A report from the Secretary-General on small arms and light weapons is expected in April. A briefing is likely but at the time of writing it was unclear whether the Council would take any decisions.
The availability and relatively low cost of small arms and light weapons have made them a primary cause of casualties in almost all modern conflicts, and especially civilian fatalities (particularly among women and children). Past Council decisions have explicitly recognised that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a major cause of instability and a threat to international peace and security.
The Council adopted four presidential statements from 2001 to 2005. Four reports were submitted by the Secretary-General on small arms from 2002 to 2006. In 2006 an Argentinean initiative for a Council resolution on small arms was blocked by the US. As a result of the stalemate over this proposed resolution, the cycle of reports on small arms was interrupted.
In 2007 the Council, after weeks of negotiation, agreed on a presidential statement on 29 June requesting the Secretary-General to produce biennial reports on small arms beginning in 2008, the first coming on 17 April 2008. No report was produced in 2010. The April report is therefore the delayed report for 2010.
The Secretary-General’s 2008 report widened the discussion from the original question of illicit trafficking of small arms and challenged Council members to consider related issues such as production, marking and tracing, illicit brokering, end-use verification, ammunition and stockpiles. The Council could not agree on any statement or resolution following the 2008 report.
Despite the absence of a report from the Secretary-General in 2010 Gabon initiated a Council debate devoted to the subject of small arms which was held on 19 March 2010. The focus was the impact of illicit small arms and light weapons on peace and security in the Central African region. Twenty-seven member states made statements during the debate. In a presidential statement adopted at the conclusion of the March 2010 debate, the Council reiterated that small arms pose a threat to peace and fuel armed conflict and called on states to effectively implement existing arms embargoes. The Council also requested that the Secretary-General take the content of the presidential statement into account in his next report.
A persistent issue for the Council is the need to be sensitive to the relative roles of the Council and the General Assembly in addressing the issue of small arms and light weapons. Since 2009 negotiations have been underway in the General Assembly focused on a possible arms-trade treaty. (A number of preparatory committee meetings have been held, and in 2012 a UN Conference will be held on the issue.)
Another ongoing issue has been the historical reluctance of the US for domestic political reasons to agree to new limitations on small arms in the Council and the willingness of a number of other arms producing countries to quietly shelter behind this position.
a statement responding to substantive elements of the Secretary-General’s 2008 and 2011 reports;
taking no substantive action but reinforcing the importance of the negotiations under way under the GA auspices; or
reinforcing the importance of the reporting process and the need to adhere to the cycle established by the Council.
Council and Broader Dynamics
Most Council members seem to agree on the importance of the Council continuing to address the small arms issue. (Historically, African and Latin American countries have been particularly concerned that the Council address the issue regularly.) It seems many members are interested in reviewing the latest Secretary-General’s report before deciding how the Council can best address the issue of small arms at this time.
In recent years the US seems to have moderated its past opposition to all new limitations on small arms. (In 2009 the US voted for the GA resolution that established preparatory committee talks leading up to a UN conference in 2012 and has been participating in those discussions.)
Selected Security Council Presidential Statements
Latest Report of the Secretary-General
Selected Security Council Debate on Small Arms
Useful Additional Source
Small Arms Survey (http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/home.html)