November 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 October 2021
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Small Arms and Light Weapons

Expected Council Action 

In November, the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). This is one of the signature events of Mexico’s November presidency, and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard will chair the meeting. Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Robin Geiss and a civil society representative are the anticipated briefers. Mexico is expected to circulate a concept note to help guide the debate.  

Background and Recent Developments 

The issue of SALW has garnered significant international attention in recent months. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA)—a universal framework for countering the illicit flow of SALW agreed by the more than 150 countries participating in the UN Small Arms Conference in 2001. The seventh biennial meeting of states on the UNPoA was held in New York from 26 to 30 July and considered key challenges and opportunities related to the full and effective implementation of the UNPoA. Subsequently, the seventh conference of states parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which regulates international trade in conventional arms, took place in Geneva from 30 August to 3 September.  

The Security Council has been active in recent months in discussing SALW.  On 16 September, Mexico convened a virtual Arria-formula meeting on the threat to international peace and security posed by the illicit trade in SALW. It did so to build momentum on the issue following the international UNPoA and ATT conferences. Mexico also considered the Arria-formula meeting to be an opportunity to listen to the views and perspectives of Council members, as it planned its ministerial-level debate during its presidency.  

On 6 October, Kenya convened a briefing on the threat posed by the illicit flow of SALW in peace operations as one of the signature events of its October Council presidency. UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s seventh biennial report on SALW, submitted pursuant to resolution 2220 of 22 May 2015, the last time the Council addressed the issue in a resolution. She said, “In contexts where UN peace operations have been mandated, illicit flows and the easy availability of arms can exacerbate and sustain conflict dynamics, render arms embargoes ineffective, endanger peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and local populations and complicate the implementation of peace agreements.” Nakamitsu further indicated that arms-related provisions are included in the mandates of several UN peace operations, including those deployed in Abyei, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen.  

Key Issues and Options 

A key issue for members to consider at the ministerial-level debate is how to address the trafficking and diversion of SALW and their impact on conflicts, peacekeeping and the implementation of arms embargoes. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s latest biennial report provides relevant recommendations for the consideration of Council members. These include: 

  • enhancing efforts to detect and seize parts and components of weapons and ammunition, including when shipped via fast parcel deliveries, to support the fight against various types of illicit manufacture, including conversion and craft production; 
  • addressing the arms-crime-terrorism nexus as interrelated and multifaceted security threats that require complementary approaches and responses; 
  • developing and implementing border security and management strategies that are comprehensive and effectively engage all relevant national agencies; 
  • promoting the sustained and systematic integration of weapons and ammunition management into the UN’s work on peace and security, including when mandating peace operations; 
  • systematically including references to relevant normative frameworks and international guidance; and 
  • redoubling efforts to enforce embargoes by applying the preventive and criminal justice measures that are provided for by the relevant international instruments.

An option for the Council would be to adopt a resolution following through on the Secretary-General’s recommendations. It has been six years since the adoption of resolution 2220 on SALW. 

Council Dynamics 

Several members are supportive of the Council’s deliberations on SALW, in recognition of the Council’s responsibility to address the issue as a driver of conflict. They also support integrating SALW issues into the Council’s consideration of country-specific situations and other thematic issues, including children and armed conflict; women, peace and security; climate change; and sustainable development.  

SALW is one of Mexico’s important foreign policy priorities. Since the country joined the Security Council as an elected member, it has been highlighting the issue in its various interventions on country-specific and thematic considerations. Mexico has been working to build momentum on the SALW discussion. At the ministerial-level open debate in November, Mexico will likely focus more broadly on how to control the trafficking and diversion of SALW and their multifaceted, adverse effects on conflicts, peacekeeping, and the implementation of armed embargoes.    

Kenya also attaches particular importance to the issue of SALW, although it is not a party to the ATT. In addition to convening the 5 October Security Council briefing, it chaired the seventh biennial meeting of states on UNPoA. On the other hand, other members tend to underscore the primary role and responsibility of national governments in handling the issue. Russia, in particular, maintains that the General Assembly is the most appropriate place for discussion of SALW issues, and opposes attempts to link them to other thematic topics, such as climate change; women, peace and security; and sustainable development. It does, however, appear to be amenable to discussing SALW in relation to peacekeeping, arms embargoes, security sector reform, and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.  

The ATT and the repeated call for all states to ratify and accede to the treaty is a contentious issue. In addition to Kenya, other Council members—including Tunisia, Russia, Viet Nam, and the US—are not parties to the treaty and tend to oppose references to the ATT in Council products. Kenya, however, participated in the recent conference of states parties as an observer. In 2020, China became the latest country to join the treaty. Mexico appears to be more cautious in handling this issue but has sought to link relevant regional and international instruments— including the ATT, the AU initiative on “Silencing the Guns in Africa” and others—to the discussion on the trafficking and diversion of SALW.   

Some Council members may try again to advance a resolution on SALW, building on the momentum generated by the recent international attention to the issue, but past negotiations on SALW were controversial. Six council members abstained on the adoption of resolution 2220 because the text did not include language critical of the transfer of SALW to non-state actors.  


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
11 March 2020S/PRST/2020/5 This presidential statement was adopted during a debate entitled “Countering terrorism and extremism in Africa” under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”, a signature event of China’s Council presidency.
Secretary-General’s Reports
30 September 2021S/2021/839 This was the Secretary-General’s seventh biennial report on small arms and light weapons – SALW.
Security Council Meeting Records
6 October 2021S/PV.8874 This was a briefing on small arms and light weapons SALW