Strategies by arms embargo violators

States or armed groups that contravene a UN arms embargo utilize a combination of deceptive and fraudulent practices. The following scenarios are composites of strategies with which violators have circumvented UN arms embargoes in the past. Arms embargo violators usually act on political, military or economic motivations.


The most prevalent form of embargo violations are state-to-state transactions. A sanctions-violating state orders embargoed goods from manufacturers operating within a P5 State, from another politically influential country or from a state that is already under UN sanctions. The DPRK are prolific arms producers and exporters. A number of advantages accrue to the contravening parties:

  • State-to-state transactions can be carried out with minimal outside interference, speed and in secrecy.
  • Political and military-strategic objectives of the recipient, possibly also of the supplying state, are accomplished thanks to the improved supply of embargoed goods in violation of sanctions.
  • The sale of military material generates revenues and profits.
  • The risk that the transaction and its official approval despite the lack of honest end use/end-user certification will become publicly known is minimal.
  • If this type of transaction becomes publicly known, the loss of reputation in one part of the world is often more than outweighed by political and economic benefits to the supplier as part of a “sanctions bonus”.


Sanctions Bonus


To those operating from states that can afford to ignore UN sanctions mandates and any possible ramifications – despite legally binding obligations under international law – political, strategic or economic benefits can accrue. Prime examples are P5 states that have the power to threaten a veto and suppress any allegations of wrongdoing. A political sanctions bonus has been observed in the form of enhanced regional reputation for being on the side of “victims of unjust Western power politics”. Financial aspects of the sanctions bonus are usually higher profits resulting from costs added for the sale of embargoed material, their transportation, or financing of related transactions that are justified by the higher risk of being caught.


Other typologies of sanctions violations and other forms of illegal diversion strategies reported in the smuggling of non-proliferation items, components and technologies:

  • Company to state transactions
  • Smuggling with the assistance of intermediaries such as brokers, agents fiduciaries or by using the protective shield of lawyer-client privileges
  • Company to state transactions of dual use items or circumvention of catch-all provisions
  • Exploitation of the fact that restricted items and technologies are barely distinguishable from almost identical non-embargoed items;
  • Substitution of unrestricted with restricted items;
  • Concealment of restricted items within legitimate bulk or containerized cargo;
  • Exploitation of weaker jurisdictions that lack the capacity and technological capacities to control, scan and analyze the international transport of goods and persons;
  • Transfer of embargoed goods from ship to ship on the high seas;
  • Renaming or reflagging of vessels during transit