Appraising National Approaches To Sanctions: The Arms Embargo Self-Assessment Tool

small arms survey
3 min readMay 31


By: David Atwood and Gian Giezendanner

UN arms embargoes on conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are among the most frequently imposed injunctions to compel states and non-governmental actors to act in the interests of international peace and security. However, implementing and enforcing arms embargoes is a complicated business that involves multilevel coordination across government, industry, and society. Moreover, the international community’s growing reliance on (ever more complex) sanctions makes it increasingly difficult for UN member states to meet their obligations.

Since 2019, the Small Arms Survey’s Strengthening Implementation and Enforcement of the Arms Embargo on North Korea (SAENK) project, with support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has worked with states to address these challenges through sharing experiences and best practices around the application of UN sanctions regionally and nationally, and the development of helpful tools and resources.

Making sanctions work requires collaboration

A national coordination mechanism can be crucial to the efficacy of sanctions. It can aid domestic and international coordination, enable strategic policy oversight, clarify the sanctions process for all key stakeholders, and overcome barriers to implementation and enforcement.
To create such a mechanism, bodies responsible for the state’s compliance with arms embargoes must first identify any actors with a role in UN Security Council sanctions implementation, such as ministries of foreign affairs, defence, finance, justice, trade and industry, home affairs, or agencies, such as police, intelligence, customs, border control and the armed forces.

Better domestic inter-agency communication can improve collaboration and facilitate the timely detection of suspicious transactions. Sometimes, this may even be possible through existing, related coordination mechanisms, such as anti-money laundering or anti-terrorism financing committees.

A self-assessment approach

In May 2023, the SAENK project launched the Arms Embargo Self-Assessment Tool to help UN member states better implement and enforce UN sanctions. Predicated on inter-agency cooperation as a crucial ingredient of effective sanctions, it can help states assess how they implement and enforce conventional arms embargoes mandated by the UN Security Council in general, but also in particular those against North Korea.

The tool provides questions to consider on the national strategic trade control system and relevant national capacities. It consists of two questionnaires: one on national measures to comply with UN arms embargoes in general, and one specifically about North Korean sanctions. The questionnaires can be answered by qualified individuals but yield the best results through inter-agency information sharing, which favours fuller, better-informed responses and mutual learning.

While it is not a manual on how to implement arms embargoes—the diversity of national systems and processes rules out a one-size-fits-all solution—the tool gives guidance on how to develop a national system capable of effective implementation and enforcement of sanctions.

To learn more about the Small Arms Survey’s SAENK project and related resources, visit the SAENK project page.

Gian Giezendanner is a project officer at the Small Arms Survey, and leads the SAENK project. David Atwood is a consultant working on the Survey’s SAENK project.

This blog post was produced within the framework of the SAENK project, which is financed by the Government of the Netherlands.

Blog posts are intended as a way for various Small Arms Survey collaborators and researchers to discuss small arms- and armed violence-related issues, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Small Arms Survey or its donors.



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