The (Steel) Rains Down in Africa


On October 4, 2017 in a village called Tongo Tongo, located 174 kilometers North of the Nigerian capital of Niamey, the highest-casualty event in Africa for American forces since the Mogadishu incident that inspired the movie “Black Hawk Down” took place. Four American Green Berets and four Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ambush set up by the Islamic State. This event shined a light on the fact that US forces were not only on the continent of Africa, but seemed to be engaged in direct action as well. The deaths of four elite soldiers caused inquiries as to why the United States was on the continent of Africa and under what authority they were there. The Trump administration, now tasked with managing the US military presence around the world, responded by stating the US was deployed to “train, advise, and assist Nigerian partner forces.”[1] While it is not a new or novel concept in the post-9/11 age for the citizenry of the United States to be unaware of clandestine operations around the world, it certainly is unusual for senators, such as Lindsey Graham to state, “I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger, this is an endless war without boundaries and no limitation on time and geography.”[2]

According to the Comptroller of the Department of Defense (DOD), approximately $44,827,000, before factoring in funds allocated through 10 USCS §127e, has been preliminarily allocated to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) for the fiscal year of 2019.[3] The code 127e usurps the War Powers Resolution by circumventing the need for congressional approval of funds for specific operations. Very little is available to the public in terms of exactly what the funds are spent on, but according to General Raymond A. Thomas it provides “unique access and capabilities” to the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community.[4]

The issue here is not that the government seems to be waging a clandestine war on the African continent. Considering that the continent has some of the fastest growing economies,[5] it is in the interest of the United States to help stem the tide of terrorism and foster closer ties with the most resource and opportunity rich continent on the planet. This is especially true considering the fact that China is investing approximately $60 billion into the African continent.[6] Russia, in the same fashion as the preceding Soviet Union,[7] is investing heavily into Africa with money, weapons, and “advisors.”[8]

The United States on the other hand, is lagging far behind the two rival nations in terms of investment into Africa. The Brookings Institute stated that the U.S. Commercial engagement in Africa has not only ceased to increase but has actually decreased over the last five years. Therefore, it is through necessity that the United States is providing value to African nations with the greatest and most abundant export resource at its disposal: warriors.

Again, the issue isn’t that the US is engaged in a secret war on the continent, the issue is that the new modus operandi of the government seems to lean toward acquiring a large defense budget in support of American national security; support for necessary military expenditures like investing money into the F-35[9] as well as the added expenses of global clandestine operations that include activities in Africa. While the language of the transparency report of March, 2018 clearly stated that the United States is in Niger to provide training and support, there are numerous reports from service members that they are engaged in active hostilities on the African Continent.[10] If the fight for the preservation of order is as important as General Bolduc says,[11] then it would behoove the government to go through the proper channels of the legislative branch to acquire more funding than the meager amount currently being channeled into the continent.

It is an old habit of presidents to deploy US troops without a declaration of war from Congress in direct contradiction to the Constitutional separation of powers.[12] The justification has historically been that in actions that arguably do not warrant a declaration of war, the president need not rely on Congress to approve. Frustrated with the seeming circumvention of duly divided Constitutional powers Congress, during President Nixon’s term, passed the War Powers Resolution despite the direct veto of the president. The War Powers Resolution allowed the Commander in Chief of the military to place troops in various geographic locations, and indeed even into hostile zones so long as a few conditions were met. The Commander in Chief can utilize his Constitutionally vested authority to deploy troops so long as the authority is 1) exercised pursuant to a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization from congress, or a national emergency created by an attack on the United States, 2) report the activities to Congress, 3) withdraw all US forces within 60 days of a report, unless Congress approves continued action or is physically unable to meet.[13]  The arrangement has historically been that should Congress find the engagement distasteful, they can end the conflict after sixty days by cutting funding to an operation. The operation in Niger was a shocking revelation because it seems to have shown that even the War Powers Resolution is being side stepped, if not outright ignored by the executive branch to an extent. The executive branch seems to be sidestepping the War Powers Resolution by acquiring funds via 10 USCS §127e. 10 USCS §127e allows the Secretary of Defense to expend “up to $100,000,000 during any fiscal year to provide support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing military operations by United States special operations forces to combat terrorism.”[14] The language “combat terrorism” seems to be a deliberate introduction of language that would give the executive branch an unsupervised ability to allocate funds, especially since the Authorization for Use of Military Force, better known as Pub. L. 107-40 has been used to justify anti-terrorist activities since September 18, 2001.[15]



[2] Volcovici, Valerie, ‘The answer we have now is not adequate’: Lawmakers are raising questions about the ambusth on US troops in Niger,

[3] Fiscal Year(FY) 2019 President’s Budget, Office of the Secretary of Defense,

[4]General Thomas, A. Raymond , Statement before the House Armed Services Committee; Subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities,

[5] Ebatamehi, Sebastiane, Top 10 Fastest Growing Economies in Africa 2018

[6] Sow, Mariama, Figures of the week: Chinese investment in Africa,

[7] Bienen, Henry, Soviet Political Relation sin Africa, Internatinoal Security Vol. 6, No. 4 (spring 1982)



[10]Morgan, Wesley, Behind the secret U.S. war in Africa,,

[11]Brigadier General Bolduc, C. Donald, The Pentagon Wants To Pull Special Operations Forces Out Of Africa. That’s A Huge Mistake,,

[12] Id.




The Avtomat Kalashnikov Model of Year 1947


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the position of JLIA, Penn State Law, School of International Affairs, or Pennsylvania State University.


In examining modern history, the tools that have been responsible for the majority of combat related deaths are small arms and light arms. Small arms are man-portable weapons like rifles, pistols, and light machine guns, light arms are weapons operated by crews of people like mortars, recoilless rifles, and heavy machine guns.[i] The king of small arms and the rifle—AK or Avtomat Kalashnikov rifle—has been in nearly every conflict since 1950. It is the brainchild of Mikhail Kalashnikov, a soviet tank commander who envisioned a soviet army equipped with a nigh unstoppable rifle. The AK is an eight-pound amalgamation of wood and steel that can operate in mud, sand, dust and similar conditions that would make competing western rifles fail. The operation and maintenance of the rifle is so simple that child soldiers are often equipped with it.


In the years following its adoption in 1947, the production of the AK and its variants were spread out among the Warsaw Pact countries and “licensed” to other nations as well. The AK rifle and the cheap and effective power it could lend to small groups was as much a Soviet export and component of Soviet foreign policy as was the spread of communism. In the eyes of the Soviet Union, the rifle was the chief tool by which the proletariat could rise up in communist insurrection around the world. The devastating effect of the AK was first seen by the world during the Vietnam war. The deadly reputation of the AK was solidified in the jungles of Southeast Asia and has been and still is reinforced in conflicts around the world. From the killing fields in Cambodia to the massacres in Yugoslavia and in the hands of terror groups worldwide, the AK is a mainstay in modern conflicts. The abundance of AK sightings in conflict zones is mainly due to the war doctrine of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s battlefield policy was not to repair but to replace as the need arose, as a result of this doctrine, the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations produced a staggering amount of AK rifles for a war with the west that never came. As of 2004, of the nearly 500 million firearms in the world 100 million are AK or AK variants produced by nations, failed states, and even insurgent groups.[ii]


Since the fall of the iron curtain and the primary purpose of toppling the west was lost, the rifles have seen varying uses around the world. Envisioned by Mikhail Kalashnikov as a tool of liberation, the AK has ended up becoming the symbol of tyranny, crime, and terror.[iii] Most modern stockpiles of AK rifles used by terror or criminal groups come from unlicensed productions being produced today or leftovers from the Cold War era. AK rifles are still being produced today, nations like China, Iran, North Korea, India and many others produce near identical rifles that have indigenous names. These rifles, while officially for state use only have seeped into black markets and ended up in the hands of criminal and terror organizations around the world. Beyond the currently produced rifles, many of the rifles used in crimes across western Europe come from Eastern bloc stockpiles. After the fall of the iron curtain, former Warsaw Pact nations were extremely poor and had one chief export: arms and armor from the cold war.


The effects of the sell-off of cheap rifles made for war are felt today. While western European nations are fearful of firearms and impose stricter and stricter gun laws, terrible attacks like the one on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the concert in Paris, and the constant attacks in Sweden are becoming more common. The AKs used in the Paris attacks were supposedly leftover rifles from the fall of Yugoslavia, leftovers from the communist era that still carry their deadly purpose.[iv] Most of the AK rifles seeping into Western Europe make their way from the Balkans.[v]


The legal issue here is how to create governmental restrictions and impositions that would better protect the people of the world and in particular western Europe. Simply setting limitations within the sovereignty of nations is clearly ineffective. Weapons seep through the borders of nations that lie next to former soviet satellite states, and the free travel within the European nations allows for easy transport of weapons once in the union. The UN has not remained idle on this issue either, in 2014 the landmark treaty named Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) entered into force.[vi] Signed by nearly 92 nations worldwide, the ATT is a near global attempt to set standards on the import and export of small-arms and other more conventional weapons worldwide. The purpose is to curb the regional and international insecurity that is caused by unregulated arms trafficking. So far, the efficiency of the treaty remains in question, many attacks have happened and continue to happen with weapons that originate from nations that have signed the treaty.


The ATT’s substantive language states that the goal is to “create a safer environment for the United Nations and other organizations.”[vii] This goal is supposed to be achieved by the “regulation of cross-border trade of conventional arms.”[viii] This goal is admirable but ultimately seems insufficient to stop the spread and usage of AK rifles and other soviet arms that have been left behind in the wake of the Cold War


The answer to preventing more weapons from ending up in the “wrong hands” is not a simple one. The issue lies with understanding the motivations of those who sell the firearms illegally. Many of the groups currently selling illicit firearms to western European buyers are motivated by money. The average price for an AK rifle is about $1200 in Belgium.[ix] Lack of economic opportunities leads to the transaction of the only goods that seem to hold value: weapons. Perhaps the answer lies in creating a multinational organization that has the sole purpose of finding and purchasing Kalashnikov rifles and preventing them from falling into the control of nefarious groups in the west.


While the solution suggested in this article is far from one based in a legal basis, the current solutions presented by passage of legislation or treaties does not seem to be stemming the tide of deadly relics of the Soviet Union making their way into Europe.


About the Author: Hojae Chung is a 2L at Penn State Law.


[i] Klare, Michael, Small Arms Proliferation and International Security, Hampshire College

[ii] Chivers, C.J., The AK-47: ‘The Gun’ That Changed The Battlefield, NPR

[iii] Franko, Blake, The Gun That Is in Almost 100 Countries: Why the AK-47 Dominates,

[iv] Bajekal, Naina and Walt, Vivienne, How Europe’s Terrrorists Get Their Guns,

How Europe’s Terrorists Get Their Guns

[v] Ask not from whom the AK-47s flow, Economist

[vi] The Arms Trade Treaty,

The Arms Trade Treaty

[vii] Module 1: Arms Trade Treaty Implementation Kit, UN

[viii] Id.

[ix] McCarthy, Niall, The Cost of An AK-47 On the Black Market Around the World,

[Series] Prosecuting War Crimes: Progress on Prosecuting Sexual Violence Crimes

The Bosnian conflict is best understood by looking back in history to the founding of Yugoslavia. In 1943, the six republics of Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina came together under a banner of “brotherhood and unity.”[1] This was an effort to resist ethnic, national, and religious loyalties that the Axis invaders of World War 2 wished to exploit. The dream of “brotherhood and unity” lasted five decades, the decline came with the rise of Serbian politician Slobodan Milosevic, who pushed a Serbian nationalist agenda aimed at centralizing power. Milosevic was able to rise to power due to the economic decline of Yugoslavia, and his ability to blame ethnic outsiders and pushing for Serbian power only served to consolidate his position. Tensions boiled over, and in April, 1992 war broke out. Three ethnic groups were in opposition of each other: the Bosnian-Serbs, backed my Milosevic, Bosnian-Croats, backed by then Croatian president, Frando Tudjman, and Bosnian Muslims known as Bosniaks.[2] It was in this war that lasted four years that the world held witness to some of the most unspeakable war crimes of the latter half of the 20th century.

It was during this conflict that the world bore witness in near live-cast fashion, to the use of rape as a weapon of war. Historians and ordinary citizens alike watched in horror as the calculated use of sexual violence was used to commit genocide through ethnic cleansing. Attempts at cleansing religious and ethnic groups were made by either impregnating or shaming the women of various populations. Special “rape camps” were extremely common during the conflict, within which the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) estimates an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 women and girls were raped, forcibly impregnated and given diseases. Many were Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims, ranging from six years of age to seventy years of age.

The consequences of these atrocities were far reaching and affect women in the area to this day. Many of the women were forcibly impregnated and released only after they passed the threshold where abortion was possible. Long-term depression, social phobia, PTSD, and sexual disfunctions are common. Some became infertile as a result of the horrible mistreatment they suffered during the conflict.[3]

In order to prosecute these and other war crimes committed during the conflict, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) exercised powers vested by the United Nations Charter to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[4] The birth of the ICTY seemed in many respects a throwback to the Nuremburg Tribunals, however there is a stark difference between the two that solidify the ICTY as an independent precedent for international criminal prosecution. The ICTY was established not in agreement between nations that had jurisdiction over the crimes as in the case of Nuremburg, but by the independent action of the UNSC. This was an important step, because it put forth the idea that the UNSC would not sit idly by and watch these atrocities, but would utilize powers under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and seek to “maintain or restore international peace and security.”[5]

As previously mentioned, one of the most important cases that the ICTY tried was against Dusko Tadic, a Bosnian Serb commander of paramilitary forces charged with genocide, gross transgressions against the Fourth Geneva Convention, and various crimes against humanity.[6] Tadic was the first defendant on trial, and as a result would be the precedent against which all other trials would be measured. Tadic’s trial was not only a test of the ICTY’s efficacy, but the power of the UNSC to establish ad hoc tribunals in response to international crises.[7]

The tribunal had to defend against two main points in Mr. Tadic’s trial: first, that the UNSC exceeded its powers under Chapter VII and second, that the tribunal was an illegal body because it was not established “by law.”[8]

To the first issue, the establishment of a tribunal was necessary and available under Chapter VII which states that the UNSC can “decide what measures shall be taken in order to…maintain or restore international peace and security.” The breakdown of the former state of Yugoslavia and the ensuing violence and atrocities were a clear candidate for Chapter VII to apply. As per the chapter, the UNSC had the authority to use non-military means to implement decisions, these means include but are not limited economic and diplomatic sanctions.[9] Further, the UNSC has the ability to create any “subsidiary organs necessary for the performance of its functions.”[10]

Tadic’s second point of contention was the more difficult of the two because it claimed that the tribunal had no right to prosecute due to the internationally recognized right of individuals to be prosecuted by tribunals established by law. Mr. Tadic contended that as a tribunal established by a UNSC resolution, it would be a violation of his civil, political, and human rights. The tribunal is not encumbered by this issue because tribunals established by law applied to national and not international court, due to the lack of an international legislature. Further, it was established that so long as the tribunal conferred all relevant international human rights and was grounded in a rule of law, there was no violation. Beyond this, the tribunal could be considered established “by law” because the United Nations charter conferred a legal right to the UNSC to establish tribunals.

The authority of the UNSC to create tribunals firmly in place, the ICTY has become a precedent in prosecuting international crimes. The ICTY has shown the world that an individual’s position in government means nothing and that leaders suspected of crimes against humanity will be prosecuted. To date, 161 individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and complicity with war crimes have been indicted.[11] 83 individuals including Mr. Tadic have been sentenced, while others have died in custody. Moving forward, the national judiciaries of the Bosnian Herzegovinian federation, Serbian, and Croatian governments have begun to prosecute war criminals independently of the ICTY.


About the Author: Hojae Chung is a 2L at Penn State Law.

* This is the first part of a series on the progress on prosecution of war crimes.


[1] Tim Judah, Yugoslavia 1918-2003, BBC History

[2] Larissa Petola, Rape as a tool of War and Genocide: An Examination of its Historical and Contemporary Tactical Uses, Effects on Victims and Societies and Psychological Explanations,

[3] Mladen Loncar, Vesna Medved, Nikolina Jovanovic, Ljubomir Hotujac, Psychological Consequences of Rape on Women in 1991-1995 War in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

[4] Resolution 827,


[6] International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

[7] The Hague, The Tribunal’s first trial : another step in the fulfillment of the Tribunal’s mandate, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

[8] International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia


[10] CHAPTER V: THE SECURITY COUNCIL, Article 29, Charter of the United Nations  

[11]Key Figures of the Case, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

[Series] Prosecuting War Crimes: Progress on Prosecuting Sexual Violence Crimes

“The determining feature for both conventional and non-conventional weapons to be characterized as weapons of war, is that they are used as part of a systematic political campaign which has strategic military purposes.”  [1]

The use of sexual violence as a tool of war can be seen throughout the world, and across much of history. The systematic rape of women and girls has been a tool used to conduct “ethnic cleansing”, which the United Nations defines as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force”[2]  In 1992 the former communist state of Yugoslavia dissolved, during that time, an estimated 60,000 women were raped due to political, ethnic, and religious differences with the political majority Bosnian-Serbs. [3] In 1994, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a rocket attack. [4]The Hutu leader’s death was not the sole reason for the genocide, but it was the spark that caused the death of 800,000 Rwandans in the span of 100 days. During those 100 days, approximately 500,000 women and children were raped in Rwanda.[5]   As evidenced by its use in Bosnia and Rwanda Rape, is one of the most widely used weapons of mass destruction. It is not only a means of destroying lives, but it fractures families and communities that are unable to cope with the event.

Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court declares rape or any other equivalent sexual violence committed in a widespread manner against a civilian population to be a crime against humanity. [6] Despite the condemnation from the international community, sexual violence is still used as an effective tool of war. Sexual violence remains such an efficacious tool of war primarily because there is little that can be done to prevent it in conflict zones. The International Court’s ability to prevent sexual violence in conflict zones is limited to deterrence. Deterrence by means of prosecuting those who perpetrated the crimes as well as the people who encouraged them. The nightmare of survivors is not only the assault itself, but the societal stigma that follows: survivors are often ostracized from communities, often forced to bear unwanted children, and infected with diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Prosecuting perpetrators proved to be extremely difficult until recent times. Due to the fact that international courts, such as The Hague, denounced rape but did not provide a sufficient definition. The prohibition of rape was an important step, but was not clear enough to combat the varied forms of sexual assault. In order to clarify what constituted sexual violence, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) was given a set of statutes to abide by.[7] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was also given a set of statutes to operate under.[8] Both tribunals set precedents by relying on their respective statutes as well as customary international law (CIL). The use of customary international law was a stride in the right direction, as CIL’s allow tribunals discretion and flexibility when prosecuting these types of crimes. Both the ICTY and ICTR created good precedents for the prosecution of individuals who perpetrated sexual violence.

For the ICTY, the most influential  case was Prosecutor v. Tadic, a case in which it was never proven that the defendant had directly committed sexual violence but instead found him responsible for participation in a campaign of terror manifested by murder, rape, and torture. The tribunal effectively created an innovation aimed at influencing parties to curtail their brutality.

The ICTR’s chestnut case was prosecutor v. Akayesu, as it was the first case to define rape and sexual violence in a post-conflict context. Prosecuting sexual aggression was one of the chief objectives of the tribunal. The ICTR was also groundbreaking because it dealt almost entirely with internal armed conflict, and likened rape to the same level as torture under the Geneva convention.

Recently, former Central African Republic military commander, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was sentenced to 18 years by the Hague for both war crimes and crimes against humanity (rape and murder). Mr. Gombo was a commander of a contingent of Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) from October 26, 2002 until March 15, 2003.[9] Mr. Gombo’s conviction is groundbreaking because he was sentenced not only for his own crimes, but for the crimes of his subordinates, the first time that the doctrine of command responsibility was utilized in an ICC prosecution.


About the Author: Hojae Chung is a 2L at Penn State Law.

* This is the first part of a series on the progress on prosecution of war crimes.


[1] Inger Skjelsbaek, Sexual Violence and War: Mapping Out a Complex Relationship, European Journal of International Relations Vol.7, no. 2 (June 1, 2001)


[3] Michelle Lent Hirsch, Bosnia, WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER (February 8, 2012)

[4] Rwanda: How the genocide happened, (May 17, 2011)

[5] Binaifer Nowrojee, Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Project (September 1996)

[6] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, International Criminal Court (July 1, 2002)



[9] Background, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, International Justice Monitor (2014)