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The tactical strings attached to Western armament help to Ukraine, i.e., the Ukraine not being "allowed" to hit targets on Russian soil using Western-supplied long-range weapons, has been much discussed in the news. First, its existence, and then its gradual removal.

Has there ever been a conflict, in which a warring party has been supplied with arms, but was restricted in its use?
As in: here's your guns, but you only do X, and never do Y!


I would like to stress, that I am asking about weapons shipped, and not about limited armed support. E.g. when the NATO decided to limit itself to air strikes in Yugoslavia in 1999.

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    I don't think comparing other conflicts to the Ukrainian conflict is appropriate because very few times in history are weapons (etc.) gifted during a conflict instead of sold.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Jun 10 at 13:55
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    @uberhaxed In WW2 lots of weapons were gifted and in modern arms sales often conditions on usage apply. Commented Jun 10 at 14:12
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    Comparing to WWII is disingenuous. "Gifting" to allies when you're both actively fighting in a conflict is not a gift, it's using your allies manpower to support your own war effort.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Jun 10 at 14:17
  • @uberhaxed: it can be either sold arms, or gifted arms. I have no idea how the Western nations deal with Ukraine in terms of payment. However, gifted or not, the West does or did limit Ukraine's possible use of certain arms. I really interested in the tactical limitations aspect.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Jun 10 at 14:20
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    Whether something is a gift makes a difference because when an object is sold, both sides have consideration (one side gained money, the other gained an object) so post contract stipulations are rare. When both sides do not have consideration, then the de facto consideration is the implied soft power (it's a favor) so one side owes the other side in some way (including instructions on how to direct the use of the gift). This isn't different than making a donation (i.e. a gift) to a (e.g. nonprofit) organization.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Jun 10 at 14:47

3 Answers 3

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As a legal technicality ever since the Leahy Law was passed in 1999, all foreign arms supplies by the US come with the stipulation that they will not be used to violate human rights. But the Leahy law focuses more on past conflicts and allegations of previous human right abuses than the current one.

Even before that, going as far back as 1976, The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 requires international governments receiving weapons from the United States to use the armaments for legitimate self-defense. They are always restricted from using American armaments for an offensive war.

Being that it can be very difficult to make a judgment as to what is an offensive or defensive war and what acts of war are human rights abuses and what is legitimate self defense, the application of those two acts above have been very controversial over the years.

The Arms Trade Treaty is an international agreement that puts similar restrictions on supplying weapons to other countries. Being that the largest arms suppliers in the world like the US, UK, France, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran etc. did not sign it or vote for it when it came up as a UN vote, it has little practical impact.

In 2019 the UK government stopped issuing new licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia after the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the UK government's decision to supply them arms in the Yemen civil war was unlawful because of the methods The Saudi Arabia-led Coalition was fighting with in the conflict.

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It seems rather common.

For example, directly related to the war in Ukraine but due to prior agreements, some countries that were willing to send weapons to Ukraine found themselves waiting for permission from the original provider of those weapons, because they were bound by conditions of the sale of the weapons.

For example, this article explains how before the war, Estonia was denied permission by Germany to agree to transfer some of Estonia's army weapons to Ukraine.

Germany is blocking North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Estonia from giving military support to Ukraine by refusing to issue permits for German-origin weapons to be exported to Kyiv as it braces for a potential Russian invasion.

Unlike the U.S., Britain, Poland and other allies, the German government has declined to export lethal weapons directly to Ukraine.

And it does not seem that it was anything particularly new or secret. You can bet that every time a country sells advanced weapons to an ally, there are clauses to prevent those weapons from going to a country that could likely become an adversary of the seller.

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Not just supplied with restrictions, but at times restrictions are applied retroactively.

For example the UK sold combat aircraft to Indonesia, then decades later complained when said aircraft were used to suppress a rebellion by Aceh separatists.

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    Hmm, if the Indonesians used the planes in a way that the UK didn't like, then that wasn't really a restriction since nothing stopped the Indonesians at the time when they used the planes. While I welcome all answers, this doesn't strictly answer my question.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Jun 11 at 8:15
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    @DohnJoe in international law there is no easy way to force a country to do what you want, there is no enforcement. UK's options would have been protests, sanctions, refusing me deals (including maintenance equipment) or war. It is not as if it could have sent some guys to repo the planes.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:10
  • That said, there is a distinction between "we sell you this hardware with this restriction" and "after we sold you the hardware, we do not like what you are doing with it." The latter would not breach the agreements, because they cannot be retroactively modified, but the UK has the capability to show house displeasure using exactly the same means.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:13

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