19 June 2014, Vol. 6, No. 4

Stockpile management: a top priority?
Baffour Dokyi Amoa | International Action Network on Small Arms

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Never before has the need to curb the illicit trade and proliferation of small arms and light weapons been felt by so many people around the world. The escalating loss of human lives and wanton destruction of valuable property as a result of the increased misuse of small arms and light weapons is a major cause of concern.

This Week, the fifth Biennial Meeting of States is considering the implementation of the UN Programme of Action in all its aspects at the national, regional, and global levels, including stockpile management and physical security measures; the International Tracing Instrument; and international cooperation and assistance for the full and effective implementation of the Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument, including capacity-building and training, and transfer of technology and equipment.

The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the global civil society movement against gun violence, has for years highlighted the need for action by states to protect civilians against poor stockpile management practices. For instance, in many parts of the world where civilian populations have grown in rapid proportions, people are now living too close to ammunition dumps and depots. This is a phenomenon that has led to the death of many innocent citizens in situations where accidental explosions have occurred. It is therefore gratifying to note that states are still committed to finding better ways to deal with the challenges posed by inefficient stockpile management systems.

In many countries of the South, weapons of the police are placed behind the counters, visible and unchained. When mob actions occur, these weapons are easily collected and they disappear into the illicit market. Similar stories can be told in similar circumstances of poor stockpile systems. Not only is the storage system poor but it also allows easy diversion of weapons under the pretext that it has been stolen. Some security forces do well to handle their stockpile of weapons but the use of appropriate technology will further strengthen current systems and make them more robust.

Stockpile management is certainly a priority, but in the face of proliferation of complex small arms and light weapons, a well-coordinated, well-resourced international cooperation and assistance programme will go a long way to reducing their illicit circulation. The more the stockpile management systems are allowed to remain fragile, the higher the risk of increased proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

Another key issue of concern is ammunition. It was argued during the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations that small arms and light weapons become redundant if the related ammunitions are not available. It is therefore crucial that states finds the most appropriate and convenient way to manage ammunition stockpile.

Information on global ammunition flows is difficult to obtain. More than 80 per cent of ammunition trade seems to remain outside of reliable export data, according to UNODA resources. However, ammunition forms a key component of tackling small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. In the context of sustained use, ammunition stockpiles are rapidly depleted. Preventing their resupply in unlawful situations should be a matter of urgent concern. Furthermore, these stockpiles present a two-fold problem of security and safety—research shows that much of the non-state actors' ammunition are illicitly diverted from state security forces, and ammunition warehouses located in densely populated areas have exploded in a number of countries, causing thousands of casualties. Therefore, security as well as safety measures with regard to ammunition stockpiles need to be urgently addressed.

Further, stockpile management and control is one of the most acute small arms problems. "Leaking" government stockpiles are prominent sources of illegal small arms in circulation. Generally, surplus and obsolete weapons are better destroyed than stored. In post-conflict settings, the immediate destruction of surplus weapons and ammunition removes possible fuel for new instability.

The results of collection and destruction programmes are mixed. Often, projects have had only marginal impact on security, presumably because it is typically the obsolete weapons that are destroyed, and because affected communities do not always participate in the design and implementation of collection programmes. Also, disarmament programmes tend to focus on weapons rather than ammunition. Most importantly, for weapons collection programmes to have a lasting effect, they must be embedded in robust efforts linked to violence reduction, reconciliation, security sector reform and peace-building.

IANSA will continue to follow the debate on these issues closely during BMS5 and hopes for a strong outcome to advance measures for preventing human suffering from small arms and light weapons.

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