. Global counter-MANPADS efforts
Terrorists have been acquiring—and using—man portable air defence systems (MANPADS) since the early 1970s, perhaps even earlier. However, it was not until two MANPADS missiles nearly hit an Israeli airliner as it departed from a Kenyan airport in 2002 that the international community finally mobilized to address the threat. Since then, the USA and other countries have taken unprecedented steps to curtail the illicit trade in MANPADS and protect civilian airliners from missile attacks. These countries have secured five multilateral agreements on controls for MANPADS exports, destroyed thousands of surplus and poorly secured MANPADS, and improved the security of stockpiles holding thousands more. Equally important are ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the threat, improve perimeter security at major airports and adapt military anti-missile systems for use on commercial airliners. Together, these initiatives have substantially reduced the pool of missiles vulnerable to theft, loss and diversion, and laid the groundwork for significant improvements in airport perimeter security, export controls and aircraft protection.
Despite this progress, the terrorist threat from MANPADS persists. Recent reports of missiles seized from, transferred to or used by non-state groups in Afghanistan, El Salvador, Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia underscore the need for additional control strategies and the expansion of existing programmes and initiatives. Historically, transfers from governments to non-state actors have been a major, if not the largest, source of MANPADS for these groups. Of particular importance is the development of launch-control features, which limit the utility and lifespan of missiles that have been lost, stolen or diverted to terrorists and other unauthorized end-users. Producer states should conduct feasibility studies of possible launch-control features and support the rapid production and installation of the most promising technologies. Another prerequisite for eliminating the threat from MANPADS is the universal adoption of rigorous physical security and stockpile-management practices. The international community should universalize best practices in stockpile security by converting existing best practice guides into a binding international agreement. Finally, donor governments should expand foreign aid programmes that help to secure weapons depots and destroy surplus MANPADS, many of which are severely under-funded.
Matt Schroeder (USA) is Manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Washington, DC.