The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs participated in an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to destroy 324 surplus Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) at the Kalo Chorio Range, Cyprus, June 9-12.
In October 2008, Cypriot Defense Minister Costas Papacostas requested OSCE assistance to dispose of these excess short-range surface-to-air missiles. A multinational team of experts conducted an assessment visit in March and returned this month to assist with the destruction of the systems, with the United States and the United Kingdom providing technical expertise and the OSCE coordinating overall project implementation.
MANPADS in the hands of criminals, terrorists, and other non-state actors pose a serious threat to passenger air travel, the commercial aviation industry, and military aircraft around the world. Since the 1970s, over 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS, causing about 28 crashes and over 800 deaths around the world. The United States and other concerned countries have recognized this and taken steps to counter this threat. With U.S. assistance, this cooperation has led to the destruction of almost 30,000 excess, loosely secured or otherwise at-risk MANPADS missiles since 2003.
The Chair of the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation, Ilia Giorgadze of Georgia, encouraged the cooperation that led to the successful project. MANPADS have been a focus of the Forum’s work since the creation of the anti-terrorism unit in the Secretariat in 2001. Giorgadze stated, “The Forum recognized that MANPADS should be given special attention and consideration in light of the potential for devastating loss of life and the potential effect on the civil aviation industry and agreed to promote the application of effective and comprehensive export controls and stockpile security for MANPADS.”
At the June 12 closing ceremonies for the project, Ambassador Vasilis Papaioannou, representing the current Greek Chairmanship of the OSCE, noted the dedication by OSCE participating states to this issue since 2003, stating, “The OSCE has actively promoted the application of effective and comprehensive export controls on these weapons for many years, also assisting participating States in their management, stockpiling and disposal.
The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement manages conventional weapons destruction programs worldwide. More information is available at www.state.gov/t/pm/wra.