Small arms trade

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Small arms trade refers to both authorized transfers of small arms and light weapons (and their parts, accessories, and ammunition), and to illicit trade in such arms and weapons that occurs globally but is concentrated in areas of armed conflict, violence, and organized crime.[1][2] The small arms market includes legal and illegal transfers. Legal transfers are generally defined as those approved by the involved governments and in accord with national and international law. Black market (illegal) transfers clearly violate either national or international law and take place without official government authorization. Gray (or grey) market transfers are those of unclear legality that do not belong in either of the other categories.[2]

Small arms proliferation is a related term used to describe the growth in both the authorized and the illicit markets. Users of the term have notably included Kofi Annan, ex-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Some organizations use the term particularly in arguing for weapons restriction of small arms sales to private citizens in conflict zones.[3] These organizations argue that restricting the number of small arms in a conflict zone will reduce the number of deaths.

The international movement to limit the availability of small arms in conflict zones[edit]

Various international organizations (including Oxfam International, IANSA and Amnesty International, as part of the Control Arms Campaign, and the United Nations) and domestic groups (e.g. the Small Arms Working Group in the US) have committed themselves to limiting the trade in, and proliferation of, small arms around the world. They claim that roughly 500,000 people are killed each year by the use of small arms and that there are over 600 million such arms in the world.[4]

United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms[edit]

The United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects was held in New York from 9–20 July 2001 as decided in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 54/54 V. Preceded by three preparatory committee sessions, the two-week Conference resulted in the adoption of the 'Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.'[5] States are required to report to the United Nations on the progress of their implementation of the UN Programme of Action, commonly known as the PoA.

The extent to which illicit trade in small arms is a primary cause of armed conflict and other serious humanitarian and socioeconomic issues has drawn controversy. The extremely high instance of small arms violence and the presence of illicitly obtained weapons, especially in areas of turmoil and armed conflict, is undisputed. Because other societal factors play a strong role in creating armed conflict, however, the role of such weapons as a driver of continued violence and disruption has been called into question. Recent scholarship has focused on the root societal causes for violence in addition to the enabling tools. Another target of criticism is the ability to regulate illicit trafficking through international means, since it is unclear exactly what proportion of the weapons are trafficked across borders. The nature of the trafficking enterprise makes exact statistics difficult to determine. Recently, however, researchers have had some success establishing hard numbers within limited parameters.[6]

According to a 2012 Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution publication, "the relative importance of diversion or misuse of officially authorised transfers, compared to international entirely illegal black market trafficking has been thoroughly confirmed."[7] The authors go on to elaborate that..."For most developing or fragile states, a combination of weak domestic regulation of authorised firearms possession with theft, loss or corrupt sale from official holdings tends to be a bigger source of weapons concern than illicit trafficking across borders."[8]

The United Nations General Assembly scheduled a review conference in New York[9] which was held from 26 June to 7 July 2006.[10] The Review Conference was plagued by disagreements and states were unable to agree on a substantive outcome document.[11] There have also been four Biennial Meetings of States to consider the implementation of the Programme of Action, in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010. The 2008 Biennial Meeting of States resulted in the adoption, by vote,[12] of an Outcome Document[13] focusing on three main issues: international assistance, cooperation and capacity-building; stockpile management and surplus disposal; and illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons. The Fourth Biennial Meeting in 2010 was able to adopt, for the first time by consensus, a substantive Outcome Document which addresses the issue of illicit trade across borders.[14][15][16]

A second conference convened from 27 August to 7 September 2012 in New York.[17]

Main small arms exporters[edit]

The Small Arms Survey, an organization advocating the control of small arms (see external links) claims in their 2003 report that at least 1,134 companies in 98 countries worldwide are involved in some aspect of the production of small arms and/or ammunition. The largest exporters of small arms by volume are the European Union and the United States.

In addition, massive exports of small arms by the US (M16), the former Soviet Union (AKM), People's Republic of China (Type 56), Germany (H&K G3), Belgium (FN FAL), and Brazil (FN FAL) during the Cold War took place commercially and to support ideological movements. These small arms have survived many conflicts and many are now in the hands of arms dealers or smaller governments who move them between conflict areas as needed.

In 2011, the number of countries exporting at least $100 million of small arms annually rose to 14 from 12 in 2010. The exporters' list was led by the United States and followed by Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Russia, South Korea, Belgium, China, Turkey, Spain and the Czech Republic. Sweden dropped off the list because its exports fell from $132 million in 2010 to $44 million in 2011.[18]

Main small arms importers[edit]

The eight countries that imported at least $100 million of small arms in 2011 were the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Thailand, United Kingdom, France and Italy. South Korea dropped from the list because its imports fell from $130 million in 2010 to $40 million in 2011.[18]

Data issues[edit]

Perhaps the greatest barrier to resolving debates over gun policy is the lack of comprehensive data. Although the UN Arms Register tries to keep track of major weapons holdings, there is no global reporting system for small arms. Some countries make information available about the small arms of their armed forces and law enforcement agencies; others release estimated data on public ownership. Most refuse to release anything, release rough estimates or simply do not know.

One systematic effort to track global small arms is published by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a research project of the Graduate Institute of International Studies (see external links). This organization’s flagship publication, the annual Small Arms Survey, covers trends in global production, inventories, and international transfers, as well as international negotiations, regulations, and the social problems associated with small arms proliferation.

According to the 2007 edition of the Small Arms Survey, there are at least 639 million firearms in the world, although the actual total is almost certainly considerably higher.[19] This number increases by approximately 8 million every year, for a total economic impact of about US $7 billion annually.[citation needed]

The Small Arms Survey figures are estimates, based on available national figures and field research in particular countries. They give a general sense of trends and the scale of the number of small arms.

Gun rights issues[edit]

Gun rights organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership argue each non-criminal person has a right to self-defense, and the most effective way of doing so is by the individual keeping and bearing of arms. These organizations point out warlords and governments in conflict areas will always have access to weapons, and disarmament efforts only serve to disarm the population, creating more defenseless victims.[20]

On the other hand, gun control organizations like the Small Arms Working Group argue the prevalence of small arms contributes to the cycle of violence between governments and individuals. Some of these organizations argue civilians should only own weapons for sporting or hunting purposes, if they decide to at all (ANC alley COSATU, SOUTH AFRICA, ARTICLE 77).[citation needed] These organizations do, however, support the right of governments to keep arms.

Gun rights litigator and author Stephen Halbrook says that disarming citizens leaves them defenseless against totalitarian governments (such as Jews in Nazi Germany).[20]

Impact on Africa[edit]

The persistence and the complication of wars in Africa are partially due to small arms proliferation. The consequences of small arms on African people due to international conflicts within Africa, rebel group activities, mercenary groups, and armed gang activities have yet to be fully measured. The International Action Network on Small Arms, Saferworld, and Oxfam International put it in perspective when they reported that armed conflict cost Africa $18 billion each year and about US$300 billion between 1990-2005. During this period, 23 African nations experienced war: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, and Uganda.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Small Arms Survey: Transfers". Small Arms Survey. July 25, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Unregulated arms availability, small arms & light weapons, and the UN process". International Committee of the Red Cross. May 26, 2006. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  3. ^ Civil society and local government agencies to take effective action to improve safety at community level, by reducing the local availability and demand for arms.[dead link]
  4. ^ "Amnesty International, Oxfam, IANSA Control Arms Campaign: Media Briefing: key facts and figures". Amnesty International. October 8, 2003. Retrieved August 30, 2006. 
  5. ^ "Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects". Retrieved 2009-08-01. 
  6. ^ "10" (PDF). Small Arms Survey. 2012. 
  7. ^ Edited by Greene and Marsh (2012). Small Arms, Crime and Conflict: Global governance and the threat of armed violence. London: Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution. p. 90. 
  8. ^ Ibid, p. 91
  9. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 59 Resolution 86. A/RES/59/86 3 December 2004. Retrieved 2007-10-18.
  10. ^ "2006 Small Arms Review Conference webpage". 
  11. ^ "UN world conference on small arms collapses without agreement". 
  12. ^ "Small Arms Conference Nets Agreement". 
  13. ^ "Report of the Third Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the IllicArms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects". 
  14. ^ Kofi Annan, Secretary General UN (10 July 2006). "Secretary-General's Statement" (Press release). Small Arms Treaty Review Conference 2006. United Nations. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  15. ^ "A-RES-59-86 General Assembly Resolution 59/86". United Nations. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Jeff Abramson. "Small Arms Conference Nets Agreement" (Article). Arms Control Association. Arms Control Association. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  17. ^ "United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects". United Nations. September 18, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2014. 
  18. ^ a b "Turkey and China among major small arms exporters: UN". Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  19. ^ Karp, Aaron (2007). "Completing the Count: Civilian Firearms". Small Arms Survey 2007. Small Arms Survey. 
  20. ^ a b Halbrook, Stephen P. (2000). "Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews". Stephen Halbrook. 
  21. ^ Jacques, Bahati (June 2, 2009). "Impact of Small Arms Proliferation on Africa". Africa Faith & Justice Network. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Lora Lumpe (ed), Running Guns: The Global Black Market in Small Arms, Zed Books 2000

External links[edit]