What's In Blue

Posted Sun 21 Nov 2021

Small Arms: Ministerial-Level Open Debate

Tomorrow (22 November), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard will chair the meeting, which is one of the signature events of Mexico’s November presidency. The expected briefers are the Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Robin Geiss and a civil society representative from Latin America.

Non-Council member states are invited to participate in person at tomorrow’s open debate or submit a written statement, to be circulated after the meeting.

Mexico has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s open debate. It says that the meeting will focus on the theme “The impact of the diversion and trafficking of arms on peace and security”. The concept note underscores that the unrestricted flow of weapons continues to fuel violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, that the problem is widespread, and that it is a “shared global responsibility to seek solutions, based on Security Council mandates and previous decisions”.

In addition, Mexico would like the Council to consider efforts to address SALW in the context of conflict prevention and the implementation of indicator 16.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, including through the reduction of the illicit flow of SALW. It is also interested in addressing the link between illicit financial flows and the illegal trade in SALW as a source of finance for non-State actors.

The concept note poses the following questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting:

  • How can the Security Council effectively tackle the diversion of weapons to conflict zones without undermining legal trade?
  • What actions can be undertaken by the Security Council beyond weapons and ammunition management that truly address the risk of diversion to unauthorised recipients during the complete life cycle of weapons and ammunition?
  • In preventing illicit flows of weapons, how can Security Council arms embargoes better complement relevant international and regional treaties relating to SALW?
  • How can the Security Council make better use of its formal and informal subsidiary bodies to design adequate responses to the evolving challenges posed by the unrestricted flows of SALW?
  • How can regular reporting by the Secretary-General to the Security Council better integrate dimensions of diversion and trafficking in SALW?

The Security Council has discussed SALW on several occasions in recent months. 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. Its objective was to build momentum on the issue following the seventh Biennial Meeting of States (BMS7) on the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA) and the seventh Conference of States Parties (CSP7) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which were held from 26 to 30 July and from 30 August to 3 September, respectively. Mexico considered the Arria-formula meeting as an opportunity to listen to Council members’ views, as it was planning tomorrow’s ministerial-level debate.

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. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s seventh biennial report on SALW, which was submitted on 30 September, pursuant to resolution 2220 of 22 May 2015—the only thematic Security Council resolution focused on SALW.

Council dynamics in relation to SALW tend to be complicated. Preventing the illicit flow of SALW is a foreign policy priority for several Council members, including Mexico and Kenya. These members believe that the Council should address the illicit flow of SALW, as it is a potential driver of conflict. They also advocate for the integration of 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.  At tomorrow’s meeting, these members are likely to focus on how to control the illicit trade, trafficking and diversion of SALW and their role in fueling and sustaining conflicts.

On the other hand, other members tend to underscore the primary role and responsibility of national governments in handling the issue. Russia maintains that the General Assembly is the most appropriate forum for discussing SALW issues and opposes attempts to link them to other thematic issues. However, Moscow is apparently amenable to the Council discussing SALW in the context of peacekeeping, arms embargoes, Security Sector Reform (SSR), and Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR).

The repeated call for states to ratify and accede to the ATT is another divisive issue. Five members—Kenya, Russia, Tunisia, the US, and Viet Nam—are not parties to the treaty and tend to oppose referencing it 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 is keen 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.

Past negotiations on Council products on SALW were contentious. For instance, six Council members, including China and Russia, abstained on resolution 2220, apparently because the text did not include language on the transfer of SALW to non-state actors. It seems that in 2020, several Council members—including then-members Germany and the Dominican Republic and current Council member Niger—initiated a draft resolution on SALW. That draft resolution apparently built on resolution 2220 and addressed issues such as women, peace and security. However, it seems that negotiations were difficult, as some Council members expressed the position that SALW-related issues are better handled in other UN bodies, and the draft was not tabled for a vote.