Small Arms & Light Weapons: Definitions & Conceptual Issues

What are Small Arms and Light Weapons?

The most common definition of SALW

There is no universally accepted definition of the category of weapons known as "small arms, light weapons" (SALW). Most scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers tend to adhere to the broad definition provided in the 1997 UN Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, which defines major subdivisions of military-style weapons (e.g. small arms, light weapons, and ammunition and explosives) by the way they are designed for use.1 Earlier typologies of SALW included a few non-military-style firearms. Therefore, SALW ranged from clubs, knives and machetes to weapons just below those considered to be major conventional weapons systems covered by the UN Register of Conventional Arms.2 According to this UN report, "small arms" refer to weapons used by individuals, and "light weapons" are weapons carried by two or more people, a pack animal or light vehicle. Light weapons do not require complex logistical and maintenance capabilities and allow mobile military operations in areas where heavy mechanized and air forces are not available or are restricted due to difficult terrain. "Most analysts, however, restrict the category to weapons manufactured to military specifications for use as lethal instruments of war."3

UN definition of SALW

Small arms:
- Revolvers and self-loading pistols;
- Rifles and carbines; sub-machine-guns;
- Assault rifles; and
- Light machine-guns;

Light weapons:
- Heavy machine-guns;
- Hand-held, under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers;
- Portable anti-aircraft guns;
- Portable anti-tank guns and recoilless rifles;
- Portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems; portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems; and
- Mortars of calibers of less than 100 mm;

Ammunition and explosives:
- Cartridges (rounds) for small arms;
- Shells and missiles for light weapons;
- Anti-personnel and anti-tank grenades;
- Landmines;
- Mobile containers with missiles or shells for single-action anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems; and
- Explosives.

Source: UN Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, A/52/298 (August 27, 1997), 11-12

Alternative definitions of SALW

Still, some analysts use the term "small arms" to denote all three major subdivisions of military-style weapons (e.g. small arms, light weapons, and ammunitions and explosives), whereas others just use the term "light weapons" as a generic term to describe conventional weapons which includes small arms as a subcategory of this classification. In addition, some analysts define SALW as conventional weapons that encompass "man-portable" systems (e.g. man-portable anti-aircraft missiles), while others omit landmines when discussing SALW. Many governments have been also reluctant to consider ammunitions and explosives as part of SALW, despite the fact that UN documents consistently include them.

The UN Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunitions (also known as the Firearms Protocol), considers "firearms" to be "any portable barreled weapons that expels, is designed to expel or maybe readily converted to expel a short, bullet, or projectile by the action of an explosive, excluding antique firearms or their replicas."4 The definition is also quite broad but includes weapons not designed for military use.

Defining the parameters of SALW is "more than an issue of semantics--it often determines the scope or applicability of particular legislation.5 Indeed, the legal definition of what constitutes a small arm or light weapon varies considerably from country to country and even within countries between different sectors (civilian and military)."6 "Balancing the great range of types of deadly weapons with the limits of regulatory feasibility poses major challenges for national law enforcement and the international community. The problem of terror and craft weapons tests the old distinction between technological universality (the basis of international arms control and disarmament) and the intentions of specific recipients (the basis of most export control systems). Should small arms policy stress all weapons in specific categories or all weapons of a particular user? Does the stockpile of international concern include all small arms or only those of particular users?"7

The lack of clarity in the definitions and typologies of SALW is partly due to the fact that throughout the Cold War, arms transfers and proliferation of military technology concentrated mostly on major conventional weapons systems (e.g. tanks, jet aircrafts, naval vessels, artillery pieces, etc). If noticed at all, SALW were assumed to follow the same pattern of trade as major conventional weapons. At the same time, it has also been a difficult term to delimit due to the variations in the kinds of problems caused by SALW. Indeed, UN Programme of Action on SALW avoided the issue entirely by not providing an official definition the weapons in 2001.

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Structures of weapons spread: proliferation, diffusion, and circulation

The terms "proliferation," "diffusion," and "circulation" often appear in relation to arms spread and flow. In early analyses of SALW, security scholars Michael Klare and Keith Krause developed theoretical models to draw the distinction between the trade and transfer of SALW and conventional weapons and highlight the globalized illicit trade of SALW which has contributed to conflict and crime around the world.8


The term "proliferation" was first used in the 1960s in the context of the spread of nuclear weapons. However, it has since been applied to describe the spread of a variety of different types of weapons and technology, most notably major conventional weapons. The proliferation model is primarily concerned with state-to-state transfers of SALW. It suggests an increase in the number of weapons by governments or owning a particular weapons system.9


The term "circulation" means that a number of SALW have been already transferred to a certain area and have been moving through illicit or licit transactions, or gray or black market trade.


The term "diffusion" implies that weapons have spread across and within national borders, at the state and sub-state levels. It combines both the concepts of circulation and proliferation together. The diffusion model depicts SALW trade taking place through thousands of small-scale transactions at the societal rather than through large-scale shipments typical to major conventional weapons systems.

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Definition of licit and illicit SALW trade

The line between licit and illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) trade is thin. Licit trade is generally interpreted as government sanctioned transfers. Illicit arms transfers are commonly defined as transfers that are unauthorized by exporting, importing and transit states.10 The problem is that many SALW transactions may start out as a legal trade (e.g. government sanctioned), but later become divert to illicit markets. In addition, certain governments tend to define illicit trade narrowly as in international transactions that are not authorized by either one or both states concerned in the transfer. Under this definition, only transactions that take place on the black market are considered illicit. However, the UN Disarmament Commission defines illicit trafficking more broadly, in terms of transfers that are contrary to the laws of States and/or international law. Under this definition, although arms transfers that are considered licit in one state, may be considered illicit in another state particularly if the legal transfer of SALW facilitated human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law, and fueled conflict and violent crime.11

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Why focus on SALW per se?

Since the end of the Cold War, analysts have noticed that while the market for major conventional weapons decreased the trade and transfer of small arms and light weapons (SALW) steadily increased. A broad convergence of factors brought the issue of SALW to the attention of the international community during the 1990s. Beginning in 1994, with the government of Malis request to the UN Secretary-General for assistance in the collection of SALW in the aftermath of war, several UN missions to the region of West Africa, and the first international workshop that focused exclusively on SALW convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the UN, researchers, and scholars have examined the nature and impact of the proliferation of SALW to zones of tension and conflict and found the following underpinning trends:

The changing character of international conflict and the use of SALW

At the end of the Cold War, the loss of bipolar control meant that, "Newly opened borders, massive post-Cold War arms surpluses and the rapid expansion of free trade contributed to arms availability and the ease of smuggling. And increased governmental and media attention to phenomena such as drug trafficking, international crime and civil wars raging around the globe caused governments and nongovernmental activists to focus more on the tools of violence and on the markets that supply them."12
Go to Security & Public Order: Introduction

Whereas most major conflicts in the Cold War involved a clash between regular armed forces of established states, conflicts in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War consisted primarily of irregular combatants (e.g. guerrillas, ethnic separatists, private militias, criminal networks, paramilitary etc), fighting ethnic, sectarian, or communal warfare within states. These types of conflicts were primarily fought with SALW and the belligerents were more interested in ceasing control of territory or resources, driving away hostile groups, or terrorizing those who resisted, rather than defeating regular military forces. According to security scholar Michael Klare, light weapons were the only types of weapons used in 46 of 49 major conflicts during the decade of the 1990s.13 Other scholars such as John Sislin, Fred Pearson, Jocelyn Boryczka, and Jeffrey Weigand found that 27 out of 38 cases of ethno-political conflict they analyzed the actors used only light weapons.14 In addition, the introduction of SALW while a conflict was underway (e.g. Afghanistan, Angola, Kashmir, Liberia, Sri Lanka) contributed to the duration and intensity of conflict.15 However, changes in the level of arms and the level of violence have not been perfectly correlated.

The defining characteristics of SALW16

The characteristics that make SALW different from major conventional weapons include:

  • Low cost: The production of SALW does not require sophisticated technology. As these weapons are commonly used by police, military, and civilians around the world, there are plenty of suppliers. In addition, many states also give away or sell SALW when they are downsizing their militaries.
  • Durable and easy to use: SALW require little maintenance or logistical support, and remain operational for many years. SALW also do not require extensive amount of training to use.
  • Easy to transport: SALW are easily concealable. They can be carried by a solider or a light vehicle and easily smuggled across borders.
  • Legitimate military, police, and civilian uses: Depending on the national laws of a country, civilians are able to carry hunting rifles to automatic weapons. Different countries have different norms for firearms possession and use. However, the majority of national military forces and law enforcement officers carry them in their daily activities.
  • Large amount of producers: Due to the extensive amount of producers and producing countries, traditional supply-side arms control mechanisms are difficult to enforce.

The broadening and deepening of the definition of security

Traditional security (also known as "national security" or "state security") has been about the states ability to defend itself against external threats. In general, the state has been regarded as the principal provider of security, a notion that can be traced back to the Hobbes' concept of the legitimate government created by the consent of the people through a social contract, and Weber's notion of the state's monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.17 Therefore, the security of individuals was subsumed under that of the state. In the post-Cold War however, the security of states did not automatically mean secure peoples. Indeed, in many developing countries the state was often unable or unwilling to provide security to its own citizens. In some cases, the state was the principal threat to its citizens. Scholars like Neil MacFarlane and Yuen Foong Khong have noted that the demise of the Cold War and it spillover effects have reinforced calls to focus on the safety of individuals and the extension of the security domain to encompass societal upheavals attributed to intrastate wars, economic deprivation, and social exclusion.18

Although the proliferation and diffusion of SALW may not undermine the stability of major powers, these types of weapons can easily undermine weakly consolidated or failing states. The availability of SALW presents a ready supply to networks of disenchanted but generally well-organized ex-combatants, so-called militarized refugees, and organized criminal syndicates. This can contribute to violent crime, instability and banditry. The so-called 'security vacuum' (in reference to the frequent weakness, limited professional competence, and lack of accountability of post-war security sector) is generally filled by what remains of warring factions or organized criminal groups. The proliferation of SALW is typically considered to fall under the category of the "safety of peoples" from violence concept of human security since these weapons pose a very real threat of physical harm.19 The growing concern with human security, or achieving "freedom from fear" by removing threat of violence from social, political and economic life created a need for a knowledge base.20
Go to Security & Public Order: Introduction and Mine Action: From a military to a humanitarian and development enterprise

The increased incidents of death and suffering associated with SALW

Responding to the 1995 request by the International Intergovernmental Group of Experts for the Protection of War Victims and the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) conducted a survey to examine the relationship between the availability of SALW and the violation of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts and the deterioration of civilian safety. The ICRC found that (1) an increasing number of civilian deaths and injuries, often reaching 60 to 80 percent of total casualties, occurred in modern conflict; (2) untrained and undisciplined fighters were often equipped with automatic weapons that deliberately targeted civilians or fired indiscriminately into crowds, killing non-combatants including women and children; and (3) by conducting interviews and analyzing medical data on conflict in north-western Cambodia (1994-1995) and the Kandahar region of Afghanistan (1995), the ICRC was able to document the high rate of civilian death and injury caused by SALW both during and after armed conflict. Likewise, a study by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Prevention of Human Rights Violations Committed with Small Arms and Light Weapons Barbara Frey found that the direct impact of SALW was the sheer number of deaths and injuries incurred by their misuse during and after conflict, as well as a range of human right violations (e.g. rape, disappearances, torture, forced displacement, and forced recruitment of child soldiers).21  Go to Mine Action

In addition to civilian casualties and injuries, development and humanitarian worker were frequently targeted and intimidated during the course of their work by individuals or groups with SALW.22 As a result, many of the post-conflict peacebuilding interventions have been adversely affected by the prevalence of SALW. A study by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that between 1997 and 2000, more civilian humanitarian aid workers were killed by acts of violence than accidents. Almost half of the non-accidental deaths were results of ambushes on vehicles or convoys by bandits or rebel groups.23 Furthermore, a 2003 Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the Small Arms Survey report noted that many aid workers felt threatened by SALW on a daily basis and that many of the aid workers did not receive any training that would help reduce their exposure to violence.24 In a recent report on Small Arms, the UN Secretary-General mentioned the link with the increase number of violent deaths of United Nations employees and military peacekeepers as well as workers from humanitarian and non-governmental organizations.25 The increased risk of armed violence also raises the costs of development and humanitarian aid in areas where these are desperately needed. "At a minimum, costs relating to transportation of aid and personnel are increasing and the quality of program implementation, monitoring and evaluation is undermined. Furthermore, surplus expenditures on security measures and communication infrastructure to mitigate armed threats severely curtail the scale of operations and affect the morale of personnel."26 Programs may be blocked for entire periods. Some villages and neighborhood may receive no outside aid because of the presence and use of a large number of small arms.

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Four types of SALW transfers

The scholar Michael Klare distinguishes between four different types of small arms and light weapons (SALW) transfers:27

(1) Government-to-government transfers: When one government sells or gives arms to another government through legal channels. For instance, during the Cold War, the two superpowers and their allies would give large quantities of SALW to Third World countries.

(2) Government-sanctioned commercial sales: Commercial sale of arms by private firms in accordance with government approval and supervised import and export procedures. These kinds of sales require an end-user certificate proving that the intended recipient is a government agency or government approved commercial entity in an allowable destination. The majority of arms transfers are conducted this way.

(3) Covert or "gray-market" operations: These types of transfers involve the covert sale or delivery of arms to illicit recipients in another country by a government agency or private agency backed by a government, pursuing political or strategic advantage.

(4) Black-market transaction and theft: These types of transfers entail the covert sale of illicitly procured arms by private entities in violation of government laws and policies.

Channels used in the transfer of SALW



Foreign Governments

Non-state actors


Non-state actors (foreign)

State (via legal channels)

State-to-state military aid and sales programs

Sales to private firms and individuals, gun clubs, etc.

Sales to private entities back by recipient governments

State (via covert channels)

Covert sales or deliveries to pariah or embargoed states

Transfers to friendly militias, warlords, and political groups

Covert transfers to friendly insurgents and separatist forces.

Black market dealers

Sales to pariah and embargoed governments

Sales to insurgents, warlords, brigands, etc.

Sales to insurgents, warlords, brigands, etc.

Source: Michael Klare, International Trade in Light Weapons, in Light Weapons and Civil Conflict: Controlling the Tools of Violence, eds. Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael Klare (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999), 22.

The wide range of producers and supply channels is what makes SALW different than major conventional weapons systems. Security scholar Keith Krause notes that "Unlike major conventional weapons systems, which are principally traded between states, small arms and light weapons have three distinct sets of clients: national arsenals (military, police), non-state actors (both domestic and extra-national), and other foreign governments."28

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Different ways the problem of SALW have been conceived by practitioners

The lack of consensus on the definition of small arms and light weapons (SALW) is exacerbated by the absence of "a clear agreement on what the problem is."29 This is because the impact of SALW proliferation and diffusion varies according to the context, the pre-existing structural conditions, and the social practices associated with firearms ownership in a country. Therefore, while a large influx of SALW can affect the onset of war in some countries, the presence of weapons (e.g. proliferation or diffusion) SALW are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for conflict to escalate.30

Arms control and post-conflict disarmament

The first wave of studies from the early 1990s on SALW were derived from two kinds of expert knowledge-- those of arms control experts who previously concentrated on conventional weapons, and that of field researchers who provided a diverse set of case studies on the role and impact of SALW on intrastate conflict. From these studies, the policy prescriptions were concerned with arms control and post-conflict disarmament. The references to "excessive" and "destabilizing" accumulation of SALW have roots in earlier attempts to regulate the trade in arms. Indeed, similar sentiments were echoed during the period right after the First World War when the League of Nations had tried to place limits on the accumulation of arms beyond the basic requirements for national security. There was an overall sense at the time that the excessive accumulation of arms between major powers contributed to the onset of war. The 1919 Convention for the Control of the Trade in Arms and Ammunition was signed by 28 states, prohibiting certain regions from exporting arms and munitions used in war, except for the use of the signatory government. The intent of these regulations was not to obstruct legitimate arms trade, but to prevent the possibility that the illicit traffic of weapons would hamper the goodwill between nations.31 Dating slightly further back to the late 19th century, when the mass production of repeating rifles revolutionized military tactics and small arms created unprecedented opportunities for rebellion movements, the first modern efforts to establish arms trade policies were directed at the need to control arms transfers to Native American Indians, European separatists, and opponents of colonial rule.32 The idea of preventing illicit arms transfers from reaching the "wrong" hands still resonates in efforts to control SALW.  Go to Security & Public Order: Introduction

While the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the international efforts to control SALW bare some similarities in that they have used informal partnerships between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and "like-minded" governments, and expert knowledge to push their respective agendas forward, there are, however, some important differences. First, the campaign on anti-personnel landmines was an all out ban on a category of weapons, something that would be impossible for SALW. Many more states are willing to do without anti-personnel landmines, but the majority of states consider SALW to be a vital part of their national defense. Second, although anti-personnel mines are a category of SALW (at least based on the UN definition), the success of the 1997 Ottawa Convention did not lead to a comparable process to control SALW. Arms expert Don Hubert has noted that early research on SALW was not linked to advocacy (unlike the landmines campaign)the principal discourse was arms control and disarmament rather than human rights, humanitarian assistance and development.33

A global policy with many interconnected dimensions

However, from the late 1990s onward, experts from different fields have produced clusters of knowledge to base other types of policy action. They have started to use survey methodology and data from epidemiological studies of war-related casualties and injuries to illustrate the growing number of civilians directly killed by SALW. Many of these studies highlighted the correlation between the availability of SALW and human rights violations both during and after conflict.34 Since the aftermath of 9/11, there have been also studies that examined the use of SALW and terrorist violence, as well as the linkage between regional conflicts and terrorism, in which SALW were most frequently used.35 In addition, there have been studies that have attempted to distinguish the direct and indirect effects of SALW on socio-economic development and human rights.36 Many of these studies borrow methods from the fields of public health, epidemiology, and criminology to be able to identify quantifiable indicators.37 Analysts using public health methods have developed indexes and composite variables to measure lost productivity associated with death or disability. The public health approach likens SALW to a disease and assumes that weapons automatically facilitate crime and political upheaval.

The availability and accessibility assumption which stems from a criminological model, assumes that there is a causal relationship between the availability or accessibility of SALW (e.g. the ratio between arms and people in a society), the use, and the levels of armed criminality in a particular context.38 Public health, crime prevention, and peacebuilding experts tend to either implicitly or explicitly support the accessibility thesis. Indeed, availability and proliferation have been the two primary variables in post-conflict environments, since it is believed that the presence of SALW can undermine peace agreements, obstruct peacebuilding and reconstruction, and increase the likelihood of a resurgence of armed conflict. Nevertheless, "there are still some experts who believe that there is not a direct relationship between the number of guns in a society and its propensity to violence."39

Overall, the policy prescriptions depend on the way the problem of SALW is framed namely as human rights, public health or development, post-conflict disarmament, terrorism, or criminality issue. In some cases, the issues over lap and are interconnected. However, SALW researcher Derek Miller has noted that while the different methods have helped practitioners understand the multifaceted impact of SALW, the different ways the problem is framed may not be applicable to the problems experienced by communities at the local level in different cultures.40 Thus, the Security Needs Assessment Protocol (SNAP) creates a systematic and rapid means to assess security problems at the local level, as perceived by community members themselves. SNAP presents a "bottom up" approach to understanding the security needs of the local population.41

Framing the Problem of SALW

State of Problem

Description of Problem

Way Light Weapons Contribute as a Cause or Catalyst

Humanitarianism and Human Rights

culture of violence; child soldiers; personal insecurity; vulnerable groups (women, visible minorities, ethnies); excessively injurious weapons

proliferation of small arms; weak national control systems; vicious cycle of violence

Public Health and Criminality

drugs/terror/arms nexus;

increase in petty criminality or "disorganized" crime; "contagion effect"

weak national export/import control systems; weak law enforcement; state corruption

Economic Development and Good Governance

"gun as livelihood" problem; extortion; "mafias;" corruption; weak climate for investment

weak or eroded governance structures; economic underdevelopment

Communal Conflicts

flow of light weapons increases level of violence and intractability of communal wars

deep-rooted causes, but easy access to light weapons thwarts peaceful solutions to conflicts and facilitates slide to violence

Extra-Regional Conflict Prevention

grey market transactions (govt. to govt. or insurgent) designed to affect course of a conflict

no international transparency

Regional Destabilization

spillover of conflicts; recycling of surplus weapons

weak accountability and tracking mechanisms; no post-conflict disarmament measures

International Terrorism

potential attacks on high profile "soft targets" around the world

proliferation of sophisticated light weapons, eg: Stinger anti-aircraft missiles

Source: Keith Krause. The Challenge of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Geneva: Graduate Institute of International Studies, May 17, 1998.

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Understanding the problem of SALW from a supply and demand framework

Similar to any global trade in goods, the problem of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) has been conceived as an economic problem of supply and demand. This notion derives in part from the influence of the field of defense economics and traditional arms control methods (e.g. major conventional weapons and nuclear weapons) that have set the precedence over the years, as well as descriptions of the nature of the problem of SALW proliferation in regions of conflict. For instance, the 1997 Report of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms noted that "the variety of different causes of excessive and destabilizing accumulation of SALW is usefully categorized by demand and supply factors, although the distinction between both factors is not always clear-cut."42 Similarly, the scholar Edward Laurance remarked that, "There is no longer any doubt as to the increased availability of the small arms and light weapons used in these conflicts and the causes of such availability. Both supply and demand factors must be considered, alternatively calling for better governance, arms control, and security in the state experiencing the problem and/or for more controls by those states from which the arms originate."43 The underlying assumption guiding both supply and demand policy efforts is that in restricting the flow of weapons to zones of tension or conflict, armed violence can be prevented or mitigated.

The supply-side approach

This model attempts to restrict the flow of SALW by creating stop-gaps in various parts of the supply-side chain or preventing diversion in weapon stocks such as regulating manufacture and production, marking and tracing weapons, improving mechanisms to control stockpiles, destroying surplus of weapons, reining in unscrupulous brokers, strengthening the capacity of border controls, police, and intelligence services and customs officials, and fostering transparency and confidence-building measures such as the creation of global and national arms registries. Since the problem of SALW appeared on the international agenda, most SALW policies have focused on supply-side issues.

The supply-side approach takes into consideration the variety of sources of small arms supplies to areas of crisis and conflict. "Domestically, small arms can enter illicit circulation through distribution, theft, leakage or divergence, pilferage and resale. These can amount to massive injections of weapons into national circulation, as has been the case in Albania (1997) and Iraq (2003). Shipments of small arms to conflict zones from abroad are most often small scale consignments a steady trickle of weapons across porous borders."44 It is believed that the cumulative destabilizing force of such small-scale trade is not to be underestimated, particularly in unstable regions where SALW are recycled from one conflict to another. A specific feature of this type of traffic is that most SALW are transferred from governments to state and non-state actors. Re-export can then occur among non-state actors, spreading weapons throughout an entire region.45

The demand-side approach

The demand-side approach shifts the focus to the users of SALW, such as the state and non-state actors (e.g. individuals, militias, gangs, armies, crime syndicates, etc) and attempts to understand the reason why there is a perceived need for these weapons. While the calls to examine the demand-side of SALW date back to the mid-1990s with the first wave of researchers on the subject, and repeated recommendations in international agreements such as the 2001 UN Programme for Action on Small Arms and The Bamako Declaration, initiatives to explore this perspective began only recently. This is because there has been a general perception that the demand agenda is too broad and unfocused to be able to direct policy interventions.

Indeed, the concept of demand is still poorly understood and research in this area is still nascent. Most studies that claim to examine the "demand-side" of SALW are examining the reasons why individuals or groups "want" or "desire" these weapons. Questions such as: "Why do people possess and buy small arms? What are the political, economic and social functions of guns, and what ideas (about violence, security, justice, authority, self, gender, etc) inform these?" are the topic of focus.46 The Quaker UN Office organized five workshops to explore "demand reduction strategies" to be able to address the "root causes of conflict."47 The common underlying factors include governance problems, weak and corrupt law enforcement, human rights violations, civil and identity conflicts, and the failure of states to protect the vulnerable, social disparities and economic underdevelopment, inadequate control of SALW, ineffective disarmament in post-conflict environments, and cultural attitudes to firearms. These workshops also pointed to a number of triggers and preconditions for arms violence, however, many of these observations are still based on anecdotal evidence rather than empirical data.

In contrast, the Small Arms Survey has articulated a concept of demand that is closer to economic models. Adapting the neoclassical consumer demand model, which uses relative price, income, and preference as key determinants, researchers Robert Muggah and Jurgen Brauer consider "demand" to be a function of means (e.g. resources and prices) and motivation (e.g. preferences).48 Therefore, from a strict market perspective, simply having the desire to acquire SALW is not "effective demand," rather the willingness and ability to pay for the goods is critical to this concept. While the model attempts to articulate an overarching theory of demand, it still has limitations. First, in order for a theory to be tested empirically, a decision needs to be made on which unit of analysis will be used. Although the authors note that "small arms demand is ultimately expressed at the individual level,"49 indicating a preference for methodological individualism, their examples oscillate between individual and collective preferences. Second, the authors are vague in their treatment of underlying theoretical assumptions. They assert that the exploration of "motivations" for SALW acquisition is best made by anthropologists, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, or behavioral economists, while the "means" component is best analyzed by economists. This suggestion amounts to synthesizing different methods into a holistic framework, which is attractive since it attempts to overcome the limitations of studying demand through a single disciplinary lens. However, it is difficult to operationalize a model that is based on micro-foundations, which is able to respect both the integrity of cognitive and behavioral processes and still be abstract enough to make generalizations about aggregate demand. Third, the problem with basing a theory on a neoclassical economic demand model is that very little empirical evidence supports the assumption that individuals only maximize their utility. Although the authors attempt to overcome the normative bias by relaxing the definitions of the determinants, they often end up undercutting their own theory. For example, allowing "motives" to change endogenously, breaks the deterministic relationship between price and income on one hand and decisions on the other if one were to strictly adhere to the neoclassical demand model. Moreover, if both motivations and prices change over time, it becomes virtually impossible to attribute cause and effect to only consumer choices. These examples are why most mainstream economists prefer to fix preferences (or motives) and attribute empirical observations of consumer choice strictly to changes in price and income.

Other researchers, such as Christopher Fitzpatrick prefer to analyze SALW demand from a polarization and rent-seeking framework.50 Although polarization is normally used in economic studies as a measure for social conflict, Fitzpatrick argues that it can also create conditions to encourage rent-seeking and the acquisition of SALW for predation or protection. The analysis depicts atomized actors rationally calculating cost-benefit incentives within a narrowly conceived framework of self-interest. Yet, it precludes the opportunity to examine other factors that are not purely motivated by self-interest.

Lastly, many analysts tend to think that the "demand" for SALW is a surrogate for the "root causes" of conflict. However, the fallacy in this line of thinking is that the reasons for arms acquisitions may not coincide with the actual time of use (e.g. sometimes years or months in advance or otherwise moments before conflict). The lack of clear temporal boundaries to make an object assessment makes attributing the "correct" reasons behind SALW acquisitions becomes more complex, especial when arms transactions occur covertly through the gray and black markets and there are a diverse number of actors with different motives. In some cases, the reasons why groups or individuals acquire weapons may not be associated with the root causes of the conflict. Therefore governments and donors have been more reluctant to support a demand agenda, especially if the intervention does not wholly contribute to addressing the underlying causes of conflict.

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Examining SALW from a sociological framework

There are some experts that feel that the economic framework of supply and demand is too narrow and prefer to examine the problem of SALW through the framework of social interactions and institutions. For instance, sociologist, Jacklyn Cock who analyzes social violence through values, social practices, and institutions, has argued that the desire for guns in South Africa is a socially constructed concept that is embedded in culture and different social identities.51 Her work explores the dynamics of collective identities and power relations, and how social categories have the power to define deficiency or threat. Similarly, small arms researcher Derek Miller has examined the collective social practices of firearms ownership in a case study of Yemen and found that weapons acquisition is more associated with local belief systems and political social order, than reactions to fear and insecurity and the effects of poverty or political exclusion.52 As scholar David Kinsella has noted, "Most small arms transfers are economic exchanges, but they are often exchanges governed by more than market forces. As such, they are the type of transactions of interest to sociologists dissatisfied with the neoclassical economic approach in organizational theory, which is judged as excessively utilitarian and insufficiently attentive to the impact of social relations on economic behavior. Nor are arms transfers governed by hierarchical authority, as are exchanges within vertically integrated firms or conglomerates, the emergence of which are often explained as a response to market transaction cost. In between the hierarchy of the firm and the anarchy of the market are network forms of organization and exchange. They depend not on formal authority, but on shared interests and ongoing relationships."53 Kinsella has uses social network analysis to explore the structural dimensions of a set of interrelated actors with respect to illicit arms trade.

1. UN General Assembly, Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, A/52/298 (August 27, 1997), 11-12.
2. Ibid., 11, para. 24.
3. Ibid.
4. UN General Assembly, Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components, and Ammunitions, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, A/55/255 (June 8, 2001), 3, article 3a.
5. Katherine Kramer, "Legal Controls on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Southeast Asia," Occasional Paper 3 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, July 2001), 4.
6. Ibid.
7. Small Arms Survey, "Fewer Blanks: Global Firearm Stockpiles," in Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 60.
8. Michael Klare, Light Weapons Diffusion and Global Violence in the Post-Cold War, in Singh, Light Weapons and International Security (London: BASIC, 1995); Keith Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Proliferation Processes and Policy Options," paper prepared for the International Security Research and Outreach Programme, International Security Bureau, July 2000.
9. Mike Bourne, Arming Conflict: The Proliferation of Small Arms (Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 16.
10. For more information on this distinction, see: Emanuel-Chiara Gillard, "What's Legal? What's Illegal?" in Running Guns: The Global Black Market in Small Arms, ed. Lora Lumpe. (London: Zed Books Ltd, 2000): 27-54.
11. United Nations General Assembly. Report of the Disarmament Commission, A/RES/51/45F, (1996).
12. Lora Lumpe, Sarah Meek and R.T. Naylor, "Introduction to Gun-Running," in Running Guns: The Global Black Market in Small Arms, ed. Lora Lumpe(London: Zed Books Ltd, 2000), 1.
13. Klare, "Light Weapons Diffusion and Global Violence in the Post-Cold War," 20.
14. John Sislin, Fred Pearson, Jocelyn Boryczka, and Jeffrey Weigand, "Patterns in Arms Acquisitions by Ethnopolitical Groups in Conflict," Security Dialogue 29 (1998): 393-408
15. John Sislin and Fred Pearson, "Arms and Escalation in Ethnic Conflicts: The Case of Sri Lanka," in International Studies Perspectives 7 (2006): 137-158.
16. Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael Klare, Light Weapons and Civil Conflict: Controlling the Tools of Violence (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999).
17. Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 1995); Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation," in Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. Han Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946).
18. S. Neil MacFarlane and Yuen Foong Khong, Human Security and the UN: A Critical History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 133.
19. Fen Osler Hampson with Jean Daudelin, John B. Hay, Todd Martin and Holly Reid, Madness in the Multitude: Human Security and World Disorder (London: Oxford University Press, 2002), 16-18.
20. Keith Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy" (New York: International Peace Academy, March 2007), 2.
21. Barbara A. Frey, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: The Tools Used to Violate Human Rights," Human Rights, Human Security, and Disarmament 3 (2004): 38.
22. Robert Muggah and Eric Berman, Humanitarianism Under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, July 2001); Thomas Jackson, Nicholas Marsh, Taylor Owen, and Anne Thurin, Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence, Understanding the Issues 3 (Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid, 2005), 13.
23. Dennis King, "Paying the Ultimate Price: Analysis of the deaths of humanitarian aid workers (1997-2000)," UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (January 2002).
24. Ryan Beasley, Cate Buchanan and Robert Muggah, In the Line of Fire: Surveying the Perceptions of Humanitarian and Development Personnel of the Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and Small Arms Survey, 2003).
25. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General (S/2008/258, April 17, 2008), 2 para. 4.
26. Muggah, et al, Humanitarianism under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons Special Report No. 1 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, July 2001), viii.
27. Michael Klare, "International Trade in Light Weapons," in Light Weapons and Civil Conflict: Controlling the Tools of Violence, eds. Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael Klare (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999), 22.
28. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Proliferation Processes and Policy Options."
29. Krause, The Challenge of Small Arms and Light Weapons.
30. John Sislin and Fred Pearson, Arms and Ethnic Conflict (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), 15-22.
31. League of Nations, Proceedings of the Conference for the Supervision of the International Trade in Arms and Ammunition and in Implements of War, Document A.13.1925.IX., Geneva, May 4 to June 17, 1925,122.
32. Aaron Karp, "Small Arms: Back to the Future," The Brown Journal of World Affairs 9 no. 1 (2002): 180-81.
33. Don Hubert, "The Landmine Ban: A Case Study in Humanitarian Advocacy," Occasional Paper 42 (Providence: Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, 2000): 47.
34. International Committee for the Red Cross. Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict. (Geneva: ICRC, 1999).
35. Rohan Gunaratna, "Terrorism and Small Arms and Light Weapons," in Terrorism and Disarmament, DDA Occasional Paper 5 (2001), 50; Suzette Grillot and Craig Stapley, "The Arms of Terrorists: The Spread of Light Weapons and Terrorist Violence," paper for the annual International Studies Association convention, 2008.
36. Robert Muggah and Eric Berman, Humanitarianism under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, special Report Commissioned for the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2001).
37.David Meddings, "The Use of Epidemiological Methods in Assessing the Impact of War and Armed Conflict," in Researching Violently Divided Societies: Ethical and Methodological Issues, eds. Marie Smyth and Gillian Robinson(London: Pluto Press Inc., 2001), 148-164; R.M. Coupland and David Meddings, "Mortality Associated with the Use of Weapons in Armed Conflicts, Wartime Atrocities, and Civilian Mass Shootings: Literature Reviews," British Journal of Medicine (1999): 407-410; Wendy Cukier, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Public Health Approach," The Brown Journal of World Affairs 9, no. 1 (2002): 261-280.
38. Nicholas Marsh, "Conflict Specific Capital: The Role of Weapons Acquisition in Civil War," in International Studies Perspectives 8, no. 1(2007), 56.
39. Thomas Jackson, Nicholas Marsh, Taylor Owen, and Anne Thurin, Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence, Understanding the Issues 3 (Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid, 2005), 13.
40. Email correspondence with Dr. Derek Miller, August 21, 2008.
41. Derek Miller and Lisa Rudnick, "The Security Needs Assessment Protocol: Improving Operational Effectiveness Through Community Security," United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (United Nations, New York; Geneva, 2008).
42. A/52/298, para. 39.
43. Edward Laurance, "Light Weapons and Human Development: The Need for Transparency and Early Warning," in Light Weapons and Civil Conflict, eds. Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael Klare (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 185-195.
44. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, S/2008/258 (April 17, 2008), 4, para. 9.
45. See for instance in the case of South Asia: Tara Ashtakala, "Update on the Small Arms Situation in South Asia" (South Asia Partnership, Canada, October 15, 2003).
46. Kiflemariam Gebre-Wold, Understanding the Demand for Small Arms in the Horn of Africa, in Brief 23: Small Arms in the Horn of Africa: Challenges, Issues and Perspectives, eds. Kiflemariam Gebre-Wold and Isabelle Masson (Bonn: Bonn International Center for Conversion, March 2002), 12.
47. These workshops include: "Shrinking Small Arms: A Seminar on Lessening the Demand from Weapons"; "Curbing the Demand for Small Arms: Lessons in East Africa and the Horn of Africa"; "Curbing the Demand for Small Arms: Focus on Southeast Asia"; "Curbing the Demand for Small Arms: A Middle East Seminar;" and "Traditional Cultural Practices and Small Arms in the Middle East: Problems and Solutions." For more details see: David Jackman, "Lessening the Demand for Small Arms and Light Weapons: Summary of the International Workshops 1999-2002," (Geneva: Quaker UN Office, May 2003).
48. Jurgen Brauer and Robert Muggah, "Completing the Circle: Building a Theory of Small Arms Demand," Contemporary Security Policy 27, no. 1 (2006).
49. Ibid, 139.
50. Christopher Fitzpatrick, "The Economics of Small Arms Demand: Polarization and Rent-seeing in Haiti and Latin America" (Bonn: Bonn International Center for Conversion, 2006).
51. Jacklyn Cock, Fixing Our Sights: A Sociological Perspective on Gun Violence in Contemporary South Africa, Society in Transition 28, nos. 1-4 (1997): 70-81.
52. Derek Miller, "Demand, Stockpiles and Social Controls: Small Arms in Yemen," Small Arms Occasional Paper no. 9, (2003).
53. David Kinsella, "The Black Market in Small Arms: Examining a Social Network," Contemporary Security Policy 27, no. 1 (2006): 100.

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