The AK-47 is about to be discontinued, but its extensive role that it plays throughout the world still keeps going. It was purposefully designed to survive the ravages of time and abuse. Untold thousands have found their ways throughout Africa during the proxy wars of the Cold War.
But where people and ideologies change, the AK-47 has not. What started as an attempt to free the proletariat has become yet another link in the chain that hobbles them. That came about not through any changes in the AK-47 itself – it is no more nor less dangerous than it ever was. What has changed are the intentions and motivations of the people who wield them. The legacy of Mr Kalishnikov was not as much a brilliant and macabre piece of technology, but a means to power that does not ask or anticipate the fluid and cold intentions of its users.
Of course it is not only the AK-47 that has this problem. The mortar, claymore, bomb, grenade, mine … the depressing list is endless. The common denominator is that they remain deadly long after they the reason for their original issue is long forgotten. The random dangers of such weapons was brought home to me in Sudan during the 90‘s:
I worked for some time on the banks of the Nile in Juba, South Sudan. I had been conducting survey of a stretch of the river with an eye to install a turbine pump for supplying water to a medical clinic and the surrounding community. At the end of the day I went around for supper at friends in the MSF compound. Their nurses where very late in returning from work and we where concerned. It was only much later that they arrived, exhausted and miserable. They had been busy with an emergency operation in which they had to amputate the legs of a local fisherman after he had set off an antipersonnel mine. Aside from the sadness of this news, I realised with a shock that the accident occurred on exactly the same piece of riverbank that we had surveyed earlier that day. The area had been carefully demined – of that I had been assured – so what had happened? What had happened was a common occurrence. Mines are washed out of their original positions on the river banks by hard rain. They float down the Nile and end up randomly scattered along the banks of the Nile.
These types of mines where manufactured by the Italian car manufacturer FIAT (via a subsidiary) and where famous for their low cost and the fact that they where designed to blow off the testicles of passing soldiers. Mainly they have succeeded in sowing pain and suffering, particularly amongst children. Long after the spats of the adults have been forgotten, they keep giving. How often are such disasters not prefigured by the words: “It seemed such a good idea at the time…”
The questions that are raised here are of very real consequence now that the Arab Spring has sprung. Wat happened in Libya will perhaps repeat itself in Syria. Once again an authoritarian dictatorship has decided to murder its own people. And again these people are in desperate need of the means to defend themselves. Certainly the free world has a moral duty to lend support. But as things stand, we can not send in the troops. That is a lesson dearly paid for in Iraq.
The only option then appears to be the arming of the local population to defend themselves against their murderers. It is perhaps the only option currently open to us within the current conditions. But here we knock up against the same problem that we discussed earlier in Africa. What will happen with the same weapons in a year from now. Or ten years? Or 64 years?
The Syrians have every right to protect themselves from the immediate and murderous onslaught of their regime. But we are also very much aware of the powerful, religiously driven rifts that might explode at some time in the future. Today’s solution might become tomorrow’s sectarian nightmare.
Today … tomorrow … time. Time is the problem in this scenario.
I propose that this problem can be resolved by integrating time into the solution. Perhaps this can be resolved with a new concept in weaponry: The Timeshare Kalshnikov. By this I mean that all new weapons must factor the time factor into their design. They will be fully functional for a short, predetermined lifespan. This lifespan can only be extended through the issuing party, in this case perhaps, the United Nations.
How would such a mechanism work? Glock pistols have their own built in safety mechanisms to prevent that the gun goes off by mistake. I can not imagine that it is particularly difficult to make a safe and robust mechanism to prevent the weapon from firing after a pre-determined time. With a gun equivalent to the AK-47 the design should be all the more simple. After a few years, or rather months, the weapons will become unusable. (At the same time they could even switch on a transponder so that the weapons can be found.)
In this way the use of the weapon will be restricted to, and only to, the times for which it was intended. The people of Syria obtain the military means to defend themselves for the time that they need to, without granting the option to go over to the types of behaviour that they are currently fighting against.
Perhaps there are still some lessons to be learned from the inimitable Avtomat Kalashnikova-47.