Published on Friday, September 29, 2000 by InterPress Service
New Book Takes Hard Look at Small Arms Trade
by Francyne Harrigan
WASHINGTON - The underground market in small arms is
booming, according to a new book on the global black market in
''Whether in Africa, Sri Lanka, Columbia or the United States, it isn't heavy weaponry or high-tech devices that kill the most people, but cheap, easy to get small arms,'' states 'Running Guns: the Global Market in Small Arms' in its opening pages.
Timed to influence the United Nations's preparatory meetings for the 2001 Conference on Illicit Arms Transfers, 'Running Guns' is a collection of essays analysing different aspects of this international trade.
''Running Guns provides a template of policy measures that concerned states need to take to thwart this all too easy trade,'' asserts editor Lora Lumpe.
Divided into four comprehensive sections, the book's opening chapter frames the issue with a first-hand, graphic account of how ammunition is moved from Eastern Europe to Africa. Followed by chapters on sources of supply and the mechanics of obtaining and moving weapons, the book rounds off with detailed recommendations of what governments can do to end this practice.
''The prospect today for curbing violent conflict runs afoul of a simple but powerful contradiction between the enormous damage weapons do and the almost trivial process by which they are acquired,'' says contributing author R.T. Naylor.
In fact, according to the book's findings, criminals, paramilitaries, insurgents or repressive governments produce few weapons. Most rely on illegal - black market - supplies for guns, grenades, mortars and other weapons.
''In many of the world's regions, vast stockpiles of [assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and the like] circulate and re-circulate outside of state control,'' Norwegian Red Cross President Thorvald Stoltenberg said in the book's foreword.
These weapons, Stoltenberg believes, are responsible for 90 percent of the world's combat related killings.
In its 1999 report, 'Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict', the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that more than 50 percent of war casualties in the 1990s were civilian and that small arms represented the major contributing factor in the growing numbers of civilian fatalities.
As the authors point out, whilst illegal arms trafficking is not new, the apparent increase in arms being traded is.
The authors identify a number of trends in the 1990s - newly opened borders, massive post-Cold War arms surpluses and the rapid expansion of free trade - as responsible for this increase.
This has led to territories such as Cambodia and Angola, becoming some of the most heavily militarised and deadly countries on earth, despite their having no industrial scale arms production.
'Running Guns' provides for the first time a detailed critique of the US government's cold war - and continuing - practice of supplying arms to insurgent groups to destabilise governments it does not favour.
In the chapter, 'Government Gun-Running to Guerrillas', authors Lucy Mathiak and Lora Lumpe trace the legacy of military aid by governments to guerrillas or insurgent forces during the Cold War era in many of today's brutal conflicts.
''That legacy goes well beyond the billions of dollars' worth of light weapons still in circulation and in use as a result of such operations,'' asserts Mathiak and Lumpe.
More importantly, ''it also encompasses complex logistical, political and economic networks established to move weapons to combatants while masking the true identity of the supplier government.''
''Developing clear international law barring small arms supply (usually covert) to sub-state actors would be one of the most meaningful policies that concerned governments and NGOs could pursue to curb further dangerous small arms proliferation,'' recommends Lumpe.
As Lumpe points out, the US government employed this practice routinely throughout the cold war, most devastatingly in Central America, Afghanistan/Pakistan and Angola/Zaire conflicts, and refuses to renounce the practice, continuing to see it as a useful and justifiable tool of foreign policy.
In line with this position, the US government actively opposes proposals by Canada for an international treaty to ban gun running by governments to insurgents.
According to a recent US General Accounting Office report, 'US Efforts to Control the Availability of Small Arms and Light Weapons', for fiscal years 1996-1998, the ''United States authorised or delivered 3.7 billion dollars in small arms and light weapons to 154 nations through direct commercial sales, foreign military sales; or other transfers''.
The final section of 'Running Guns' provides a thorough round-up of the issues and obstacles involved in tackling small arms trafficking and comprehensive forward steps for governments to embrace to end this practice.
Among them, the book's authors advocate ''taking a broader view of factors that facilitate and fuel gun-running and moving those activities into the realm of controlled, if not prohibited'' actions.
''Running Guns hopes to advance understanding of the illicit arms trade in a manner that will strengthen states' resolve and contribute to sound international policymaking in this area,'' ends Lumpe.
'Running Guns' is a project of the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers - a coalition of Church AID, the Norwegian Red Cross, the International Peace Research Institute, and the Oslo Norwegian Institute for International Affairs.
Copyright 2000 IPS