February 2020 Monthly Forecast

THEMATIC ISSUES

Small Arms

Expected Council Action

In February, the Council will hold a briefing to consider the Secretary-General’s sixth biennial report on small arms, submitted in accordance with the presidential statement adopted on 29 June 2007, which requested a biennial report to the Council, beginning in 2008.

Background and Recent Developments

As a thematic issue, small arms was first considered by the Council in September 1999. However, the Council’s attention to this issue has been somewhat inconsistent. It adopted six presidential statements on small arms between 1999 and 2007, but there were no discussions about the issue from 2008 to 2013 with the exception of a briefing in a closed meeting on the Secretary-General’s 2011 report on small arms.

The Council adopted its first thematic resolution on small arms, resolution 2117, in September 2013. In it, the Council sought to strengthen its response to small arms-related threats to international peace and security. In May 2015, the Council adopted resolution 2220, which urged member states to enhance their cooperation in curtailing illicit arms transfers and the accumulation and misuse of small weapons while focusing on the effects of these activities on civilian populations. It emphasised the role of UN peacekeeping operations relating to arms embargoes and capacity-building for host governments, encouraged information-sharing and cooperation among relevant actors, and called on states to support weapons collection, disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and stockpile management.

The Secretary-General’s most recent report underscores that the destabilising accumulation, illicit transfer and misuse of small arms and light weapons continue to initiate, sustain and exacerbate armed conflict and pervasive crime. The report presents an overview of recent trends and developments, including the Secretary-General’s launch in May 2018 of a new disarmament agenda, “Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament”, which among other things calls for deeper efforts at the national level and the establishment of a new trust facility, the Saving Lives Entity fund, to support country-level work on this issue. The report also deals with how “small arms issues can be constructively and effectively mainstreamed into the work of the Security Council”. In this regard, it provides specific recommendations for ensuring that matters pertaining to small arms and light weapons and ammunition are effectively integrated into several thematic areas, namely the protection of civilians, peace operations, arms embargoes, women and peace and security, children and armed conflict, counter-terrorism, and transnational organised crime. The report concludes that “[c]ompartmentalized treatment of the small arms and light weapons issue is not sufficient to address the seriousness and magnitude of the challenges”.

On 18 December 2017, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s fifth biennial report on the spread of small arms, light weapons and their ammunition.

Women, Peace and Security

The Secretary-General’s report on small arms and light weapons stresses that the women, peace and security agenda is most pertinent in integrating issues related to small arms and light weapons among the Council’s overall agenda. The report further emphasises that the small arms and light weapons agenda should be included in all four of the main pillars of the women, peace and security agenda: protection, participation, prevention, and relief and recovery. As a possible starting point, the report suggests the inclusion of language about “how small arms and light weapons facilitate acts of sexual and gender-based violence” and, in relation to the participation aspect of the agenda, how they may impede the political participation of women in political processes.

The Secretary-General also refers to resolution 2242 on women, peace and security, which encourages the empowerment of women “to participate in the design and implementation of efforts related to the prevention, combating and eradication of the illicit transfer, and the destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons”. The resolution further “calls upon Member States, United Nations entities, intergovernmental, regional and subregional organizations […] to mitigate the risk of women from (sic) becoming active players in the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons”. In that context, the Secretary-General addresses the general need for effective small arms and light weapons policies to include a gender dimension. By way of example, he points out that because an insufficient number of women work in national security forces, together with traditional stereotyping, women and girls—out of choice or through force—are employed as arms smugglers as they do not undergo security screenings similar to men. In terms of member states’ engagement, the Secretary-General suggests the synchronisation of the women, peace and security national action plans with the small arms and light weapons national action plans.

Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is the implementation of previous outcomes on small arms, most notably resolutions 2117 and 2220. Another key issue is considering the recommendations made in the Secretary-General’s report to more effectively integrate small arms and light weapons considerations into the Council’s work, both thematically and in country-specific contexts. An option for the Council would be to adopt a resolution or presidential statement that would welcome the Secretary-General’s report and endorse some of its recommendations. Furthermore, the Council could request the Secretary-General to consistently integrate small-arms issues into all planning and review processes for UN operations at the earliest possible stage, address small-arms issues in all relevant reports, and provide further recommendations to the Council as appropriate.

Council Dynamics

Council dynamics on small arms tend to be complicated. This was particularly evident during the Council’s negotiations on its two most prominent outcomes on this issue, resolutions 2117 and 2220. In the first attempt to pass a resolution on small arms, an initiative of then-Council member Argentina in 2006, the Council failed to adopt it because of strong objections by the US, which at the time argued that the issue was best dealt with in the General Assembly. When resolution 2117 was adopted in 2013 at the initiative of then-Council member Australia, Russia abstained, citing the omission of an amendment it had proposed aimed at preventing the transfer of small arms to non-state actors.

When resolution 2220 was adopted in 2015, Russia and China abstained, along with then-Council members Angola, Chad, Nigeria and Venezuela. Once again, the core issue during negotiations was the transfer of small arms to non-state actors. Russia also objected to certain provisions of the resolution regarding the expansion of the power of specialised committees and UN missions in controlling the transfers of small arms, which Russia believes should be the sole responsibility of the government concerned.

Another issue that tends to be contentious is any suggestion that the Council call on states to ratify or accede to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Among the current Council members, six have not joined the ATT: China, Indonesia, Russia, Tunisia, the US, and Viet Nam. (While the US is a signatory, it has not ratified or acceded to the ATT.)

At the briefing on 18 December 2017, Russia referred to the ATT as “a weak document that is not capable of fully enabling the implementation of its own provisions”. The US expressed some concerns about the Secretary-General’s report, including on issues related to domestic misuse of small arms in non-conflict settings and references to the tracing of small-arms ammunition.

UN DOCUMENTS ON SMALL ARMS

Security Council Resolutions
22 May 2015S/RES/2220 This was a resolution on small arms that contained new provisions aiming to strengthen UN coordination and action on small arms, promote effective implementation of UN arms embargoes and support the Arms Trade Treaty.
26 September 2013S/RES/2117 This was the first thematic resolution on small arms adopted by the Council focusing on the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
Security Council Presidential Statements
29 June 2007S/PRST/2007/24 This presidential statement noted with concern that the accumulation and illicit manufacture, trade and circulation of small arms contributed to the prolongation and increase in intensity of armed conflicts and undermined the sustainability of peace; reaffirmed the right to individual or collective self-defence; and requested a Secretary-General’s report on a biennial basis starting in 2008.
4 September 2001S/PRST/2001/21 This was a statement on small arms. It requested the Secretary-General to submit a report by September 2002 containing specific recommendations on ways and means in which the Council could contribute to dealing with the question of illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
Secretary-General’s Reports
30 December 2019S/2019/1011 This was the Secretary-General’s sixth biennial report on small arms and light weapons.
6 December 2017S/2017/1025 This was the Secretary-General’s fifth biennial report on small arms and light weapons.
Security Council Meeting Records
18 December 2017S/PV.8140 This was a briefing by High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu on the spread of small arms, light weapons and their ammunition.