UN Arms Data Mixed as Participation Falls

By Abramson, Jeff | Arms Control Today, November 2010 | Go to article overview

UN Arms Data Mixed as Participation Falls


Abramson, Jeff, Arms Control Today


The number of countries submitting reports to the UN conventional arms registry declined for the third year in a row, according to data based on reports received by late September on transfers made in 2009.

In part because of that trend, it is difficult to determine whether trade in conventional weapons also declined in 2009. After increasing to record levels in 2007 and dropping precipitously in 2008, the number of exports reported in one category, small arms and light weapons, fell modestly in 2009. Major weapons exports rose as a total number, but the figures are complicated by a large transfer of missiles designated for destruction. If those missiles are removed from the total, data compiled from the register would show a net decline for the year.

A modest 2009 decline aligns with findings reported by other sources. A recent report from the Congressional Research Service said the conventional arms market shrank in 2009, and the 2010 yearbook produced by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the market to be relatively flat last year. (See ACT, October 2009.)

Based on a 1991 agreement, the UN ; Register of Conventional Arms collects I j voluntary information on imports, exports, domestic production, and holdings of seven categories of major weapons systems. In 2003, countries agreed ; to request data on small arms and light weapons, but did not create an official category for the weapons. (See ACT, September 2009.)

At least 100 countries submitted records for arms transfers each year from 1999 to 2006, but that number fell to 91 for 2007 and 80 in 2008. By Sept. 30 of this year, only 65 countries had reported calendar year 2009 transfers. States are invited to report to the register by May 31. Some reports come in after that, but most are in by the end of September.

Some of the decrease over the past three years can be attributed to a reduc- i tion in the number of countries filing "nil" reports. For 2006, more than 60 countries filed such reports, which claim no transfers in any of the seven categories of major weapons. Nearly 40 did so for 2007 and 32 for 2008. Such reports, which affirmatively state that there were no transfers, are seen as statements of support for the register.

Some experts predicted that the 2009 failure of a group of governmental experts to recommend adding small arms and light weapons as an official eighth category would further erode participation in the register, especially among states that typically filed nil reports. Thus far, however, 30 states have filed such reports, only a small decrease compared to 2008. A larger decrease occurred in the number of states filing reports on imports of major weapons systems, from more than 40 in 2008 to 29 through September for 2009.

Participation declined in all regions, including in the United Nations' "Western European and Other" and "Eastern European" regional groups. The members of those groups are typically reliable participants in the register and are some of the world's leading exporting states. Reduced participation by these countries may be particularly important because their reports often offer insight into trade with countries that do not report to the register.

Canada, Cyprus, France, and Turkey, which have been regular participants in past years, have not submitted information to the register this year. Among eastern European states, which at times trade in large volumes of Soviet-era or Soviet-design weapons, Croatia and the Czech Republic were absent after having filed reports in 2009. The Philippines, which ranked second last year for total claimed small arms and light weapons exports, also did not submit a report.

The register's data do not provide a complete picture of global arms trade. Some countries do not submit reports; different countries have different criteria for reporting transfers; and there is no verification provision. Nonetheless, the register is the primary international mechanism for states to detail their arms trade and is frequently discussed as a starting point for the scope of an international arms trade treaty (ATT) that may be negotiated as early as 2012. …

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