March 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 24 February 2006
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THEMATIC ISSUES

Small Arms

Expected Council Action
The Council will discuss the Secretary-General’s report on small arms in an open debate and it is expected to adopt a resolution or a presidential statement addressing the problem. An Arria formula meeting is also planned.

Key Facts
The Council, recognising the direct impact that small arms have on the maintenance of peace, has since 1999 addressed small arms as one of the thematic issues that regularly appear on its agenda. (An in-depth analysis of Council’s role on this issue is available on our website: www.securitycouncilreport.org). The Council has primarily focused its attention on four areas:

  • the implementation of the UN 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA)
  • council-mandated sanctions and arms embargoes;
  • conflict prevention and peacebuilding, including demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of former combatants (DDR); and
  • confidence-building measures.

In 2006, small arms will receive a great deal of attention from member states. In January at a General Assembly preparatory meeting there was wide support for doing more to stem the trade of illicit weapons at the upcoming UN Review Conference of the PoA in July. However, there was difficulty in agreeing to an agenda for the July Conference. Calls for more effective methods to reduce availability of arms have become increasingly vocal. For example, Dennis McNamara, Special Advisor to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, has repeatedly called on states to implement a voluntary cessation of small arms sales to Africa for the next four years, and urged more state responsibility, especially for those states involved in arms sales.

Key Issues
While the problem of small arms proliferation continues to be serious, and the Council has engaged the issue energetically, Council actions have yielded mixed results. One area of concern is the uneven effectiveness of the implementation of arms embargoes, a mechanism increasingly popular with the Council to reduce the supply of arms in areas of conflict. Recent reports on arms embargoes indicate that enforcement is patchy and sometimes non-existent.

Another area of concern for the Council is the DDR component of peacekeeping missions. DDR programmes have had varying levels of success, and financing of the programmes frequently lag behind requirements.

Council Dynamics
While the members of the Council have been generally supportive of actions to tackle the proliferation of small arms across the globe, differences exist among member states as to the degree of support and to the robustness of actions considered appropriate. Some states, notably EU members (the UK, Greece, France, Denmark and Slovakia), have pressed for more accountability, and for legally binding instruments. Others, such as the US, favour non-binding instruments like the PoA.

Three of the top exporting countries-the US, Russia and China-are the source of a significant portion of the small arms and light weaponry. Thus addressing this issue at the Council level has been a sensitive matter. Arms-exporting countries have preferred to make the distinction between legal and illegal trade in arms, and press for greater control of illicit arms. However, most Council members tend to support the view that the highly portable nature of small arms, porous borders and cross-border arms trafficking make these distinctions largely immaterial, especially in conflicts on the Council’s agenda.

During its tenure on the Council in 2005-6, Argentina has been particularly active on this issue, having taken the lead in drafting the 2005 presidential statement and preparing to hold an open debate during its presidency in March 2006.

Options
One option is that the Council will adopt for the first time a resolution on the issue. This could:

  • reaffirm earlier commitments and recommendations contained in the five presidential statements to date and express general support for the PoA;
  • include provisions urging states to exercise responsibility in arms trade and in enforcing embargoes; and
  • request regular periodic reporting on the matter from the Secretary-General.

Another option is that the Council will adopt a presidential statement on the above issues.

A further option would be for the Council to support the strengthening of measures to identify and trace small arms. However, given the dynamics described above, this would be difficult to negotiate.

Underlying Problems
More than 640 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation worldwide, and this is recognised as a significant threat to international peace and security. Small arms and light weapons have been sufficient to destabilise states and entire regions, increase the lethality and longevity of conflicts, obstruct relief programmes, undermine peace initiatives, exacerbate human rights abuses and hamper development.

Among all the tools of war, small arms are the most widespread, easily available and most difficult to control. As most countries affected by small arms violence are not arms producers themselves, attention has been focused on the supply of and trade in small arms. At the UN, concern has focused primarily on illegal arms sales, but the illicit trade is connected to the legal trade in small arms. The lack of transparency in even legitimate trade presents a significant challenge for the control of the trade.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1314 (11 August 2000) observed the connection between illicit trade in small arms, the prolongation of conflict and the impact on children.
  • S/RES/1296 (19 April 2000) observed the impact of small arms on civilians, and emphasised the importance of incorporating DDR in peace agreements.
Selected Presidential Statements
Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2005/69 (7 February 2005) was the second report on implementation of the recommendations
  • S/2003/1217 (31 December 2003) was the first report on the implementation of the recommendations
  • S/2002/1053 (20 September 2002) outlined 12 recommendations to identify and trace illicit trade in small arms
  • S/2000/101 (11 February 2000) on the role of the UN in DDR; it included small arms and light weaponry among the primary targets of DDR; and highlighted the importance of tracing small arms and combating the illicit trade in small arms.
Other Documents
  • A/C.1/60/L.55 (12 October 2005) international instrument adopted by the General Assembly to enable states to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons.
  • A/CONF.192/15 (20 July 2001) The PoA was adopted by states.

Historical Background

11-15 July 2005

UN Fourth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the PoA

July 2003

UN Second Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the PoA

August 2001

The Council held its first open debate on Small Arms.

July 2001

UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects was held and states adopted the PoA.

Useful Additional Sources

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