Small Arms Monitor, Vol. 8, No. 3

Editorial: The crux of the matter
8 June 2016

Ray Acheson

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Stockpile management is an important aspect of UNPoA implementation and small arms control, crucial to ensuring that stocks of small arms and light weapons are not diverted to unauthorised users. Any delegation addressing BMS6 on this issue will say that they see stockpile security and management as critical to preventing the illicit trafficking in small arms. The US delegation, for example, said it supports language on strengthening stockpile management in the draft outcome document, noting that “illegal armed groups and criminal organisations increasingly turn to poorly secured state stockpiles as a source for weapons.” What the US and other concerned arms exporting states fail to mention in their interventions here at the UN, however, is how many of their own weapons have been diverted to “unintended” users or uses.

According to a comprehensive report from Amnesty International, Daesh uses weapons designed or manufactured by more than 25 countries. The bulk of these arms and ammunition were seized from Iraqi military stocks. Daesh has also gained access to weapons from other sources, in particular from the capture or sale of Syrian military stocks and arms supplied to armed opposition groups in Syria by countries including Turkey, the Gulf states, and the United States. Daesh fighters are now equipped with large stocks of mainly AK variant rifles, but also US military issue M16, Chinese CQ, German Heckler & Koch G3 and Belgian FN Herstal FAL type rifles. In addition, Daesh has captured more sophisticated equipment, such as guided anti-tank missiles (Russian Kornet and Metis systems, Chinese HJ-8, and European MILAN and HOT missiles), and surface-to-air missiles (Chinese FN-6s).

In Somalia, the issue seems less about stockpile management and more about resale of weapons. On Tuesday, the Somali delegation reported to the BMS6 that it has begun documenting and tracing weapons and ammunition that its forces have captured from al-Shabaab. Previous information suggests that many of these weapons were provided by the United States to the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Mogadishu (AMISOM). Those troops then sold them to the blackmarket, from which al-Shabaab makes its purchases.

Other times weapons apparently just get “lost”. In 2015, for example, it was revealed that the US military was unable to account for $500 million in weaponry and equipment sent to Yemen.

Whether weapons are lost, looted from stockpiles, or sold to unauthorised users, the key problem is that there is excessive production, excessive circulation, and excessive accumulation of weapons in the world. Manufacturing requires sales, which requires use. Overproduction leads to excessive accumulation, which leads to stockpile management issues.

The range and quantity of weapons available to those taking up arms to kill in conflicts such as Syria or Somalia or Yemen or any ongoing or past conflict is a product of decades of arms transfers to regions or countries in conflict and a product of the failure by exporting countries to manage arms deliveries. It is also, in the case of Daesh, a failure of the US-led occupation of Iraq to manage stockpiles.

These weapons represent billions of dollars spent on technologies of war over decades rather than on peacebuilding, development, and human rights. The arming of governments or armed groups in any given situation reflects and perpetuates the ongoing militaristic approach to conflict and international relations.

These issues are rarely discussed at UN meetings on small arms. Instead, there is a lot of talk about the importance of stockpile management or preventing diversion, without any sense of urgency to tackle these challenges in the real world by looking at the source of the problem: the unregulated development and production of weapons and the still poorly regulated international transfer of weapons. Strong language in the outcome document on how states should deal with the consequences of weapons production and transfers is important, but so is taking on the crux of the matter.

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