Assistance to States for Curbing the Illicit Traffic in Small Arms
The illicit trade of small arms is important today because of the destruction it does in third world nations. According to Project Plough shares, an agency that is part of the Canadian Council of Churches, "[t]he category of small arms includes revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine-guns." (http://www. ploughshares.ca /CONTENT/CONTROL%20WEAPONS/UN SmallArmsConf/SmallArms Def.html). The trafficking of small arms has had a major impact in places like Africa, South America, and the Middle East. In the nation of C’ôte d’Ivoire in Western Africa, rebels from the north were invading the southern part in what was the bloodiest uprising in C’ôte d’Ivoire's history in late September of 2002. This rebellion is an example of the destruction that can be caused when small arms are trafficked to small rebel groups.
From the 1950s to 1987, there was a growth in the trade of small arms. Since then the trade had leveled off, but it is now starting to increase again. The major cause for this increase is a surplus in the amount of small arms for sale. This surplus is due to disarmament treaties, cease fires, and reduced deployments. Other causes could be the need for small arms in various small conflicts across the world.
There have been several past instances in which small arms have been used, resulting in attempts to curb the illicit trade in small arms. The first time that small arms traffic was limited was immediately after World War One. Due to the destruction that conventional weapons caused, the League of Nations agreed that member states would have to register weapons that were to be exported. Another significant time for the register came during the Cold War. It was at this time that many improvements to the registry were proposed, but the Warsaw Pact opposed such improvements. After the Gulf War, member nations of the UN expressed concern over the pattern of arms purchases that helped bolster the Iraqi army. That incident led to the arms register used currently by the United Nations, the UN Conventional Arms Register of 1991. Other resolutions at several UN conferences made an attempt at, or at least discussed, curbing the illicit trade of small arms. At the 79th plenary meeting in 1998, the United Nations discussed the issue of providing states with assistance for curbing the illicit traffic of small arms, though little real action was taken. Another conference in 1999 did much of the same thing, simply discussing curbing illicit small arms trafficking.
The latest meeting in July of 2001 put forth a plan of action that the United Nations could follow to solve the problem. The plan of action, though, was not concrete due to disagreements between various members of the United Nations. Much of the disagreement came from the fact that many nations wish to have the right to defend themselves, as shown by the opposition by many smaller African nations. Such disagreements almost derailed the summit in 2001. It was only after these nations relented that the conference was able to go on. Another issue came from the United States and Russia not wanting part of a resolution to say that they could not trade with non-government organizations, as both countries have traded with non-government organizations in the past. In addition, many fear that the issue of the trade of small arms may be put on the back burner in order to deal with such issues as terrorism and Iraq.
Non-government organizations also have made valiant efforts to curb the illicit trade of small arms. Such organizations include Canada's Coalition for Gun Control, Southern Africa Regional Action Programme on Light Arms and Illicit Trafficking, and the International Action Network on small arms. The Southern Africa Regional Action Programme on Light Arms and Illicit Trafficking, for instance, is taking the problem on in three main ways: tackling the problem of trafficking itself, strengthening legal controls over weapons possession and transfer, and removing weapons from society.
The use of small arms leads to approximately 500,000 deaths every year. In the Winter-Spring 2002 edition of the SAIS Review, reporter Albrecht Gero Muth says, "[a]s a result, wars are no longer fought by organized armies of functioning nation-states. Rather, they are being fought by guerilla, criminal, and terrorist gangs intent on gaining power at the barrel of a gun, with small arms as the weapon of choice, the majority of victims being women and children"(Gero 214). It is because this is such a problem in various parts of the world, especially the third world, that there must be some form of effective action taken that can sufficiently curb the illicit trafficking of small arms.
If nothing happens, the casualties related to small arms accumulate as time goes on. A solution that has been suggested is obligatory third party liability insurance, which would be required with the purchase of a small arm. Such insurance would compensate victims of the improper use of small arms. The main problem with this plan though is practicality, such as it would not be easy to enforce such a policy. In addition, many arms are traded illegally and would not solve this specific problem, though it may cut down on the overall amount of arms produced. Other solutions include taxes on ammunition, restrictions on the advertisement of small arms, increased control and increased destruction of weapons surpluses, and more crackdowns on the black market where small arms are illicitly sold.
The illicit trade of small arms is a controversial issue in international
relations. Many smaller African nations feel that they are risking their
security if actions to curb illicit arms trade are taken. Another issue
to consider is the fact that the United States and Russia have used non-government
organizations like the Northern Alliance and Kurdish rebels to aide in
the overthrow of enemy regimes. Despite the opposition to proposals to
curb the illicit trade of small arms, though, approximately 500,000 people
die a year because of small arms.
This is the official website of the International Action Network on Small Arms. It has several good links to news and UN documents on the topic of small arms.