This is an extract of an article "Managing Risk Through Transparency and Cooperation: Improving Lebanon’s PSSM Capacity" that appeared in the latest issue of The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction.
On 4 August 2020, a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate was destroyed in an explosion in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon. The incident left at least 218 people dead, 7,000 people injured and 300,000 displaced. The overall cost of the blast is estimated at $10–15 billion. Even though this incident had nothing to do with weapons or ammunition, the devastation caused by the blast highlighted the need for the Lebanon Armed Forces (LAF) higher command to take a closer look at existing ammunition storage facilities and begin working toward removing all ammunition stockpiles from populated areas.
Weapons and ammunition management (WAM) is a global issue in which nations are responsible for the physical security and stockpile management of weapons (PSSM) and ammunition and to help mitigate weapons diversion and proliferation, and to prevent unplanned explosions at munitions sites (UEMS).
In an ideal world, countries would be able to afford enough equipment and adequate storage facilities to safely secure its national stockpile. Frequently, the security sector is left to manage its inventories of weapons and ammunition on a shoestring budget. Ammunition supplies can quickly deteriorate if not maintained properly, therefore It is vital to identify all risks and ensure that they are effectively managed.
MAG has learned through its experience that ultimately every country has different needs when looking at weapons/ammunition storage, accounting practices, and management systems. Identifying all risks and ensuring they are professionally managed is critical. Risk assessments of all ammunition stockpiles and existing storage facilities — and understanding the costs of an UEMS — can incentivise more governments to better manage their stockpiles.
In Lebanon, the LAF handled the aftermath of the Beirut blast well and accelerated all planned ammunition destruction operations. They also developed the existing central demolition site, which was assessed in September 2020, to allow for larger ammunition destruction operations and was completed in August 2021.
One of the most difficult challenges for the LAF, however, is the lack of suitable land for the construction of military bases and larger ammunition storage facilities. France purpose-built most of the existing military infrastructure in the 1950s. Much of this infrastructure remains, but facilities that were previously isolated with excellent safety distances are now located in densely populated areas.
In partnership with LAF, MAG conducted PSSM technical site assessments at locations identified as high priority for possible intervention. When considering WAM interventions, MAG prioritised storage facilities at each location using a "low cost high-impact" model. This process frequently entails identifying a simple, low-cost solution to a problem and mitigating the risks identified, which is just as effective as a more complex, high-cost intervention.
The scope and complexity of the intervention at each of the storage facilities varied, but it involved MAG delivering technical training — an International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG) familiarisation workshop — to technical people from the Ammunition Directorate who are responsible for all ammunition in Lebanon. Due to land constraints and the encroachment of the civilian population on existing ammunition storage locations in the country, it was deemed necessary to provide Quantity Distance (QD) instruction to the LAF.
This QD training enabled the Ammunition Directorate to begin planning logistical movements of larger calibre ammunition to more appropriate locations outside of populated areas and to determine the amount of ammunition that needed to be either moved to a more suitable location or destroyed if it was (1) surplus to operational requirements or (2) there was insufficient storage space to house it securely and safely.
In December 2020, MAG completed full-scale construction of a new purpose-built ammunition storage area (ASA). The ASA will enable the LAF to store its more valuable, larger calibre munitions in a strategically important location while satisfying all the IATG requirements.
MAG will continue to strengthen its ties with the LAF and the recent success can be ascribed to the LAF's proactive character and transparency with MAG at all levels. As the country now faces additional crises in the shape of hyperinflation, fuel shortages, lack of electricity and absenteeism across the security sector, our work with the LAF is more important than ever before.