Small Arms Monitor, Vol. 8, No. 2

Editorial: Small arms, big picture
7 June 2016

Ray Acheson

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During the first day of the sixth biennial meeting of states (BMS6) on the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) on small arms and light weapons, the relationship between small arms and sustainable development took centre stage. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by states in September 2015, for the first time recognised in target 16.4 a link between development and the reduction of illicit arms flows. Many delegations highlighted this goal to frame their approach to this BMS and to small arms control more broadly, articulating a vision of a world in which the production, sale, and use of weapons is no longer permitted to drive humankind towards violence and mayhem. 

Financing development or war

The 2030 Agenda offers “an opportunity to move beyond our tendancy to view the PoA through a narrow security lens and to address its broader dimension,” argued the Chair of BMS6, Ambassador Courteney Rattray of Jamaica. Through this Agenda, member states have “given the disarmament community a mandate to contribute to our shared objective of establishing an environment conducive to sustainable development for people, planet and prosperity.”

A key challenge to implementing this Agenda, as highlighted by Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, is the military-industrial complex, which derives profits from weapons and thus has a vested interest in the perpetuation of massive arms flows. Delivering a keynote address, he noted that official development assistance represents a fraction of what is spent on weapons and war. “The principle of undiminished security at the lowest level of armaments calls on all Member States to devote more resources for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as an imperative to the fight against poverty,” he argued. “It is therefore critical to commit more resources to development, alongside non-military measures to achieve peace such as disarmament and arms control. 

Deaths and profits

The pursuit of nonviolent means of achieving peace will be critical in advancing both the development and small arms agendas. As High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo noted, the number of deaths, injuries, and displacement of civilians from armed conflict is on the rise. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition are key drivers of these violent deaths and mass displacement. “Weapons are the toxic lubricant allowing the engine of conflict to run,” he said.

Viewing conflict as a machine is appropriate. The elements of this machine—the military-industrial complex and the associated political apparatus—churn out profits and violence. More violence requires more weapons, which generates more profits. It’s a model of death and destruction that has been growing and sustaining itself for decades. It is civilians all over the world who suffer its consequences.

Cultures of violence

Among the violence experienced the world over is gender-based violence. This form of violence is targeted against women, men, and others on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. At its core is a culture of violence that expresses power through domination over those who are perceived as weaker than or not conforming to the hegemonic representation of masculinity.

When the culture of violent masculinities is coupled with development challenges limiting employment opportunities in particular for young men, gender-based violence often increases. This is why Ms. Shorna-Kay Richards of Jamaica urged states to consider issues related to fostering the creation of alternative livelihoods for young men, as previous versions of the draft BMS6 outcome document have done.

Cultures of diversity and the pursuit of alternative paths

A number of other delegations, including the Caribbean Community, the European Union, Australia, Austria, Japan, Spain, and Trinidad and Tobago, welcomed the references to gender and to the meaningful participation of women in small arms-related programmes and other arms control projects. Gender diversity in arms control and disarmament is critical to ensuring diverse perspectives. This is important for generating new ideas and approaches that can help create space for alternatives to militarism, violence, and conflict.

As Ambassador Kamau said, “discarding the mentality of military solutions to conflicts” is critical to achieving lasting peace and development. This BMS may not solve all related challenges, but it is an opportunity to confront some of them. “The PoA and the ITI should not be static mechanisms,” argued the Chair of the meeting, “but rather dynamic and living instruments that are adaptable to new and emerging international realities.” States here should build on other instruments and agreements and ensure diversity in these discussions in order to pursue an effective path to peace and development through arms control and disarmament.

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