Technology & Trade

A Farewell to (Illicit) Arms: Addressing the Uncontrolled Trade of Small Arms in 2012

in Program

By Brian Finlay and Rachel Stohl – International progress toward combating the uncontrolled
trade in conventional arms, which is responsible for hundreds of thousands of
deaths and immeasurable human suffering every year, has been unacceptably slow.
And yet new opportunities are emerging for coordinated global action in 2012.
This year will be an especially important one at the United Nations for conventional
arms proliferation issues. In July, the Arms Trade Treaty will be negotiated.
September will mark the Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action on
Small Arms. And in November, Member States will begin their triennial review of
the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Each of these is essential and will do
their part to curb unregulated conventional arms and prevent diversion, but are
ultimately insufficient barriers to containing the corrosive impact of
conventional weapons on international peace and security. The focus on
conventional arms at the United Nations this year gives governments around the
globe the opportunity to renew their commitment to both formal and informal
mechanisms to combat the proliferation of these deadly weapons. Next week at
the United Nations, Stimson will join the Permanent Missions of Japan, Poland
and Turkey to host a roundtable meeting to discuss these important issues.

If preventing the illicit acquisition of conventional
weapons is our goal, three broad standards must be developed:

1. Regulatory
harmonization and establishment of common international standards:
arms market is defined by a large constellation of small producers and
intermediaries. Astonishingly, the licensing and reporting rules vary widely
from country to country. The inability to regulate across international
boundaries means that even when one State places restrictions on arms to or
from a particular destination, the diversity of supply and fluidity that
characterize the market seldom prevents illicit acquisition. Preventing illicit
shipments of weapons requires enhanced harmonization of national laws and the
development of a set of common international standards to prevent unscrupulous
actors from simply moving across the border to evade a particularly hostile
government action.

2. Developing
brokering controls:
Any attempt to control the unchecked movement of
weapons must begin with a global standard for arms brokering that provide
strong internationally recognized criteria to regulate the activities of arms
brokers. These norms must then be translated into strict brokering controls
that can be enforced on a national basis. Unfortunately, there will always be a
need for legitimate arms sales around the world, but controlling the most egregious
violators will always be in every governments’ national interest.

3. Identifying,
disrupting, and prosecuting violators
: New standards are meaningless unless
governments take comprehensive monitoring and enforcement action. This will
require a level of enhanced cooperation between law enforcement and
intelligence agencies that is often lacking due to inadequate resources and
lack of prioritization across even the most committed governments. States must
work more closely to give precedence to weapons trafficking as a threat to
international security, regional stability, organized crime, and sustainable
development. If States better share detailed information about weapons flows
and disreputable arms brokers, they could increase law enforcement capacity and
strengthen legal and judicial infrastructures, to prevent the trafficking and
transit of illicit weapons and other contraband.

As the international community meets to discuss the ATT, and
to review the Programme of Action and the UN Register on Small Arms, these
principles should serve as a benchmark upon which our collective objective of
preventing the illicit flow of weapons around the globe can be graded. 

*  *  * 

On May 21, Stimson will co-host, along with the Permanent
Missions of Japan, Poland and Turkey to the United Nations, the third Turtle
Bay Security Roundtable meeting in New York. The theme for this meeting will be
proliferation of conventional arms. The meeting will set impending discussions
at the UN in a broader context by considering the underlying threats that they
seek to address. It will consider the modalities and consequences of the
illicit trade in weapons, with specific focus on the elements of the threat
that must be addressed. It will also cover the negative impact of irresponsible
use of arms that prevents sustainable socio-economic growth of UN Member
States. Panels will focus on how the problems of armed violence and
mismanagement of arms have been tackled through various existing tools through
pragmatic approaches and what needs to be done. Attendance to this event is by invite only. For further information, click

Photo Credit: US Marine Corps, via Wikimedia Commons,

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