Magazine article National Defense

United Nations Scrutinizes Supply Side of International Small Arms Trading

Magazine article National Defense

United Nations Scrutinizes Supply Side of International Small Arms Trading

Article excerpt

Can one ever have enough small arms? How many is too many? What should governments do with the stockpiles of small arms that could find their way to the various conflicts and criminals around the world?

These are some of the questions that were considered by a panel appointed by the secretary general of the United Nations as the debate over small arms transfers heated up. The UN increased its profile in the small arms debate with a July 1997 report from the group of government experts.

Under a UN resolution passed in December 1995, the panel was asked to study small arms and light weapons that are used in conflicts. The weapon experts also looked into the causes of excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons, including their illicit production and trade to find ways to curb this widespread commerce, and resulting mayhem.

The panel's conclusions suggest a focus on supply rather than the demand side of the equation.

Among its many findings, the report called for destruction of weapons not considered necessary for national defense or internal security. While the panel recognized the worldwide decline in production since the end of the Cold War, it pointed to "excessive" quantities and the destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms. The experts suggested regulating supply through production and trade moratoria and standardizing international transfer licensing and procedures.

This included various means of information sharing and small arms transfer transparency. Asked to look into the extent that small arms "exacerbate armed conflict," the panel requisitioned information from UN member states and elicited contributions from more than 70 experts and scholars. Their ambivalent points of siew reflected considerable disparity on this critical issue.

"The excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons is closely related to the increased incidence of internal conflicts and high levels of crime and violence," the report noted. It added that "accumulations of small arms and light weapons by themselves do not cause the conflicts in which they are used."

The mere accumulation of weapons is not a sufficient criterion to define what is excessive or destabilizing. The panel said excessive and destabilizing are relative terms and are determined by the conditions at the time of any given transfer.

As a part of controlling the supply of weapons, the panel looked at worldwide production. It found that during the Cold War production and technology transfer in small arms proliferated "in an effort by countries to become more independent in the production of weapons basic to their security." The result today is an excess production capacity of gargantuan dimensions.

Alternatively, the panel found that "new production of small arms and light weapons has declined due to a reduction in national defense budgets-a reflection of market forces influencing new production. The current conditions in small arms transfers is primarily a problem of the unrestricted redistribution of inventories produced primarily during the Cold War period.

With regard to new production, the panel believes that advancements in small arms technology must be monitored. The report said that "attention needs to be paid to the potential impact of these new developments in respect to their proliferation. …

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