The trade of small arms is a worldwide problem. Small arms kill over half a million people every year and many of the deaths occur in countries that are at peace. The utility of a light weapon is also aiding paramilitaries to arm children for their battles. Small arms trade has been a preeminent problem in the Caucasus since the end of the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed hundreds of thousands of small arms were stockpiled throughout the region. Due to the lack of authority and accountability in the armed forces and in an effort to make money military officers and even commanders sold weapons to belligerents in the Caucasus region. The stockpiles were also poorly guarded and often raided by paramilitary groups. Overall, the impact of small arms and light weapons (SALW) has encouraged belligerents to attain their goals with bloodshed rather than bargaining.
Past UN Action
In May of 2001 the UN adopted an Illicit Firearms Protocol that legally binds member states to mark each weapon produced in the country so that it can be traced back to the manufacturer. The protocol also criminalizes any illicit manufacturing and trafficking of such small arms. The effort is aimed to stop organized crime and is a means of “law enforcement, not arms control.”(1) The UN hopes that the protocol will strengthen cooperation in preventing and combating the illegal arms and their trade. While there has been increasing talk about and awareness of SALW relatively no concrete action has yet to take place.
The Caucasus region was flooded with small arms after the collapse of the Soviet Union giving factions the power they needed to interfere in national security. Georgia also traded with Armenia and Azerbaijan after they received direct weapons contributions from Russian forces. Violence became the easy answer to political questions and the widespread availability of weapons added to the destructive behaviors. Furthermore, Soviet moderating was no longer possible and previously repressed factions had their first opportunity to state their beliefs. Small arms became the only tool with which one could achieve political objectives. Weapon distributions from Russian stockpiles greatly influenced the balance of power in Georgia during its civil war and set up a military resolution to all future conflicts.
At the end of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts as well as the civil war in Georgia proper the nation was failing to carry out its basic functions and struggling to stop small arms trade. In South Ossetia and Abkhazia small arms are key to those in power if they want to maintain their exploitive and distorted order in the region. Weapons insecurity is quite a profitable business and in an impoverished country it is not something easily overcome. By 1996 Georgia began to be more organized and stable although progressing slowly. Today, small arms trade is still a problem in Georgia , as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan , making unity more difficult to attain and corruption more difficult to stop. Small arms circulate throughout the Caucasus and outside their borders leading to continual destabilization of the region. National and regional steps need to be taken to address this problem and move to regulation of SALW and rebuilding of political structures without use of force.
High weapons availability, weak border patrols, rampant corruption, and unresolved conflict throughout the Caucasus has provided for a volatile climate and a flourishing black market small arms trade. Wealthy states, those which produce most small arms, have been willing to focus on aspects of the problem like helping underdeveloped nations draft national legislation that would help manage the circulation of small arms. Regardless, they have been less than willing to discuss topics like the regulation of offshore brokering, improving general regulations, and banning arms transfers to “terrorist” states. The lofty goals of the UN have often needed to be scaled back to due pressure from large gun-producers like Russia , China , and the United Sates.
The UN did make several recommendations, however, to stop the violence; regulating brokers, curb state-sanctioned gunrunning, national legislation for controls, paying money for guns that are to be collected and destroyed, and limiting surplus production. World governments have not taken enough steps to remedy the small arms trade that undermines communities around the world, especially in the Caucasus . Civil society might have to step up the plate, organize, and finally take control of their countries without violence.