5 June 2015, Vol. 7, No. 5

Editorial: An integrated approach to the arms trade, armed violence, and development
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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Thursday’s discussion included some review of the need for cooperation and assistance to combat trafficking of small arms, including in regions of armed conflict. The flow of arms, whether sold legally or through the black market, destablises countries and regions, leads to armed conflict and armed violence, and undermines development. Incorporating small arms control and armed violence reduction into development agendas is therefore crucial, as is the integration of development and armed violence considerations into arms transfer decisions.

Traffickers don’t care what they traffic, noted the Chair of MGE2—weapons, drugs, people, they will sell and trade whatever is profitable. Arms trafficking is definitely profitable. But so is the “legal” international arms trade. According to the latest report from Small Arms Survey (SAS), the value of the global small arms trade has nearly doubled between 2001 and 2011 and has continued to increase since then. The United States continues to corner the market. Many of these weapons are then diverted to the black market for illicit trade and use by non-state actors.

For the most part, the SAS report found, major arms exporting states have continued to supply weapons to countries embroiled in armed conflict despite the risk of misuse or diversion. The embargo by the EU against the export of arms to Egypt that could be used for internal repression “apparently left sufficient leeway for the manufacturer to sign contracts for the delivery of more than 50,000 duty pistols and 10 million 9mm rounds to the Egyptian Ministry of Interior,” writes Foreign Policy. US transfers of weapons to Kurdish forces besieged in the Syrian city of Kobani have in part been diverted to the Islamic State, while in other cases, finds the The Atlantic, “Syrian rebel groups have obtained US-supplied weapons after the materiel was put on the black market by the Iraqi troops for whom they were intended.

The arms trade—legal and illegal alike—leads to armed violence, armed conflict, destablisation, human rights violations, and economic hardship. It has serious implications for development, which is why UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) spoke on Tuesday about the importance of the post-2015 agenda for work on small arms control. “Recognizing the significant negative impact of armed violence on sustainable human development,” said the CASA representative, “UN entities strongly support the inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals of a target to significantly reduce illicit arms flows.”

WILPF and other civil society groups have been advocating for inclusion of small arms in the post-2015 SDGs currently being developed. But strong resistance has been mounted in particular by some major arms exporting states. Overall, small arms and armed violence issues have not yet been effectively mainstreamed into development studies, institutions, or programmes. As last year’s publication from Instituto Sou da Paz and Reaching Critical Will on small arms found, “while some development agencies and organizations have dedicated some specific advocacy efforts towards armed violence reduction, one could argue that development offices, international NGOs, or agencies such as UNDP still have space to become more active in issues directly related to firearms and ensuing violence.” Author Daniel Mack contended, “Beyond the international frameworks, it is also relevant that, on a national basis, many countries do not integrate a proper armed violence reduction perspective into their national development plans.”

He suggested that the clearest avenue for mainstreaming small arms into development agendas is through the SDG process. Potential targets noted by Mack and others include eliminating lethal violence from communities by a certain date or reducing the number of people and groups affected by violence. Indicators could include decreases in the number of homicides or reported violent crime per 100,000 people.

Political resistance to the inclusion of such indicators, argues Mack, “stems from a disconnect, at least in the perception of some states as to what is being discussed, between the concepts of ‘human development’ and ‘national development’.” Some countries have settled on narrow definitions of development in which politics, safety, justice, and governance “are glaringly absent”. But properly including armed violence reduction into the SDGs, particularly with precise indicators or targets, is essential. Among other things, “clear targets for reduction of homicides or violent deaths will compel all governments to renew emphasis on controlling firearms, a main piece of the violence puzzle virtually everywhere.”

Simultaneously, it is crucial to ensure that armed violence and development concerns are reflected in arms transfer controls and other small arms control measures. The Arms Trade Treaty fell short of this, failing to include development as a specific indicator against which export decisions would need to be assessed. But exporting states, and actors trying to prevent the misuse of weapons or the diversion of weapons to the illicit trade, must take these factors into consideration in their work.

Mainstreaming small arms issues across development, human rights, crime prevention, and peace and security agendas will be critical for holistically confronting many of the challenges being discussed here at MGE2. Efforts must go beyond technical provisions and adopt a “big picture” approach to armed conflict and armed violence to be truly effective beyond the walls of the UN.

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