Small Arms & Light Weapons: Implementation Challenges

Key challenges

Lack of detailed empirical knowledge and assessment of programs

Since the mid-1990s, the cumulated knowledge about small arms proliferation and diffusion has increased dramatically. Specialized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research organizations such as Safeworld, the Small Arms Survey, the Bonn International Center for Conversion, the Groupe de recherche et dinformation sur la paix et la scurit (GRIP), the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers, the Institute for Security Studies (South Africa), Viva Rio and others have been active not only to raise the general awareness of the issue of SALW, but also to document, report and support a better understanding of its different components.1 However, additional efforts are needed to address the lack of data and mechanisms for data gathering. In his recent report, the UN Secretary-General recommended that Member States "enhance their efforts to collect, maintain and share data on small arms."2

Empirical research will also assist to assess the impact of small arms in specific contexts, enabling practitioners to better craft approaches and prioritize programming. Research is also needed "in order to design evidence-based policies, rather than just ad hoc diagnoses or programs."3 Adequate research, monitoring and assessment could also mitigate the frequent tensions between the most politically attractive measures (achievable in the short-term, and do not require significant resources or a broad consensus), and those that might actually deal with the problem 'on the ground.'4Among the recent recommendations of the UN Secretary General is the development of "baseline assessments and agreed targets" to "better frame the scope and dimension of the problem, develop effective projects and monitor progress."5

Incoherent approach and articulation between supply and demand-oriented measures

The implementation of effective small arms and light weapons (SALW) control measures requires the adoption of a coherent approach combining supply and demand-oriented measures. Therefore, the way the problem of SALW proliferation is framed in a particular context is crucial.6 Strict regulations on the production, transfers, re-transfers, use of weapons are the only way to make resorting to armed violence for individuals or groups costly. But they will never be sufficient to durably reduce the effects of SALW dissemination and use. Ultimately, actual improvements of local situations depend on resolving grievances and addressing the effect of disempowerment and despair of those who resort to violence, giving more sustainable, alternative livelihoods and forging accountable state institutions which provide security to the citizens.7 This means that in each particular country, small arms and armed violence issues need to be included into peacebuilding and development programming. Greater articulation with disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs (in particular in their disarmament component), Security Sector Reform (SSR), and targeted armed violence reduction programs where it has reached epidemic levels are all important components of a puzzle that needs a more coherent approach. But financial and programmatic constraints too often impair concerted efforts.

Insufficient mechanisms for norm diffusion and implementation at the national level

Current multilateral mechanisms seem insufficient for the diffusion of norms and the dissemination of best practices for national legislation and regulation-- a practical level of action which is crucial. More efforts are needed in that respect.8

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Dilemmas of regulating SALW

"While there is a growing recognition of problems associated with the proliferation, accumulation and use of small arms and light weapons, there are no globally agreed norms and standards to determine the excessive and destabilizing levels of this class of weapon. [...] The terms 'excessive' and 'destabilizing' are relative and exist only in the context of specific regions, sub regions or states."9 Security specialists have always debated around the definition of 'legitimate national and collective defense and internal security'. "The question of 'illegitimate acquisition, transfer, transit, or circulation' is somewhat easier to define, but the loosening up of the post-Cold War arms trading system has made this more difficult as well."10 "There are no globally agreed norms or standards that can be used to determine the levels at which accumulations of this class of weapon could be considered excessive and destabilizing."11

Lack of coordination

Efforts to address the issue of small arms and light weapons represent "more a loose web of initiatives and proposals, some global, some regional, some state-sponsored, some NGO-driven, all of tackle particular aspects of the problem. Perhaps this is the best way for the issue to be approached, given that it is not 'one problem.'"12 But this situation also presents some shortcomings, in particular as there is not enough connection between different key points along the chain that leads from production to transfers, re-transfers, and use of small arms and light weapons.13 Inside the UN system itself, there is not enough coordination with very concrete consequences in terms of the capacity of the UN to impact local situations. In its recent report, the UN Secretary-General presented several recommendations directly involving the Security Council (to whom the report was addressed), including strengthening ties between its arms embargoes and its DDR efforts, as well as to further apply its practice of tying arms embargo exceptions to SSR.

1. Keith Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," Coping with Crisis Working Paper Series (New York: International Peace Academy, March 2007), 13.
2. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, S/2008/258 (April 17, 2008), 15 para. 62.
3. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 15.
4. Keith Krause, The Challenge of Small Arms and Light Weapons, (Geneva: Graduate Institute of International Studies, May 17, 1998).
5. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 16 para. 64.
6. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 15.
7. Ibid, 14; and UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 3 para. 7 and 16 para. 64.
8. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 14.
9. UN General Assembly, Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, 14 para. 36.
10. Edward J. Laurence, Light Weapons and Intrastate Conflict Early Warning Factors and Preventative Action (Washington, DC: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1998).
11. Ibid.
12. Krause, The Challenge of Small Arms and Light Weapons.
13. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 14.

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