Managing the International Arms Trade

The global trade in conventional weapons is a multi-billion dollar business. Headlines containing dire threats of weapons of mass destruction often dominate the front page and spending habits of developed world governments, but it is conventional weapons that are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and immeasurable human suffering every year. International progress toward combating the uncontrolled trade in conventional arms has been slow. However, new opportunities are emerging for coordinated global action.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Project

 Unlike their nuclear counterparts, conventional weapons have been relatively unregulated in international forums. Arms transfer decisions are made against the backdrop of other political, economic, and diplomatic policies. In some cases, transfer decisions may be ill-advised even when they are perfectly legal. Such irresponsible exports contribute to the displacement of people, violent crime, human rights abuses, and terrorism, all of which undermine security, stability and sustainable development. Our goal should be to close dangerous loopholes that have allowed arms to flow to human rights abusers and terrorists, perpetuate conflicts, undermine development, and necessitate foreign military intervention.

The Arms Trade Treaty, which will be negotiated at the United Nations in July 2012, will attempt to develop specific criteria that States would use when making arms transfer decisions. MAB's ATT project focuses on increasing awareness of and education on the ATT. The project will ensure that policymakers and other relevant stakeholders, including the public and the media, sufficiently understand key policy, economic and human security issues surrounding the ATT.  A wide variety of myths have been perpetuated about the ATT; the project will counter those myths with a realistic, pragmatic approach to the issue.

Curbing Arms Proliferation

 The end of the Cold War saw the emergence of new conflicts fueled by small arms and light weapons and other conventional weapons. These lethal, simple to use, widely available, easily concealed and transported weapons are found in the arsenals of both national armed forces and non-state groups-including gangs and organized criminal entities. These legally available weapons often destabilize societies and regions, undermine legitimate governments, hinder social and economic development, and ultimately necessitate foreign military intervention.

The international trade in conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons, is regulated by a patchwork of national laws and politically binding regional and international agreements and treaties. Over the last 30 years, a wide variety of international and regional treaties, agreements, declarations, model regulations, and UN resolutions have been adopted by various governments, international organizations, and groups. However, even if implementation of these existing arrangements was improved, ill-advised transfers would still occur, as they do not cover every region, type of transfer or activity. 

MAB focuses on the opportunities and challenges surrounding the trade in conventional weapons, including small arms/light weapons. The project works with governments and the private sector to raise the profile on these issues within the United States by conducting meaningful research on the conventional arms trade, and by developing and promoting pragmatic solutions to conventional arms proliferation issues.

Child Soldiers

The global arms trade allows weapons to freely flow around the world, often ending up in the hands of recipients that violate human rights. Perhaps the most heinous offense of these illicit end users is the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The United States is one of only a handful of countries that seeks to prevent weapons from ending up in the hands of children. In order to further develop this issue in policy dialogues and raise its profile on policy agendas, the Managing Across Boundaries program focuses on researching the nexus between military assistance and child soldiers. The project aims to identify research agendas and spotlights policy gaps in order to ensure that well intentioned military assistance does not end up in the hands of children.

Select Publications and Events