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"Failed States and International Security II:
Sources of Prevention, Modes of Response, and Conditions of State Success and Renewal"

Purdue University, West Lafayette
April 8-11, 1999

Small Arms in Failed States: A Deadly Combination

By Rachel J. Stohl and Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Ret.)
Center for Defense Information
March 1999

"The global scene sometimes seems like Chicago writ large. There are peaceful 'neighborhoods,' but there are also neighborhoods - particularly the 'failed states' or states racing toward collapse - in which killing has become part of life. The reasons are many, including centuries of exploitive colonialism, disruptive national boundaries drawn in European capitals, decades of using states as Cold War surrogates, and present-day governmental corruption, cronyism, inequality, and poverty."
Mike Moore, "Easy Killing," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, January/February 1999, pg. 2


The problem of the failed or failing state, properly understood, is not new, either in the 20th century or in mankind's history. But the post-17th century world and now the post-Cold War world have introduced concepts and objective conditions that serve as turning points for how we in the West view the meaning and the effects of nation-state failure.

The first turning point was The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which brought to a close the religious wars in Europe. It also marked the beginnings of the modern state, a territorial entity in which the governed and the governing form a compact of reciprocal rights and obligations. In return for individual security - basically freedom from fear, from want, from internal and external conflict, and a varying degree of latitude in their daily endeavors, the governed consent to follow the decrees of the rulers, to support the state structure through the commitment of personal time, energy, fiscal resources, and - in extremis - their lives for the survival of the state.

This social compact, in whatever form it assumed, was reinforced in the 19th century by the concept of the "volk," in which the governed identify themselves as the state rather than a mere party to an agreement. This psychological fusion of governed with governing and the institutions of governance we call nationalism - which is reflected in our habit, when abroad, of identifying ourselves as American but giving our ethnic origins when asked the same question here at home. (The same phenomenon exists in Great Britain, although to a lesser extent. To foreigners they are British; to each other they are English, Welsh, Scots, or Northern Irish.)

Unfortunately, these developments occurred at the same time that Europeans were exploring and then intensively colonizing America, Asia, and Africa, often with no regard for the political structures and historic arrangements of these areas. In the 20th century, from the 1930's to 1991, the great powers were engaged in ideological struggles that strengthened nationalism within opposing nations and gave rise to competition for influence in countries in what was viewed as a zero-sum game for world dominance. These struggles emphasized the political-military arena, with the presumption that the best way to influence political leanings and gain diplomatic support was to provide military hardware and pledges of military support against external foes.

Of course, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the zero-sum game ended, as for the most part did western interest in the southern hemisphere which was left awash in military hardware at the same time that it remained an economic backwater.

But it is not the presence of large quantities of arms that leads to what is termed the failed or failing state. Historically states "fail" because they cannot prevent conquest by a rival state, a situation that may in fact result from the absence of sufficient quantities of armaments. But in the context of the late 20th century, a failed or failing state is one in which the rulers either break the underlying compact by neglecting or ignoring the fundamental freedoms due their people or, as illustrated most graphically in Rwanda in 1994, actually direct the state apparatus against and encourage one segment of the population to hunt down another segment.

In either of these contexts, opposition thrives. Unrequited, it is reinforced by armaments either stolen or seized from stocks already within the country or imported from other sources and other, past conflicts. Most often the arms of choice - cheap, plentiful, easily transported and used, low maintenance - are small arms, light weapons, and explosives. And the plentiful supply of such weapons, which continue to be churned out by 50 nations today, is what has earned this class of weaponry the sobriquet of "conventional weapons of mass destruction."

From the preceding discussion, it immediately becomes apparent that small arms do not cause states to fail; they do not necessarily even rise to the level of being the proximate catalyst. The root problem, exacerbated by the failure of even rudimentary nationalism to take hold in many artificially created countries, is the lack of responsibility among the governing group to fulfill the state's part of the social contract. But without question, it is the availability and presence of small arms which translates the landscape of struggle from the political to the military realm, creating the "complex emergencies" that involve huge population shifts, long term agricultural insufficiency and general economic collapse, and civil population decimation from disease, starvation, and direct conflict.

During the Reagan era arms sales to failed or fragile states were often covert. The U.S. shipped millions of dollars of weapons to countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Angola, El Salvador, and Mozambique. Today, in the first truly post-Cold War Administration, U.S. arm sales continue unabated, often introducing new weapons into former Cold War battlegrounds. In addition, in many of these countries and regions a bad situation is made worse by the recycling of Reagan-era weapons from conflict to conflict. The recycling of weapons often takes place via the intricate intrigue of the black market. Weapons are smuggled from hot zone to hot zone. Although flashy media images portray high priced fighter jets and battle tanks rumbling through the streets of desolate cities, it is in fact small arms and light weapons that are now wreaking the most havoc around the world. Small arms and light weapons are the real weapons of mass destruction.

The Role of Small Arms and Light Weapons

In the post-Cold War world, the immediate overriding menace of nuclear war seems to have faded from the forefront of national concern. Instead, politicians tell us that the U.S. is now at risk from biological and chemical weapons, that the international community is subject to the predations of transnational terrorists, and that "cyberwar" could bring daily life as we know it to an absolute standstill without a shot being fired.

Conspicuously absent from this array of new threats to individual, national, and international security is a major weapons category that our leaders rarely mention but which affects profoundly every level of human security. Small arms and light weapons are perhaps the most deadly of all weapons because they are so insidious. With them a small group can easily turn a peaceful country or region into a major zone of conflict and man-made humanitarian disaster. Small arms rend the fabric of civil society like no other weapon system in the world.

What kinds of weapons are we talking about when we say "small arms and light weapons"? Small arms and light weapons include any weapon that can be carried by one or two people, mounted on a vehicle, or carried by a pack animal. Easily available, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive, small arms can be obtained for a few dollars or even in exchange for a chicken. These tools of death and violence include not only traditional military style weapons, but also machetes, axes, swords, and similar weapons.

The term "small arms" often is used to describe three major subdivisions of weaponry: small arms, light weapons, and ammunition and explosives. A recent United Nations report provided the following definitions: small arms includes revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns; light weapons includes heavy machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles (sometimes mounted), portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems (sometimes mounted), and mortars of calibers less than 100 mm; ammunition and explosives includes cartridges (rounds) for small arms, shells and missiles for light weapons, mobile containers with missiles or shells for single-action anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems, anti-personnel and anti-tank hand grenades, landmines and explosives.

According to Boutwell and Klare, small arms and light weapons have certain characteristics that make them the weapon of choice for countries and groups involved in armed conflict. Small arms are attractive because of their low cost and wide availability, lethality, simplicity and durability, portability and concealability, and military, police, and civilian uses.

Although the international community is only now beginning to realize the insidious nature of small arms, and are attempting to address the proliferation of these weapons around the world, the use of small arms and light weapons is not a new phenomenon. The United Nations (UN) believes that small arms and light weapons are responsible for 90% of all war casualties since World War II. All but three of the 49 conflicts since 1990 relied on small arms and light weapons as the only instruments of war, and only one, the 1991 Gulf War, was dominated by heavy weapons. In effect, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons often determines the ability of a country or group to successfully wage war.

Small arms and light weapons are being used increasingly in intra-state conflicts because their cost, portability and easy availability makes them particularly suitable for both governments and non-state actors fighting low-intensity conflicts.

Another insidious characteristic of small arms is their persistence - they often remain "at large" when organized conflict ends. They then become instruments for other forms of violence such as criminal behavior, disruption of development assistance, and interference with efforts to deliver food, medicine, and supplies to people in dire need of relief. Refugees are often afraid to return to their homes because of the large number of weapons still in the hands of fighters who have not been demobilized or who have secret weapons caches throughout a former area of conflict. There is no doubt that small arms leave a devastating legacy long after a conflict has officially ended.

The unregulated flow of weapons can effect not only the country in crisis, but also neighboring countries, and even some not in the region. The ample supply of weapons that often pour across borders can so quickly and severely destabilize a fragile state or region that there arises a virtual culture of violence that traps whole societies in an endless cycle of war.

The Small Arms Trade

The shear quantity of small arms in the world is unknown. Unlike other weapons systems, small arms remain outside all current international control and transparency regimes that focus on arms trading. Small arms, often included under the rubric of conventional weapons, are not usually included in the reporting of conventional arm sales. Further, because a large portion of the trade in small arms is done via commercial transactions by private industry and not government sales, small arms deals do not undergo the same level of scrutiny as other weapon systems that require government approval or oversight. Therefore, the transfer and recycling of small arms and light weapons from conflict to conflict can easily become part of a complex combination of legal and illicit transfers.

The small arms trade is much larger than many imagine. According to the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the small arms trade is estimated at 13% of all arms transfers. ACDA also believes that the monetary value of small arms exports are about one-fourth the total value of global arms transfers. Experts believe that the total trade in small arms could be as high as $10 billion. In fact, small arms is one aspect of the global arms trade that has actually increased since the end of the Cold War.

At this point, a brief synopsis of the methods by which small arms and light weapons make their way into the hands of those engaged in conflict seems in order.

Legal Trade

The legal trade in small arms takes shape as either a government-to-government transfer, an industry-to-government transfer, or a government or industry-to-sanctioned arms dealer or to legitimate militias and paramilitary organizations.

Boutwell and Klare detail these kinds of transfers as follows:

  • Grants or gifts by governments to allied governments;
  • Sales by governments to client governments;
  • Commercial sales by private firms to governments and private dealers in other countries;
  • Technology transfers associated with domestic arms production in the developing nations;
  • Covert transfers by governments to friendly insurgent and separatist groups in other countries;
  • Gifts by governments to armed militias and paramilitary organizations linked to the ruling party or the dominant ethnic group.

Complicating matters in the legal small arms trade is that the number of small arms manufacturers has increased dramatically in the past 10 years; some estimates are as high as 300 manufacturers in 50 countries, a 25 % increase in 10 years. (Boutwell and Klare, 17) The following table depicts the numbers of the most common assault rifles in circulation around the world.

  • 5-7 million Belgian FAL assault rifles in 15 countries;
  • 35-50 million Soviet/Russian AK assault rifles manufactured by Soviet/Russian factories and licensees;
  • 7 million German Heckler and Koch G3 assault rifles made in 18 countries;
  • 8 million US M-16 rifles produced in 7 countries;
  • 6 million Chinese-made AK-type assault rifles.

Illicit Trade

Experts believe that up to one-third of the small arms trade takes place through illicit channels. If the global trade in small arms is approximately $10 billion, this total is not a trivial amount. Like other items on the black market, small arms follow typical patterns of smuggling and source. Small arms can be stolen from stocks, diverted to unintended third parties, or sold through illicit channels. Klare and Boutwell identify three types of the illicit small arms trade.

  • Black-market sales to governments of "pariah" countries and to insurgent and separatist forces;
  • Theft of government and privately owned arms by insurgent, criminal, and separatist forces;
  • Exchanges between insurgent and criminal organizations, whether for profit or in pursuit of common political objectives.

The Use of Child Soldiers

Perhaps the most sinister and calculated aspects of the trade in and use of small arms and light weapons by state militaries, militias, and insurgents is that children as young as eight years of age can easily be taught to fire an assault rifle or machine gun, making them effective combatants. And in nations in which the majority of the population is under 15 or 16, small arms encourage the prolongation of wars and the consequences of war.

The use of child soldiers is indicative of a failed or failing state. There is something unnatural about children being used as front line combatants. There have, of course, been ceremonial uses of children in combat since even before the days of the little drummer boy, but only recently have we seen the rampant use of child soldiers as active, direct combatants. The UN estimates that approximately 300,000 children are being used as soldiers. These children often replace a dwindling adult male population suffering from years of war, disease, and poverty.

In a country like Sierra Leone, where the average lifespan is only 37, there are simply not enough adults to continue waging that country's decade-long civil war. As a result, both government and rebel insurgent forces use children as soldiers, porters, spies, and other military support occupations.

In this resurgent and brutal form of post-Cold War conflict - the intrastate conflict fought mainly with small arms and light weapons - it is precisely the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons that encourage continuance of these wars in which children bear the brunt of the suffering. Not only are women and children 80% of the casualties of today's conflicts, they are also the ones being forced to wage the wars. After peace comes to an area, entire generations are missing or greatly decimated, either by death or by being consumed by the culture of violence created by turning to the gun as the arbiter of disputes. The choice of one generation to turn to violence robs one or more succeeding generations of the opportunity to discern and implement choices other than violence. The use of child soldiers, together with the increased proliferation of small arms and light weapons, cause not only physical but also psychological wastelands that are equally difficult to regenerate. To prevent such a culture of violence from occurring, children need special demobilization and reintegration programs to allow them to become productive members of society.

Case Studies

It is a human temptation, when undertaking case studies of particular phenomenon, to fall into sweeping generalizations or to make overbroad assumptions that give a simplistic view of the conditions and circumstances involved - in this instance the causes of, degeneration into, and solutions for the phenomenon we label "failed and failing states." Yet, running throughout the constellation of variables such as geography and geology; tribal, clan, and religious strife; the legacy of colonialism and the Cold War; and mismanagement and corruption, there is all too often at least one common thread: a turn to the large-scale use of small arms and light weapons. In the case studies selected - a strained but contained Northern Ireland, a fragile Albania, a failing Sierra Leone, and a failed Somalia, small arms played a significant role in the destruction of the societal infrastructure, government institutions, and the implicit contract between governed and governing.

Northern Ireland - The Strained State

Northern Ireland is an artificial political creation stemming from the post-World War I division of the island of Ireland into an independent republic in the south and the northern six counties that opted to remain within Great Britain. Low level, scattered violence against British rule in the north was a fact of life until 1969 when "Bloody Sunday" sparked "The Troubles" of the past 30 years. Although the British were never in danger of militarily losing the struggle, they were equally unwilling to apply consistently the degree of force and repression of civil liberties that might lead to a military win. Northern Ireland was seen as a political problem first and as a low intensity war second.

Through intimidation, bombings, and shootings that the British were never able to suppress, the paramilitaries on both sides effectively paralyzed every attempt at self-governance. Between 1969 and 1998 over 3,000 men, women, and children were killed in violence that was constantly reinvigorated by the influx of pistols, assault weapons, grenades, and explosives - often at the same time that "peace talks" were in progress. Using only small arms, light weapons, and explosives all readily available and affordable, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and unionist militias fought each other, the civilian population, and the British military.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement seemed to signal the end of this carnage and insecurity. But the Province was hurled once again to the edge of the precipice when a firebomb killed 3 children and a subsequent car bomb in Omagh killing 29 - the worst death toll from a single attack. Today, the process of reconstituting a devolved Northern Ireland remains bedeviled by the twin issues of weapons decommissioning and demobilization of the paramilitaries. Although one Protestant paramilitary has surrendered its arms to international monitors, the IRA continues to resist any reciprocal move. And without such reciprocity, the possibility remains that Northern Ireland could again start down the slippery slope of the failing state, in which case any hope of either full devolution within Britain or unification with the Irish Republic will disappear.

As Northern Ireland faces its new era of peace, one of the largest obstacles is the disarmament and demobilization of the armed factions throughout the six counties in the north as well as the IRA support structure in the Republic. Estimates place the IRA totals of weapons and explosives at 100 tons (New York Times, November 18, 1998). All sides have acknowledged that the disarmament of the IRA is crucial to the success of the peace agreement, but many are anxious to keep their weapons to see if the process succeeds.

The IRA, for one, has said that they will not complete the disarmament process until the peace agreement is fully enacted in the spring of 2000. However, some groups have begun the decommissioning process. The Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) has destroyed firearms, grenades and detonators from their illegal holdings. The weapons were to be handed in in exchange for the release of prisoners, according to the agreement. Some fear that there will be a return to violence by those groups who turn in part of their weapons caches, get members of their group released, and then use the rest of their holdings to resume the fighting. But experts insist that turning in weapons is the first step towards lasting peace.

Albania - The Fragile State

In 1997, Albania's democratically elected government was toppled by a population frustrated and ruined by fraudulent pyramid schemes which cost the majority of people their life savings. As protesters took to the streets, Albanian civilians raided and looted military bases, bunkers, arms depots, and police stations. When the damage was totaled, over a million weapons and 1.5 million rounds of ammunition had disappeared from military and police control. Astoundingly, estimates of the total weapons taken ranged as high as 80% of the total weapons' holdings - that is, somewhere between 750,000 and one million light weapons. More specifically, 2,500 rocket-propelled grenades, 200,000 AK-47s, 800 mortars (mostly 60 mm), 1.5 million rounds of 7.62 ammunition, 3.5 million hand grenades, and 1.4 million anti-personnel mines were stolen from government arsenals by the civilian populous. Larger conventional weapons, such as small cannon, armored personnel carriers and tanks were also taken but were later recovered.

Some of the stolen Albanian small arms have not remained within the country. A significant percentage of the Albanian weapons have migrated into Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, and Italy. The Albanian government, assisted by the United Nations, has begun a series of weapons collection programs to recover weapons still in the country. These programs have met with varying degrees of success - but all usually quite low.

The Kosovo Connection

As Albania remains awash in weapons, towns, especially those bordering the Serbian province of Kosovo, have become literal arms bazaars. According to visiting journalists, all types of small arms are available, from AK-47s to machine guns to mortars - all weapons from the looted arsenals and police depots. Experts believe that former Albanian President Sali Berisha is responsible for much of the arms trade between Albania and the warring province of Kosovo. Some hypothesize that Berisha is using Kosovo as a staging ground for a political comeback. One of Berisha's top officials was arrested in June, 1998 for arms smuggling in Italy. Perhaps even more disturbing, NATO officials worried in July, 1998 that aid provided for humanitarian relief was actually being used to fund weapons purchases in Kosovo. Although the KLA still relies on small arms to fight its guerrilla style war with Serbia, they have been able to finance the purchase of some light weapons including anti-tank weapons.

Sierra Leone - the Failing State

Sierra Leone represents a disturbing trend in West Africa - the failing state. The tiny West African nation of Sierra Leone has been involved in civil and cross-border conflict for almost a decade. The civil war in Liberia spilled over to neighboring Sierra Leone at the instigation of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. Taylor's men have helped organize and support the Sierra Leone rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RUF first emerged as a fighting organization struggling against the governing regime of Sierra Leone in 1991. Even the election in 1996 of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as president failed to placate the RUF, which has had an extremely successful campaign during the winter of 1998-99.

Armed with weapons from its neighboring Liberian supporters, the RUF has waged a vicious terror campaign. Reports from the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, reveal continued use of child soldiers and now mass mutilations and pillaging. With news of increased atrocities committed not only by the RUF but by government forces and the ECOMOG peace-keeping force, Sierra Leone's troubles seem to be intensifying.

Although Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world, the opposing forces have had no trouble finding means by which their weapons purchases could be financed. Small arms are plentiful in West Africa. Weapons from resolved conflicts in Mali, South Africa, Mozambique, and Angola have all made their way to Sierra Leone. Much of the weaponry acquired by the RUF has been financed with diamonds from mines in RUF-controlled territories. The Sierra Leone government, on the other hand, employed the services of Executive Outcomes, a South African mercenary organization, to help support its forces. Out of money, the government now is forced to rely on the international community and more specifically the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, led by Nigeria.

West Africa is one conflict-raged region of the world where the direct connection has been made between weapons and the perpetuation of conflicts that otherwise probably would have ended. Significantly, this connection has been made, not by outsiders but by the people of the region themselves.

Recognition of this lethal connection is embodied in the West African Moratorium. The Moratorium pledges all state signatories to halt the production, import, and export of small arms for a three year period. The moratorium went into effect November 1, 1998 (see details of the moratorium below). Although Sierra Leone signed the moratorium, the proliferation of small arms into the country has not ended. The RUF and government forces continue to have access to an ample supply of the weaponry needed to wage the war. Absent a workable enforcement mechanism or at lest a verification regime, the signing of a piece of paper means nothing - most particularly for a failing state unable to exert its power or provide for individual security.

Somalia - The Failed State

Somalia's civil war has been raging since 1991 after the overthrow of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. In November 1991, rival factions began fighting in the capital city, Mogadishu. As the southern part of the country faced anarchy, the Somali National Movement (SNM) declared an independent state of Somaliland in the north. Since May, 1991 Somalia has not had a recognized government. Rival clans have competed for power for the last eight years, and with arms continuing to freely flow from Ethiopia and, more recently, from Eritrea, Somalia's civil war could last another decade.

Somalia is a prime example of a failed state. With no recognized government in place, Somalia swings back and forth between the perils of anarchy and military rule. When U.S. Marines arrived in Somalia in 1992 they faced well armed rebel groups armed with - among other small arms models - American made M-16s. The force that pushed the U.S. out of Somalia was not armed with heavy conventional weapons, but with predominantly small arms and light weapons. Yet these proved sufficient to allow rival warring clans to completely decimate the nation's higher political institutions during this decade.

The sheer quantities of small arms in Somalia have been detrimental to the region as well. The unregulated passage of arms and explosives coupled with lax controls at the Kenyan border provided a conduit for the people and materials used in the bombings of the two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. As East Africa faces erupting conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and localized fighting continues in Kenyan and Uganda, the Somalis are taking advantage of this new pipeline for weapons and supplies.

Efforts to rid Somalia of weapons in the past, namely during the UN Peacekeeping operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), were unsuccessful; virtually no weapons have been removed from Somali society. As a result, the eruption of new conflicts can only increase the supply of weapons already in the country and continue to provide the international community with no clear cut measures by which Somalia can be redeemed from its total collapse at the nation-state level.

What's Being Done

Small arms and light weapons are an entire class of weapons ignored too long by governments and policy makers. There is no universal treaty or international standard applicable to small arms. However, as the realization grows of the detrimental effects of small arms and light weapons on all aspects of individual, national and international security, policy makers have begun several initiatives that attempt to control small arms at the regional and international level.

So far this new concern for some form of coherent action on small arms has produced numerous international meetings and calls for action. To date, however, the majority of efforts have been relatively imprecise and ineffective because they attempt to cover too much ground. Furthermore, in some nations, the primacy of domestic gun ownership and gun use legislation has been championed over the creation of international standards. Three of the most substantial initiatives underway - and those that have the best chance at making (or that have already made) real progress in regulating small arms - have been initiated by the UN, the Organization of American States, and West Africa.

United Nations

Since 1995, several resolutions focusing on small arms have been introduced in the UN General Assembly. These have been directed primarily on collecting and destroying small arms and on harmonizing export policies. Most notably, however, was a resolution that called for the creation of a UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms. The panel issued a report in August, 1997 that described the causes for the proliferation of small arms; provided a definition of small arms; documented, using regional examples, the effects of small arms; and made policy recommendations for the United Nations and international community. This report has become the standard for discussing small arms and light weapons in the international community. In the context of failed states, the most notable recommendations made by the panel included disarming and demobilizing ex-combatants, strengthening international and regional cooperation in dealing with small arms, and supporting collection and disposal programs for surplus weapons.

In other UN fora, such as the United Nations Disarmament Commission and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), small arms are a topic not only of discussion but also of action. To deal with competing interests between peacekeeping, humanitarian affairs, disarmament affairs, and the development departments, the UN has created the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) to coordinate the work of the various UN departments.

Within the United Nations Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, regulatory approaches to the civilian use of firearms have been explored. After four regional workshops in Brazil, India, Slovenia, and Tanzania, a Declaration of Principles on firearms regulations was proposed for adoption by member states. Included were measures such as penalties for gun misuse and illegal possession, gun amnesties and/or gun buy-backs, marking and registration of individual firearms, and information sharing among member states. In April, 1998 ECOSOC endorsed a resolution calling for a legally binding convention to combat firearms trafficking. The work to create this global convention began in January, 1999.

On the arms trade side of the debate, there has also been talk of expanding the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which currently has seven categories of heavy conventional weapons, to include small arms and light weapons. Reactions toward efforts to expand the Register have been mixed and have been blocked by several countries, including the United States.

Organization of American States

Two of the largest problems in the Americas are the multitude of weapons left over from years of civil war in Central and South America and the influx of guns into drug producing and trafficking regions (the smuggling routes of illegal weapons often follow well established illicit drug routes). To combat the increase of illicit trafficking of firearms and other small arms in the Americas, the Organization of American States (OAS) agreed in November, 1997 to implement the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials. The Convention promotes and facilitates cooperation and information exchanges between member states on a variety of issues including producers, dealers, and exporters of light weapons as well as trade routes and methods of concealment and smuggling. Although the OAS Convention identifies transnational regulations for firearms, it also allows each country to retain its own national laws regarding firearms. Therefore, domestic gun legislation is elevated above and negates conflicting standards that the Convention defines. Nonetheless, there has been a growing effort to globalize the OAS Convention by using it as a model for similar forms of multinational legislation around the world.

West African Moratorium

As mentioned earlier, the entire West African region has been wracked by civil wars, rebel insurgencies, and above all the massive proliferation of small arms. To combat these problems, the heads of the sixteen members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) signed on October 31, 1998 a renewable three year moratorium on the production, import, and export of light weapons. The Moratorium, absent enforcement provisions, took effect November 1, 1998. The historic West Africa enterprise was developed under the initiative of the President of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konare, in December 1996. After Mali successfully concluded a peace agreement within its own country, surplus weapons were burned in a symbolic "Flame of Peace" ceremony.

Even as Mali destroyed additional excess weapons, the devastation caused by small arms in the rest of the West African region continued. Obviously more needed to be done. The West African States held meetings with the Wassenaar arms producing states to discuss the concept of an arms moratorium. Finally, "The Oslo Platform for a Moratorium on Small Arms in West Africa" was issued in April, 1998. This document, the result of a meeting of 13 West African countries, 23 Wassenaar Arrangement arms exporting countries, UN organizations, NGOs, and observer nations, provided a formal framework for the moratorium effort. This framework includes the Programme of Coordination and Assistance on Security and Development (PCASED), - an important linkage of development to security - and a secretariat to coordinate the development and implementation of the moratorium mechanism. The effectiveness of the small arms moratorium has yet to be determined. Sierra Leone and other West African countries continue to be plagued by violence and war. In the continued absence of enforcement provisions or penalties for violating the Moratorium, both supplying and buying countries and groups may well continue to traffic in arms.

Civil Society

As was the case with the landmines issue, governments are falling behind initiatives being proposed by concerned groups in civil society. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are leading the charge and creating momentum on the small arms issue. They are working in post-conflict societies to collect surplus weapons. NGOs are developing rehabilitation programs for ex-combatants. In some countries, such as South Africa, NGOs are working directly with governments to develop new laws regulating small arms. To capture the momentum established by NGOs working separately in various parts of the world, a new mechanism has been established to facilitate communication and cooperation among NGOs working on the small arms issue. The Preparatory Committee for a Global Campaign on Small Arms and Light Weapons (Prep Com) is an Internet community of NGOs and individuals dedicated to preparing a global campaign to alleviate the carnage caused by the proliferation, accumulation, and misuse of small arms and light weapons."

Prep Com will give way to the newly formed International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) during 1999. IANSA was conceived in August, 1998 when forty-five individuals representing 33 NGOs from 18 countries met near Toronto, Canada to explore collaborative efforts by the international NGO community to control the diffusion and misuse of small arms. In October, 1998 these same groups, plus over 150 additional individuals, met in Brussels, Belgium to finalize a platform and structure for this network.

IANSA is not a campaign or coalition. It represents the interests of a wide variety of NGO constituencies, including development, arms control, peace and security, humanitarian, human rights, refugee, and others. IANSA is a way for groups around the world to collaborate and collectively work on a variety of programs and issues. Members will work on various Programs of Action and will support a variety of individual, national, regional, and international initiatives.


Analysis of the constellation of challenges created by small arms and light weapons suggests two primary courses for action. The first is to gain control of the vast stocks of small arms and light weapons in the world. Initially, this requires a system of transparency in which quantities, types, and locations of weapons are publically identified. Admittedly, this is a monumental task and, with over twenty significant conflicts still raging in the world, one that will remain incomplete for a number of years. In conjunction with this process, nations should develop processes by which their manufacture or purchase of new weapons is offset by the destruction - not the transfer - of old weapons. This will be equally difficult to achieve because weapons transfers mean money for the selling state whereas destruction costs money. However, a model - and similar rationale - might be found in the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program with Russia, which is aimed at increasing the security of both nations through U.S. funds to help Russia account for and safeguard nuclear weapons, fissile material, and nuclear knowhow.

Second, the concept of sovereignty that grew out of Westphalia and is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations must be modified. Slowly, all too slowly it may seem to some, this is being done. Interventions sanctioned by the UN Security Council have become relatively common in the last decade even if they have occurred generally after one or more rounds of civil war. This remains a very delicate diplomatic area, but until the world community decides that it can intervene before states fail, it will forever be forced into more costly reactions to events.

In short, the choice lies between rationally anticipating and preventing state failure and allowing irrational forces to isolate and dominate internal state dynamics. In the latter instance, a destructive and divisive climate of thought can permeate a society. And this is where danger should be most apparent, for in such a climate mass manipulation is easy, the appeal to violence in the name of "duty" and hatred of an enemy is made, and the chaos of war ensues. From this point the cycle of killing spins on. The first dead demand further sacrifices from their compatriots, for at this point no price is too high to pay. Only the lack of new victims, exhaustion, or overwhelming force from outside can end the ensuing carnage.