Arms Control

Article excerpt

The land mines treaty of 1997 and the recent agreement to get rid of cluster munitions have outlawed whole categories of weapons. Small arms present an equally dangerous, but much more complex, problem. The United Nations will target it again this month.

tHE ADOPTION OF THE Convention on Cluster Munitions in Dublin on May 30, after fifteen months of focused discussion, shows how states, working together, can make rapid, meaningful progress on arms control and disarmament. Even though some important producers and users, such as the United States, did not participate, it is an impressive achievement. The ten-year multilateral initiatives to deal with the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons have also had their successes, but these have been less spectacular and are only the first steps in a much longer process.

The direct and indirect effects of small arms proliferation and the misuse of small arms are not yet fully understood, but are farreaching and affect the vast majority of the world's people. Yet, unlike cluster munitions or anti-personnel landmines, they cannot simply be banned. Small arms and light weapons have a wide range of perfectly legitimate uses, by governments and civilians alike. The challenge is not prohibition, but control and, ultimately, influencing the factors that underpin armed violence.

The United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, agreed exactly seven years ago, provides a valuable framework for worldwide action. A political statement of commitment, rather than a treaty, it sets out a broad range of measures indispensable to global control efforts.

SMALLER TARGET

Questions remain as to how effective the Programme has been in fulfiling its core mandate - to tackle the illicit trade in small arms 'in all its aspects'. For example, are national export practices more responsible? Has security over national stockpiles been strengthened? Are states now tracing small arms to identify - and disrupt - sources of illicit supply?

The third biennial meeting of states at UN headquarters in New York this month, offers an opportunity to start answering these questions.

National reporting on implementing the Programme will, more than ever, be centre stage. The hope is that by sharing detailed, concrete information on the challenges and opportunities they face, states will use the meeting to advance practical implementation at the national, regional and global levels.

In a departure from previous biennial meetings, which reviewed all the issues covered in the Programme, this one will focus on just three:

* international cooperation, assistance and national capacity-building;

* illicit small arms brokering; and

* stockpile management and surplus destruction or disposal. …