Curbing flow of small arms

Regulating export of firearms

Promoting efforts to regulate the government-sanctioned transfer of small arms and light weapons between states, including promoting an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, agreeing to common controls on licensed production agreements and end-use certification.

Promoting international support for measures to tackle the illicit trafficking of firearms from and through countries, including strict controls on the activities of arms brokering agents through requiring their registration, licensing requirements for individual transactions, and international mechanisms for information exchange between licensing and enforcement agencies.

Supporting existing programmes and measures through financial and technical assistance for regional and national programmes such as: the ECOWAS Moratorium on light weapons and the Southern & East African Action Programmes on illicit arms trafficking; local and national weapons collection and destruction initiatives; stockpile management and security measures; efforts to strengthen and harmonize national legal controls and regulatory procedures, such as the Southern African Development Community firearms protocol; and initiatives to enhance the capacity of institutions such as the police, border guards and the judiciary.


There is a close and symbiotic relationship between light weapons trafficking and contemporary forms of violent conflict. This relationship is symbiotic because the widespread availability of low-cost, highly lethal light weapons makes it possible for a wide range of combatants to initiate hostilities against a state or society. Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mozambique, Afghanistan, the Great Lakes region of Africa, El Salvador, and Central Asia are glaring instances of this.

Small arms and light weapons are closely associated with recent wars, insecurity, crime and terrorism in many regions of the world. The widespread use and circulation of small arms is often symptomatic of fundamental economic and political problems within affected societies. The G8 are centrally involved in the supply of arms as major producers and transit countries. The factors motivating the supply of and demand for light weapons by state and non-state actors are extremely complex. This necessitates a sophisticated, multifaceted response, including strategies for controlling transfers of light weapons as well as for reducing the number of weapons in circulation.

Firearms which are misused come from four principal sources: (a) firearms which are misused by legal owners particularly in impulsive acts, domestic violence, accidents and suicide; (b) firearms which are taken or stolen from legal gun owners , often because they are improperly stored; (c) firearms which are bought legally and sold illegally (the "grey market); and (d) firearms which are illegally imported: Most (60-70%) of the handguns used in crime in Canadian cities are illegally imported. In Japan, most of the firearms recovered by police are smuggled.

One of the most striking conclusions produced by any study of the trafficking of firearms for crime or to support conflict, is the variety of ways in which legal firearms can be diverted for illegal purposes if there are not adequate controls on import, export, transfers and possession. Effective tracking systems are essential to reduce the trafficking of firearms.


The UN Conference on the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons in All of Its Aspects was held in 2001. Negotiations quickly became mired in dispute over the definitions of "small arms" and "light weapons. Another sticking point was the distinction between legal and illegal arms manufacture and trade. Since the USA opposed any measures to control legal trade and manufacture, this conference could not curtail trade but rather focus on a reduction in arms trafficking. The outcome of the conference was a non-binding declaration that many participants fear is too weak to have a significant impact.


There is no magic bullet to explain the persistent problem of small arms trafficking or the difficulty of crafting an international protocol to limit it. There are in fact three primary reasons that the international community should expect the failure of the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons in All of Its Aspects (ITSALW). They are: US domestic politics; international scrambling for a piece of the multi-billion dollar arms industry; and the woeful inefficiency of the UN itself.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production