PRIO Network

Curbing the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons

Security Dialogue vol. 30, no. 2, June 1999, pp 151-64

Curbing the Proliferation
of Small Arms and
Light Weapons

Lora Lumpe*
International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO)

The Year in Review and the Way Forward

FLUSH WITH SUCCESS in campaigning against anti-personnel landmines, many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and governments began pressing in late 1997 for more public attention to the devastation wrought by the worldwide sale and distribution of other types of man-portable weapons, such as assault rifles, mortars, and grenades. While not inherently indiscriminate, as are landmines, these infantry weapons are used routinely in an indiscriminate manner, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of non-combatants annually in conflict and ‘post-conflict’ zones around the world.(1)  The Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, had spoken out about the humanitarian danger posed by light weaponry at the UN General Assembly during the fall, and he included a working session on small arms at an NGO meeting parallel to the landmines treaty signing in Ottawa in early December 1997.

Several days later, a mix of humanitarian, disarmament, religious, and violence-prevention groups from around the world met to begin planning and cooperating to raise the profile of the issue and to challenge policies that proliferate military-style guns and grenades. This meeting occurred in Washington DC on 10 December 1997 – doubly symbolic, as it was both International Human Rights Day and the day on which the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. One week after that, four NGOs in Oslo – the Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Church Aid, the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) – banded together to form the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT). Demonstrating the direct and growing threat these weapons posed to the humanitarian aid community, NISAT’s launch coincided with the one-year anniversary of the murder in Chechnya of six Red Cross relief workers, killed with automatic weapons while they slept.(2)

All of this activity within a two-week period presaged a very eventful year. Small arms control became the subject of feverish activity in 1998 (see Appendix). The European Union, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of American States (OAS), Organization of African Unity (OAU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and South African Development Community (SADC) all took up some aspect of small arms control, as did almost every part of the UN (including, increasingly, the Security Council).(3) Meanwhile, nearly a dozen governments are vying for the mantle of leadership. Most prominent have been Belgium, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland – several of which hosted international conferences discussing small arms control (the need for it, the feasibility of it, and so forth) in 1998. And with two major policy speeches on small arms in as many months in late 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has put the United States into the running.

To varying degrees, each of these states has embraced the ‘Ottawa model’ of government–NGO collaboration, particularly in the areas of brainstorming for policy initiatives, holding consciousness-raising seminars, and funding programs to assist reintegration of former combatants and to collect and destroy weapons. And, building on their first tentative meeting in December 1997, NGOs from the North and South recently came together in May 1999 to launch a coordinating structure – the International Action Network on Small Arms – to rationalize and facilitate their research, advocacy, and practical work on the issue.

Most notable in terms of achievements, in late October 1998, 16 states in West Africa signed a politically, but not legally, binding agreement to ban the production, import, and export of small arms for a three-year trial period. In addition, Western Hemisphere governments signed, and several ratified, a convention against the illicit manufacture and transfer of firearms. Preparations for the negotiation of a global protocol against firearms trafficking were begun. In addition, during the summer, the Canadian government proposed a treaty barring transfers of military-style small arms to insurgent forces and other non-state actors. And a December 1998 ‘Joint Action’ of the Council of the EU committed all member-states to a set of principles concerning preventative (supply-side) and reductive (demand-side) measures.

This extraordinary explosion of activity is a result of the breadth and complexity of the ‘small arms problem’, as well as the opening provided by the changed international security environment and the landmines precedent. The issue, however, is much broader than landmines – both in terms of the scope of the problem, as measured by the quantity of small arms in irresponsible hands or the number of civilian deaths and casualties, and in terms of factors related to the proliferation of these arms. Whereas landmines were predominately viewed as a humanitarian issue, stemming generally from internal conflicts, many governments and some NGOs see small arms proliferation principally as a police/crime issue. To others, it is a conflict prevention/resolution issue, or a relief/development problem. Each of these frameworks suggests different remedial policies and different priorities.

In the case of mines, the biggest conceptual question has been whether to include all landmines or just anti-personnel mines in the scope of control efforts. With small arms control, there are many more fissures, some of which have been exploited by governments to stave off politically or economically unpalatable control measures. Is the main problem black-market arms supply (outside state control), or are ongoing legal arms transfers also of concern? If it is the former, how do you define the term, given that the licit trade and the illicit traffic in small arms are inextricably linked? Arms that are originally exported legally, but are not properly tracked or secured, often fall into illegal circulation, as theft or capture of state security forces’ arms is a major source of black-market supply around the world.

Thus far, supplier governments have been quite willing to focus on illicit arms trafficking, by which they usually mean stocks of weapons already in circulation outside government control in the developing world. This interpretation is supported by the fact that in the year and a half since the EU adopted a program on illicit arms trafficking, several EU governments have held seminars with governments in the South to develop work plans on the demand side – but few have reformed their own national laws concerning offshore brokering of arms deals, improved end-use certification and monitoring of transfers, or increased transparency around state-sanctioned exports of small arms.

Meanwhile, governments and nongovernmental actors from the South tend to focus on the role and responsibility of the arms-producing countries (principally, but not exclusively, located in the North) in contributing to the proliferation and misuse of military-style small arms in their regions. Field research by Human Rights Watch and the UN Commission of Inquiry has confirmed that newly manufactured weapons continue to enter combat zones in Central Africa and elsewhere.

While some governments and NGOs were looking for a big conceptual framework to tie it all together, to address all facets of the problem, a year later it is clear that there is no ‘Holy Grail’. Thus, a web of initiatives on both the supply side and the demand side is needed to reduce the illegal use and oversupply of these weapons. (While not very catchy, this phrase seems to encapsulate the overarching goal of all small arms efforts.) At the same time, lest governments and NGOs burn out on ‘initiative fatigue’, they must work together even more closely to set priorities and consolidate major areas of activity, and to shore up the initiatives currently under way.(4)

Since the past year’s focus on small arms cannot be sustained indefinitely, concerned parties must identify and press for the farthest reaching measures to reduce the dangers from small arms proliferation. Paradoxically, this prioritization will in many cases draw the NGO community apart from some of the governments most active on the issue, as the initiatives most in need of NGO advocacy are those that these governments are not currently willing to embrace. This agenda includes promoting transparency and accountability in legal transfers, curbing the flow of arms to state forces engaged in conflict and repression, and banning weapons supply by states to insurgent forces.

A Transparency Agenda

Currently, there is very little hard data available about the principal sources of small arms supply and trafficking. As a result, the relative importance of the legal versus the illegal trade in arming combatants and criminals around the globe is unknown. In the absence of basic information on the magnitude and destinations of state-sanctioned small arms supply, well-intentioned policymakers might be giving priority to complicated and perhaps costly policy options related to the illicit trade that would have less impact than relatively simple, straightforward measures relating to accountability in the legal trade.

One of the most important initiatives that governments concerned about the humanitarian and criminal impact of small arms proliferation could undertake is to provide greater transparency around the small arms exports they authorize – yet few currently do so.

Approximately 70 states produce small arms and/or ammunition.(5) Some small arms production enterprises are state-owned (usually military armories), and some are privately-owned companies. Researching what the small-arms producing states manufacture is not difficult; there are several standard sources of information. Determining production quantities (or output) is much more difficult, and knowing where weapons are being exported is nearly impossible. The standard sources of data on the international arms trade – the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the UN Register of Conventional Arms, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers – do not include information on small arms shipments. Few governments provide information to their parliaments on major weapons exports they have approved, like tanks and jets, and even fewer provide information on this low-end sector of the trade. The US government is the most notable exception to the prevailing pattern of secrecy. Except for covert arms-supply operations, the United States openly reports in a disaggregated manner its small arms shipments and export license approvals.(6)  The Canadian government provides less detailed, but fairly specific, information about its small arms exports, and the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden provide aggregated data on their exports.

Fuller information about the magnitude and destination of current and future small arms shipments is a prerequisite for the development of sound policy recommendations. Transparency would also facilitate and improve the ability of governments to ensure end-use verification of weapons exports they are authorizing. If such information were made public, increased transparency would allow the nongovernmental community, as well as national legislatures, to play an important role in aiding governments’ efforts to curb diversion of these arms by providing oversight through research, questioning, and reporting.

Such information is also important to aid and relief workers, who might be in a region where a sudden influx of guns has occurred or can be anticipated. Transparency around planned arms shipments (timely information exchange about license approvals granted) could prove to be an early-warning indicator of pending violence and instability. While individual states might not be granting unusually large numbers of export licenses to a particular destination, if these figures were placed side by side with other suppliers’ export approvals, disturbing trends might become apparent.

Greater governmental transparency would also help evaluate the real impact of small arms on people and societies. Although widely assumed to be a significant factor, the impact of small arms supply on the outbreak, sustainment, or escalation of civil warfare has received no scientific investigation. The dearth of data on arms transfers currently hinders researchers wishing to conduct such studies.(7)

On a more positive note, increased openness about weapons shipments could serve as a confidence-building measure among forces within a state, or states in a region, potentially heading off some purchases spurred on by ‘fear of the unknown’. Finally, such information would greatly facilitate disarmament, whether through peacekeeping or other initiatives, by providing some baseline information about arms supply in the state or region.

Increased transparency is possible at the global, regional, and national levels. The UN and regional security organizations can help facilitate the first two, but such initiatives are, of course, predicated on a willingness by governments to engage in greater openness. Policy analysts continually promote expansion of the UN Register of Conventional Arms to include small arms and light weapons as a desirable goal, but an expert panel reviewing the Register in 1997 decided against doing so, largely because the rationale for the Register is to indicate destabilizing buildups of major weapons systems.

Meanwhile, with no further elaboration, US Secretary of State Albright called in September 1998 for the creation of an ‘international center’ for exchange of information on small arms transfers. There has been no elaboration of this idea. The already extant Wassenaar Arrangement might prove a particularly suitable forum for regular (perhaps quarterly) information exchange by its members on potential small arms shipments licensed for export – if traditional resistance in this regard by some members can be overcome. The arrangement is a successor to the Cold War–era COCOM regime, covering the export of militarily relevant equipment.

The research community could help lay out a realistic template for governmental transparency, identifying and rebutting obstacles to openness. What must be revealed by exporters (and importers)? What would be nice to know, but could be omitted in an effort to protect business confidentiality? Given the difficulty of persuading all countries (most importantly, supplier countries) to participate in a transparency regime, what would be the value of partial participation in such an effort?

Concerned states need not wait for some complicated global agreement. They can and should become transparent unilaterally, as did the United States and Canada. Small arms are not strategic weapons. Openness about production and shipment of such weapons will not jeopardize national security, although it might compromise the business interests of a firm trying to make a sale, if the buyer wants the deal to remain cloaked in secrecy. But the buyer’s need for secrecy should be examined, and the business interests of the arms firm must be weighed, against other interests of the exporting state.

Curb the Flow of Arms to Warring or
Repressive State Forces

While a few recent wars (Bosnia, Chechnya, Turkey, Congo, Peru–Ecuador) have seen the use of heavy weapons, like armored personnel carriers, medium to heavy artillery, and ground attack aircraft, small arms and light weapons have been a staple of all recent armed conflicts. They are thought to have been responsible for the vast majority of war casualties around the world. As explained above, the effect of small arms supply on civil warfare has not been researched, at least partially because of lack of data. Relatedly, though, the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent commissioned the ICRC to examine the extent to which the availability of weapons contributes to the proliferation and aggravation of violations of international humanitarian law (the body of law that governs the conduct of war).(8)

In two speeches in 1998 – on 24 September before a special UN Security Council (UNSC) session on Africa and on 10 November at a gathering of the International Rescue Committee – Albright assailed ‘the uncontrolled flow of arms, ammunition and explosives into tense areas of the world’. (9)  Her speeches denoted a welcome broadening of US small arms policy from a previous focus on crime-related illicit firearms trafficking to a concern about weapons shipments – whether legal or not – into certain ‘zones of conflict’.

‘This dirty business’, as she labeled it in her UNSC speech, ‘fuels conflict, fortifies extremism, and destabilizes entire regions. All of us whose nations sell such weapons, or through whose nations the traffic flows, bear some responsibility for turning a blind eye to the destruction they cause. And all of us have it in our power to do something in response.’

Central Africa was the focus of the Secretary’s UNSC presentation. In her November speech, Albright also pointed to recent arms purchases in Afghanistan and Angola as representative of the kinds of small arms sales that the administration finds problematic.(10)  Meanwhile, the US government and undoubtedly others continue to export weapons to many other combat zones. In 1997 (the most recent year for which information is available), several of the countries receiving large quantities of small arms through US surplus programs or buying weapons through commercial channels were engaged in conflict or had extremely poor records on human rights and democracy.

In Colombia, for example, more than 30,000 people have been killed in the past decade, with the bulk of these deaths attributed to right-wing paramilitaries operating with the apparent acquiescence of the military. Nevertheless, Colombian police and military forces received a fresh shipment of ‘emergency’ small arms from the United States in 1997 to assist the ‘war on drugs’. And in 1997, US companies received authorization to sell Colombian state entities over 30,000 grenades, more than 1 million rounds of ammunition, 7,000 M16 assault rifles, 375 submachine guns, and assorted shotguns and machine guns.(11)

According to a July 1997 State Department report to Congress on Turkey’s use of US-supplied weapons, ‘US policy is to restrict the sale of arms that clearly could be used to repress a civilian population, such as small arms and violent crowd-control devices.’(12)  This policy has been followed on one occasion: in February 1994, the State Department announced that it would deny licenses for the transfer of small or light arms and lethal crowd-control items to Indonesia. Later that same year, Congress passed a law codifying this ban until certain human rights conditions had been met. The ban is still in place.

Despite the announced policy, in 1997 the State Department licensed for export nearly $5 million worth of materials for the manufacture of ammunition, hundreds of carbines, and hundreds of pistols to Turkey.(13)  Turkey’s paramilitary Jandarma and the Turkish National Police – the forces most prominently cited by the commission on gross human rights abuses in Turkey – previously purchased M16 and AR-15S assault rifles and M203 grenade launchers through State Department–licensed commercial sales. In the same report on Turkey, the State Department said that the United States has no resources available to monitor the end-use of US-supplied weapons in Turkey, or to ensure that they are not being used in the commission of abuses.(14)

Moreover, the United States and other arms manufacturing states continue to market bombers, helicopters, and other weaponry to the Turkish and, until the recent economic crisis, Indonesian armed forces. It is unclear why militaries deemed unfit to import small arms are worthy to import major platforms. By buoying up warring or repressive regimes, these ‘big arms’ transfers contribute to the quest for light weaponry by insurgents in Turkey and East Timor. If implemented aggressively, the ‘code of conduct’ measure adopted by the 15 EU states in May 1998 would prohibit arms transfers if, among other things, ‘there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.’(15)

Similarly, a measure passed by Congress in November 1997 bars US military aid and arms to abusive units of foreign militaries. However, the Pentagon and State Department usually do not know which military or police units are using US-supplied arms. A necessary next step is the enactment of a ‘code of conduct’ for all US arms exports that would establish firm human rights, democracy, and non-aggression criteria in US law. Such a measure has been introduced in Congress each year since 1994. If enacted, it would help establish a more forward-looking framework for US arms export policy in general, including small arms exports.

Bar Arms Supply to Non-State Actors

Covert gun-running by governments to foreign insurgent groups has been a major source of small arms proliferation. Precisely because of the non-accountable nature of covert arms supply, such operations feed directly into the global black market. These transfers also, of course, fuel armed conflict, as they are generally intended to destabilize and topple governments.

US pipelines established to combatants in South Asia, Southern Africa, and Central America during the 1980s continue to spill over today, as the weapons have been recycled to other conflicts, to bandits, or to terrorists. The classified US government operation to arm various mujahideen factions fighting in Afghanistan against Soviet invaders began in 1979. Before the operation ended in 1991, the CIA had shipped via Pakistan an estimated 400,000 AK-47 assault rifles, an undisclosed quantity of Stinger portable anti-aircraft missile launchers and missiles, vast quantities of Italian-made anti-personnel mines, 60,000 archaic rifles, 8,000 light machine guns and over 100 million rounds of ammunition from Turkey, 40–50 Oerlikon Swiss-designed anti-aircraft guns, mortars from Egypt, Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles from Britain, and 100,000 rifles from India.(16)  The after-effects of this arms supply operation can be felt not only in Afghanistan, but throughout Pakistan as well as into Kashmir and other parts of India.

It is the Stinger missiles that have caused successive US administrations the greatest heartburn. In her November speech, Albright said, ‘We have learned from bitter experience that these weapons, which will fit in a ski bag, are very difficult to control once sold. They turn civilian airliners and humanitarian relief flights into easy targets.’(17)  As a result, the administration has been pressing other governments through the Wassenaar Arrangement to limit transfers of man-portable air defense missiles. While this goal is most welcome, a lesson appears to have been lost: short-term alliances with insurgents are unsound policy. Guerrilla forces often lack the chain of command and authority structure sufficient to ensure physical control of any weaponry – not just missiles capable of shooting passenger jets out of the sky.

It is generally believed that the use of covert military supply operations by the US government has greatly diminished in the 1990s, and yet calls for armed destabilization of the regimes in Iran and Iraq persist. Most recently, the Iraq Liberation Act, which Congress passed in autumn 1998, authorizes the executive branch to spend up to $97 million to train and arm Iraqi opposition groups. In the wake of the November– December 1998 showdown with President Saddam Hussein over UNSCOM inspections, the administration has been pressing ahead with implementing this plan, despite the disastrous in-fighting between some of these same groups that ensued in 1996 when the CIA attempted to foster an insurrection among Iraqi Kurdish factions against Saddam Hussein’s troops. Ongoing covert arms supply by the US government to forces opposing the Sudanese regime is frequently reported, as well.

Many other states reportedly have been engaging in covert destabilization programs, including small arms supply: Uganda in southern Sudan; Sudan in northern Uganda; alleged support by Turkey for rebels in Chechnya; alleged support by Russia for Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey; Pakistan in Kashmir; India in Sri Lanka. In many cases, these arms now pose a direct threat to the state that previously supplied them. And, while the shipments are intended to further the political and economic interests of the supplier state, once the conflict ends, the supplier almost never takes responsibility for either the cost of disarmament or the impact on civil societies when disarmament fails.

At a July 1998 gathering of 21 governments in Oslo to discuss small arms, the Canadian foreign ministry proposed a treaty banning military-style small arms transfers by governments to insurgent forces and other non-state actors. Thus far, the rough proposal has received little public support from either governments or NGOs. Some NGOs are concerned that a convention of this type would deny arms to non-state actors opposing repressive regimes, while those regimes could legally arm themselves against their people.(18)  At a major small arms conference sponsored by the Belgian government in mid-October, the British government endorsed the proposal and expressed interest in working on the idea. Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk also has expressed cautious support.

Developing international law barring small arms supply (usually covert) to non-state actors would be one of the most meaningful policies that concerned governments and NGOs could pursue to curb further dangerous small arms proliferation. Past (and perhaps continuing) practitioners of covert arms supply cannot be expected to endorse the proposal. But for the ‘group of like-minded states’ and NGOs that came together first over the landmines ban treaty, and then the International Criminal Court, this would seem to be a very worthy effort to explore and develop.

Appendix: Small Arms Control Highlights of 1998


– UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issues a report on the causes of conflict and promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa. The report urges greater enforcement of UNSC arms embargoes, increased UN role in compiling and publicizing arms trafficking, and reduced arms procurement by governments in the region.

– Commission on Crime Prevention of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) passes a resolution calling for the negotiation of a legally binding convention to combat firearms trafficking.


– EU adopts a human rights–centered ’Code of Conduct’ for arms exports, including small arms.

– Seminar is held in South Africa to work out an action plan for EU–SADC cooperation on control of illicit small arms.

– G-8 heads of state statement lists points of agreement for a global convention on illicit firearms trafficking.


– OAU heads of state issue a statement on small arms and light weapons.


– Twenty-one governments meet in Oslo to discuss small arms; Canadian government proposes a ban on transfers to non-state actors; the statement ’Elements of a Common Understanding’ is issued.


– Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy makes a major policy speech on small arms at a gathering of NGOs.


– At a UNSC ministerial meeting on Africa, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright makes several control proposals.

– Several foreign ministers speak at a governmental/nongovernmental briefing on small arms at the UN.

– The OAS treaty on illicit manufacture and trade in firearms, explosives, and ammunition enters into force, following ratification by Bahamas, Belize, and Mexico.


– Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk delivers a major policy speech on small arms in The Hague.

– ‘Brussels Call for Action’ issued at the close of a two-day conference, ‘Sustainable Disarmament for Sustainable Development’ hosted by the Belgian government.

– All 16 heads of ECOWAS states declare a three-year moratorium on importation, exportation, and manufacture of light weapons.


– Governmental/nongovernmental seminar on small arms is held at the OSCE.

– US Secretary of State Albright delivers a major speech on small arms in New York.

– UN Commission of Inquiry report on African Great Lakes arms embargo is submitted to the UNSC.

– Governmental/nongovernmental seminar on small arms is held at the EU.


– UN General Assembly adopts two relevant resolutions – one on ’illicit arms’ and one on ’small arms’.

– Council of the EU adopts ‘Joint Action’ to combat the destabilizing accumulation and spread of small arms, and to contribute to the reduction of existing stocks.



*Lora Lumpe is a Senior Researcher at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), working with the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT).

(1) The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that 24,000 people per year are killed or maimed by anti-personnel landmines. While there are no reliable data on combat deaths and deaths from armed crime/violence in all countries, it is safe to assume that small arms affect many more people than do landmines – in the order of hundreds of thousands per year.

It is often stated (but with no apparent documentary basis) that small arms are responsible for an estimated 90% of today’s war casualties. This assertion is supported by the observation that the low cost and portability of these weapons mean they are used by all combatants – state militaries, militias, and insurgents alike. Their sheer availability and ease of use make it likely that these weapons would be used in a high proportion of the killing.

ICRC researchers estimate that, in general, more than 50% of war casualties are civilians. This conservative estimate is based on a case-study from Bosnia and the ICRC’s war wound database (David Meddings, letter in British Medical Journal, vol. 317, 31 October 1998, pp. 1249–1250; and Arms Availability and Violations of International Humanitarian Law, Geneva: ICRC and Norwegian Red Cross, 1998). In some conflicts, of course, the civilian mortality rate is much higher. If 200,000 people are killed per year around the world in ‘combat’, a reasonable assumption on average during the 1990s, based on the above assumptions, is that 90,000 of them would be civilians killed by small arms and light weapons – nearly four times the estimated landmine casualty rate.

(2)  Fairly representative of the government–NGO collaboration that has developed on the issue, NISAT operates independently of, but in cooperation with, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, which has provided significant financial backing for NISAT’s efforts to curb the spread and availability of military-style small arms.

(3)  Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA), centered in the Department of Disarmament Affairs, was created in August 1998 to facilitate and harmonize relevant actions among UN agencies responsible for humanitarian affairs, refugee relief, peacekeeping, the special rapporteur for children in conflict, and the crime control commission.

(4)  The ECOWAS and OAS initiatives are the most developed regionally, but both remain substantially incomplete and untested. The ECOWAS agreement entered into force on 1 November 1998. The document is three pages long, and most of that text is made up of ‘whereas’ clauses, with the operational part contained in one sentence. Now remains the difficult challenge of providing some assurance that the commitment undertaken is being honored. Financial and technical assistance is needed to facilitate demobilization and reintegration of combatants in the region, to promote sustainable development (as an alternative to armed banditry), and to facilitate gun collection and destruction programs. And suppliers must bar their nationals from seeking to export arms to West Africa. ECOWAS members made sure to point out in the brief text of the agreement that the Wassenaar Arrangement export control forum had been briefed and its members had agreed to refrain from exporting arms to the region. Thus far, however, no Wassenaar member-state has implemented laws or regulations barring its nationals from marketing arms to states in the region.

The OAS convention entered into force in autumn 1998, with the ratification of two states. In order for other states to ratify the agreement, they will have to pass legislation defining legal and illegal arms importation and exportation, establish effective control mechanisms, and develop a central contact agency on the issue. Governments must commit the necessary financial and technical resources to guarantee implementation of the convention and to assist states that are unable to fund implementation measures themselves. Meanwhile, the international community is pressing ahead with negotiation of a global anti-firearms trafficking protocol in 1999, without first assessing how the OAS convention works. Negotiations began at the UN’s Economic and Social Council in Vienna in January 1999. It is imperative that governments place at least equal emphasis on implementation of the extant treaty, so that lessons learned can be incorporated into the global initiative.

(5)  The most prominent manufacturers are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

(6)  According to annual reports now required by the Commerce, State, and Defense Departments, in 1996 the State and Commerce Departments approved more than $590 million of small arms and shotgun exports, and the Department of Defense gave away 75,000 assault rifles and over 5,000 grenade launchers. Thousands more were sold by the Pentagon. Because other governments are not open about their light weapons sales and shipments, it is not possible to determine where the United States ranks in the global small arms trade.

(7)  For one of the few attempts at this, see John Sislin et al., ‘Patterns in Arms Acquisitions by Ethnic Groups in Conflict’, Security Dialogue, vol. 29, no. 4, December 1998, pp. 393–408.

(8)  That study will be presented to the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 1999 and may lead to advocacy by the ICRC on the issue of small arms control similar to its previous engagement on landmines.

(9)  The speeches are available on the Internet ( statements/1998/). In the UNSC speech, Albright laid out an impressive array of remedial actions, but it is not yet clear how seriously the administration is pursuing these initiatives. Several of the following items remain vague and undeveloped:
States should provide ‘full and timely’ disclosure of arms shipments into African ‘zones of conflict’, and they should enact a voluntary moratorium on arms sales ‘that could fuel these interconnected conflicts’. (In November Albright defined the region of concern specifically as Central Africa.)
Governments, international governmental organizations, and NGOs should meet to exchange information on regional arms transfers and ‘to explore further steps’.
UN member-states with relevant expertise should help strengthen the capacity of African governments to monitor and interdict arms flows.
The UN should establish a clearinghouse for technical information to facilitate rapid exchange of data on possible violations of UNSC-mandated arms embargoes.
All states should enact national legislation regulating exports and making violation of UNSC-mandated embargoes a criminal offense.
States should negotiate a global convention against illicit arms trafficking by the year 2000.
States should negotiate an agreement ‘to restrict’ the export of shoulder-fired missiles by the year 2000.
States should establish ‘an international center to collect and share information on arms transfers’.

(10)  Of course, the US government used to be a major patron to warring factions in all three places, and this fact points to an important critique of all of the major arms suppliers’ policy: it is backward-looking, reactive, rather than forward-thinking about the potential impact of the weapons that continue to be transferred today. Embargoes are always levied after a war has broken out or a (objectionable) coup has occurred. But infantry weapons have extremely long lives, and they quite often outlive the original purpose or government for which they were sent.

(11)  Department of State, ‘U.S. Arms Exports: Direct Commercial Sales Authorizations for Fiscal Year 97’ (also known as ‘Section 655 Report, fiscal year 1997’), pp. 20–21.

(12)  Department of State, ‘U.S. Military Equipment and Human Rights Violations’, sent to Congress on 1 July 1997, p. 3.

(13)  Ibid., pp. 114–116.

(14)  Ibid., p. 2.

(15)  See ‘Appendix 2: EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports’, in William Benson, Light Weapons Controls and Security Assistance: A Review of Current Practice (London: International Alert & Saferworld, 1998), p. 51.

(16)  Chris Smith, ‘Light Weapons and Ethnic Conflict in South Asia’, in Jeffrey Boutwell et al., eds, Lethal Commerce (Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1995), pp. 62–64.

(17)  See note 9 above.

(18)  Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy’s response has been that ‘Canada does not, as a matter of policy, advocate the arming of opposition groups in order to overthrow unpopular regimes. We believe that non-violent means are the best way to effect political change. Governments who signed the convention would effectively be recognizing that principle by doing so.’ Notes for a speech to a Conference on Small Arms organized by Project Ploughshares, 19