The Small Arms Survey produced by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland estimates that there are at least six hundred and forty million firearms world wide with the number growing at a rate of nearly eight million per year (SAS, 2010). They further speculate that the annual sales both legal and illegal of these arms produce over seven billion US dollars per year (SAS, 2010). It is estimated that over half a million people world wide are killed by these small arms every year (SAS, 2010).
Stewart Patrick of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that “notions incapable of exercising responsible sovereignty have a spill over effect in the form of terrorism, weapons proliferation, and other dangers” (Patrick, 2006). Failing states, particularly those in North/ West Africa and the Middle East have become highly susceptible to civil war, internal conflict, and as a result are more likely to deal in the illegal arms trade (Patrick, 2006). Although the United States along with its allies, most notably the United Kingdom, have put forth great effort to abolish the small arms trade in these plagued regions, there are still and estimated forty- six countries with nearly nine hundred million inhabitants that are classified as “fragile” and at risk for internal conflict leading to illegal arms trade and ultimately human sacrifice as a result of instability (Patrick, 2006).
Experts estimate that ninety percent of civilian casualties are the direct result of small arms injuries inflicted by others (Shah, 2006). Contrary to popular belief, most small arms do NOT originate from impoverished and embattled nations; in fact just the opposite, nearly eighty eight percent of the world’s “conventional arms” are exported from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China (Shah, 2006). Furthermore, a 1998 report produced by Oxford estimates that the UK alone sold small arms to over one hundred smaller nations, many of whom were involved in various conflicts (Shah, 2006). The Oxford report points to weak regulations, loopholes, and poor enforcement of arms controls as the primary methodology by which criminals, terrorists, and enemy combatants obtain weapons (Shah, 2006).
It should be noted that many of these weapons end up in the hands of enemy combatants by a lack of accountability and careless alliances that result in unintentional contributions to enemies (Shah, 2006). For example, during the 1980’s the Soviet Union was involved a war against the Mujahedeen Resistance in Afghanistan; due to increased tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, the US supported the resistance and supplied them with thousands of small arms and various other weapons to aid in their fight against the standing government as well as the Soviet empire (Shah, 2006). While the US was pouring arms into the hands of the resistance, the Soviets were supplying the government’s forces (Shah, 2006). Unfortunately, upon the conclusion of the conflict, the weapons did not simply disappear, they remained in the hands of the very individuals that the US is at war with today (Shah, 2006).
This is a prime example of how the seemingly charitable distribution of arms can come back to haunt the donor. Even today, the US continues to provide foreign threats with the very weapons that they are using to attack it. As of 27 June 2009 the US had shipped over forty tons of small arms to the perceived “Somali government” to combat the on going insurgency (AllAfrica, 2009). However, the increase in Somali piracy and illegal arms trade in the region would suggest that many of those weapons are being sold on the black market to insurgents, pirates, and even worse potential terrorists that pose a real threat to the United States and its’ allies (AllAfrica, 2009).
Recent events to include the Mumbai attacks of 2008 have made the damage a few small arms can cause deathly apparent. If the United States and its allies continue to pour weapons into the global economy and the rest of the world fails to enforce effective laws, the proliferation of small arms will only worsen, in turn increasing the risk to national and transnational security.
Current International Response:
The above analysis clearly illustrates the international threat posed by the sale and proliferation of small arms throughout the world. Small arms proliferation has recently become a political hot button issue, leading the United States along with various world powers to make strides in combating the problem.
In 1997 a report issued by the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, was the first modern report to specifically address small arms and light weapons proliferation (Weiss, 2003). The report laid out the frame work of a potential solution to combat small arms proliferation; the strategy involved a balanced approach to reducing not only the supply of small arms available to embattled nations, but it also addressed the need to combat the demand for small arms (Weiss, 2003). The report identifies the following causes of small arms demand: insecurity, weapons culture, and youth recruitment into violent activities (Weiss, 2003).
Essentially, the Panel argued that to combat the proliferation of arms, the demand of arms must first be addressed; i.e. to defeat demand in an insecure environment, the country or region must first be stabilized (Weiss, 2003). To combat proliferation in a culture that indemnifies those who carry arms, the culture must be changed through education and propaganda (Weiss, 2003). And to combat the proliferation of arms in a country or region where the youth are being recruited into violence, measures must be established to protect the youth (Weiss, 2003). The argument is social deterrence will prevail in the stabilization and reduction in small arms proliferation in plagued regions (Weiss, 2003). In an effort to meet these goals, the UN, EU, US, and various NGOs have established working groups that provide aid in the form of education, financial welfare, and peace development in nations and regions that are most likely to be inflicted by small arms proliferation and a social dependence on weapons (Weiss, 2003).
Progress is slow but efforts are being made to reduce small arms proliferation and weapons trafficking, specifically in Africa. In 2000 the Organization of African Unity (OAU) met specifically to discuss a strategy to combat small arms proliferation in anticipation of the 2001 UN Conference (Weiss, 2003). As a result of this meeting of powers the Bamako Declaration was developed and was careful to ensure the respective countries of their right to defend themselves, but at the same time acknowledged that small arms proliferation, sustains conflicts, promotes a culture of violence, and has adverse effects on security and development (Weiss, 2003). The Declaration indicated that to combat the issue the states must first control the suppliers, restore peace and confidence among Member states, strengthen structure through democracy, observe human rights, foster economic recovery, and promote conflict prevention measures (Weiss, 2003).
In August of 2001 the Southern African Development (SADC) established the Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition, and Other Related Materials (Weiss, 2003). This resolution focused more of an effort on combating the supply of small arms into the region (Weiss, 2003). It was effectively a pact amongst the member states to combat arms trafficking and establish more comprehensive border control methodologies to eliminate the flow of arms throughout the region (Weiss, 2003). Finally, at the 2001 UN Summit, the Program of Action was developed and established international laws regulating the sale and export of small arms; it also served as an agreement amongst the member nations to promote dialogue and peace, foster public awareness and conflict resolution and prevention (Weiss, 2003).
In June of 1997, the EU established the Program for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms (EU, 2001). This program established practices within EU nations to strengthen efforts against arms trafficking not only in their own states but in other nations, both EU and non- EU (EU, 2001). Assistance was afforded to nations in the form of cooperation, coordination, intelligence sharing, and customs and law enforcement cross training (EU, 2001). Furthermore, the program established a practice by which EU representatives, in cooperation with the UN, would visit embattled nations, specifically those in conflict or those just post conflict, and assist in the promotion of non- proliferation efforts (EU, 2001).
In June of 1998 the EU General Affairs Council enacted the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports (EU, 2001). The Code was an agreement among member states to set high standards for the management of arms sales (EU, 2001). It encouraged increased transparency and established required protocols for assessing a destination state when a sales application is submitted (EU, 2001). The protocol established was as follows:
- Respect sanctions declared by the UN Security Council and international agreements on non- proliferation
- Evaluate and respect the human rights in destination state
- Assess the internal situation in the destination state and evaluate internal tension and armed conflicts
- Preserve regional peace, security, and stability
- Respect the national security of the Member States and of territories whose external relations are the responsibility of Member States
- Evaluate the behavior of the buyer country
- Assess the existence of risk that the arms could be diverted or re- exported
- Evaluate the compatibility of the arms with the technical/ economic capacity of the destination state
The Code further required Member States to circulate all denied applications for arms sales and forced all Members States to consult one another when considering a sale to a state that has already been denied by another Member State (EU, 2001).
Operation Rachel is an excellent example of international cooperation to combat small arms proliferation. Following the Mozambique conflict, there were large numbers of weapons in South Africa (EU, 2001). Operation Rachel was a cooperative effort to collect intelligence and information about cache locations and was followed up by joint police/ military operation to destroy all weapons found (EU, 2001). Since its inception in 1995 the Operation Rachel task force has executed over a dozen joint operations and has been highly successful in destroying weapons caches in South Africa (EU, 2001).
The international community has followed the EU lead and banded together to combat small arms trafficking. In an effort to mitigate small arms proliferation the UN Security Council has established embargoes prohibiting the transfer of arms to various states/ regions (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006). Additionally the UN held a Small Arms Conference in New York in July of 2001 (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006). Amongst the discussion at the 2001 Conference was the limiting of arms to nonstate actors, standards on civilian possession of weapons, restrictions on trade and manufacture of small arms, and various treaties constructed to combat small arms proliferation (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006).
The UN Conference established clear and comprehensive laws and regulations covering the manufacture, transport, transfer, storage, and disposal of small arms (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006). As part of the creation of laws, there was a uniform criminalization of unauthorized manufacture, possession, stockpiling, and trade of small arms (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006). The Conference further established agencies to coordinate policy and research on small arms trade, prior to which only seventy nine nations had national coordination mechanisms to support the non- proliferation of small arms (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006).
Additional agreements reached as part of the 2001 UN Conference include the following: agreed protocol on weapons collection and disposal; controls and regulations on the export and import of small arms, restrictions on third party brokering of international arms transfers; standards for marking and tracking exported small arms; guidelines and programs on the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex- combatants; and finally an agreed commitment to international cooperation and intelligence sharing to combat illicit arms trafficking (Schroeder/ Stohl, 2006).
In addition to the United Nations and European Union, other international entities such as NATO have stepped up and offered solutions to the threat posed by the proliferation of small arms. In May of 1989, NATO enacted a Comprehensive Concept of Arms Control and Disarmament that remains in effect today (NATO, 2009). The Concept provides the role of arms control in East- West relations and established a framework by which NATO would combat arms proliferation (NATO, 2009). NATO continues to support non-proliferation efforts as declared in the 1999, 2004, 2006, and 2008 NATO Summits (NATO, 2009). There are currently six primary NATO entities working on non- proliferation issues: High Level Task Force on Conventional Arms Control, Senior Defence Group on Proliferation, Senior Politico- Military Group on Proliferation, Euro- Atlantic Partnership Council, Working Group on Small Arms and Light Weapons and Mine Action, and the NATO- Russia Council.
The proliferation of small arms has clearly become a major concern for the international community. With a large majority of all violent deaths being attributed to small arms injuries the threat associated with illicit trade/ sale of small arms is overwhelmingly apparent. Furthermore, the security of all nations is being threatened by the proliferation of small arms. The 2008 Mumbai attacks and recent threats of similar attacks have shown the damage that can be inflicted by minimal combatants armed with conventional weapons. The integration of mass numbers of small arms will only further threaten the security of the United States, its allies, and all other sovereign nations.
The international community has made significant progress in the past couple decades, but it is not enough. Small arms proliferation continues to be a growing threat that must be addressed. International cooperation is essential to combating the transnational threat. Countries must continue to work together to establish uniform protocols and laws restricting the sale of small arms and institute effective measures to find and destroy arms caches currently in the hands of hostile combatants. Problem regions, specifically Southeast Asia and Africa must open their borders to UN/ international coalitions who can seize and destroy small arms that have been left behind by recent conflicts or have been imported via the black market. These recommendations can significantly reduce the supply of small arms available to black market dealers and establish institutional change for the export of small arms.
While controlling the supply and eliminating surplus is an excellent start, it will not be effective on its own. The international community must also eliminate the demand for small arms. Keys to accomplishing this include altering societal culture; many states riddled with conflict have a cultural thirst for violence simply because they do not know any other way, international powers need to alter this cultural belief through educating the youth and instilling democracy to solve conflict not weapons. Other demand controls include resolving conflicts through diplomacy and assisting in the establishment of government stability.
The international community has the power to eliminate small arms proliferation and subsequently eliminate the threat posed by the over abundance of small arms. However, it will take a strong commitment to the cause and dedication to cooperation. The road to world peace is leads through small arms nonproliferation. To prevent future conflict and instill democracy world wide, the illicit trade and sale of small arms must be stopped.
AllAfrica. (2009, June 27). Somalia: US Ships Small Arms, Munitions to Gov't. Retrieved October 05, 2010, from AllAfrica: http://allafrica.com/stories/200906270026.html
European Union. (2001). Small Arms and Light Weapons: The Response of the European Union. Belgium: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. (2010). Small Arms Survey. Geneva, Switzerland: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.
NATO. (2009). Arms Control, Disarmament, and Non- Proliferation in NATO. NATO.
Patrick, S. (2006). Weak States and Global Threats: Fact or Fiction? The Washington Quarterly , 27-53.
Press Office of Richard G. Lugar. (2007, June 28). Obama, Lugar Secure Funding for Implemenation of Nonproliferation Law.
Schroeder, M., & Stohl, R. (2006). Small Arms, Large Problem: The International Threat of Small Arms Proliferation and Misuse. Washington, DC: Arms Control Association.
Shah, A. (2006). Small Arms- They Cause 90% of Civilian Casualties. global Issues .
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Weiss, T. (2003). A Demand- Side Appraoch to Fighting Small Arms Proliferation. African Security Review , Volume 12 Issue 2. Threat:
Ryan studied at American University for his BA and George Washington University for his MA. He currently works for the US Government in the greater DC area.