3 June 2015, Vol. 7, No. 3

Editorial: Production, profit, and war
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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Discussion on the challenges of new and emerging technologies related to small arms and light weapons (SALW) continued during the second day of MGE2. But a few delegations pointed out that the fundamental problems of SALW remain—lack of control over ammunition, the destabilising effects of arms flows especially in regions of conflict, and the death and destruction caused by the easy accessibility and use of these weapons.

Belgium, Iraq, and Jordan all noted problems of marking and tracing ammunition and highlighting the need to develop better regulatory systems for ammunition. The Chair agreed that ammunition poses significant problems, noting that this is also an issue for stockpile management.

Ammunition has long been recognised as a critical issue in the control of SALW and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict. It is generally excluded from international frameworks regulating SALW, though it has been added to the UN Register of Conventional Weapons and was included in the Arms Trade Treaty—the latter only after determined negotiating by CARICOM, the African Group, and others who faced forceful pushback by the United State and a few other delegations who did not want the Treaty to regulate the transfer of ammunition at all. Many civil society groups, including WILPF, have advocated for much more stringent international controls of ammunition from production to trade to destruction.

Production, above all else, remains a crucial issue for ammunition as it does for SALW more generally, as noted in yesterday’s editorial. In 1915, its year of inception, WILPF argued that “the private profits accruing from the great armament factories” represents “a powerful hindrance to the abolition of war.” 100 years later we can see that as long as the production and sale of weapons is profitable, it will continue unabated. Which means the death and destruction resulting from their use will continue as well.

This is a serious point of concern even at a technical meeting like MGE2. As the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) argued before First Committee last year, “All technical discussion and political will to control SALW should be checked against the purpose of reducing the impact of gun violence on people and communities. States should get rid of the narrow perspective of only controlling tools of violence per se and increase their understanding, action, and cooperation to address survivors needs and their input into international processes, and the complementarity between SALW processes and the ongoing discussion to strengthen global commitments on sustainable development goals.”

Human rights violations, undercutting of development efforts, and loss of life and livelihoods are the products of the manufacture, trade, and use of SALW inside and outside of armed conflict. These issues need to be addressed holistically. Many concerns related to development, human rights, and armed conflict could benefit from closer attention to small arms. As Instituto Sou da Paz has noted,

Procurement and holdings of small arms may be, more than a consequence, a facilitating or causal factor to the outbreak of war…. Though further conceptual development and analysis is needed, presumably small arms could reach greater thematic protagonism in attempts to prevent and mitigate the effects of war, as well as within the fields of peacebuilding and conflict prevention. What exactly was, and is, the role of small arms in the deflagration and sustainability of the gruesome conflict in Syria? How can closer attention to small arms become part of the debates on the protection of civilians in war, the “responsibility to protect” doctrine (or Brazil’s proposed “responsibility while protecting”)? Finally, what is (or will be) the relationship, if any, between armed violence and prospective crises threatening human security on a global level, such as severe water shortages, for example?

These are the questions that must provide the backdrop for addressing technical challenges in the regulation of SALW. More aggressive approaches are necessary—studying only how to regulate transfers, prevent diversion, or effectively mark and trace weapons is not enough. We need to be tackling the root of the problem, which is the production of and profit from weapons.

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