Although no hard data exists, up to 90% of illicit small arms and light weapons may have started out as licit. Consequently, if the U.S. wants to catch arms embargo violators and terrorists, and help prevent the flow of weapons to war-torn regions, it should support global agreements on marking and tracing and arms brokering, and ratify current international instruments.
The U.S. should back an international mechanism requiring that all small arms, from their point of manufacture, receive non-erasable and universally readable identification marks that enable authorities to trace their paths through the global marketplace. International agreements have made some progress, but they have not gone far enough because they are either not geographically comprehensive, are not legally binding, or are insufficient in addressing country-to-country transfers and conflict. Despite some voluntary practices of marking weapons within NATO, for instance, the marking does not help when parties outside of the region are unable to understand the meaning of those marks. This is especially troublesome when militaries sell or give away their surplus stocks. The U.N. investigation into Rwanda's conflict was stymied because of inadequate international marking and tracing regulations.
To curb illicit trafficking and improve accountability, the U.S. should do the following:
Moreover, regulating and controlling the activities of illegal arms middlemen should be a priority for the international community. The U.S. should lead the way in opening negotiations on an international treaty for the control of arms brokering, modeled on the 1996 amendment to the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.
At a minimum, such a convention should include:
Finally, SAWG urges the U.S. to ratify two important international instruments: the "Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials," and the third protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, officially titled the "Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition."
Ratification of both instruments by the U.S. is crucial for two reasons. First, as the largest exporter of small arms in the world, the U.S. bears a special responsibility to minimize the number of U.S.-manufactured small arms that end up on the black market. U.S. efforts in this regard have only been partially successful, as evidenced by the high percentage of illicit U.S. weapons seized from criminals in, inter alia, Mexico, Japan, and Canada. Ratifying and fully implementing both instruments would help to stem the flow of U.S. weapons to criminals around the world by prompting U.S. officials to make adjustments to already strong export control laws. Second, ratification by the U.S. would carry special weight because of its unparalleled diplomatic influence. Full support for universal ratification of both conventions - which is possible only after the U.S. signs and ratifies them - will pressure other states to follow suit. Conversely, the failure of the U.S. to ratify the conventions will be used to justify foot-dragging by fellow holdouts.
For More Information:
Director, Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Federation of American Scientists
1717 K St., NW, Suite 209
Washington, DC 20036
Telephone: (202) 454-4694
Fax: (202) 675-1010
The Fund for Peace
1701 K St. NW
Washington DC 20006
Telephone: (202) 223-7940 x210
Fax: (202) 223-7947
Center for Defense Information
1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036
Telephone: (202) 797-5283
Fax: (202) 462-4559
1012 14th Street, NW, #900
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: (202) 347-8340 x102
Fax: (202) 347-4688
The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) is an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working together to promote change in U.S. policies on small arms. SAWG members believe that small arms proliferation must be countered by more responsible policies on legal sales and international cooperation to reduce illicit trafficking.