Since a new standard form for submitting small arms and light weapons transfer data was agreed to in 2006, a UN register for such information has seen increases in the number of countries filing voluntary reports and the volume of weapons they detail. The latest submissions provide insight into the movement of more than 2.3 million weapons in 2007.
As of Sept. 24, 36 countries had provided detailed information on their small arms and light weapons trade to the UN Register of Conventional Arms, accounting for nearly 2.1 million exported weapons and more than 280,000 imported weapons. This is a dramatic increase compared to last year’s entries, which by late October included 30 countries and more than 535,000 exported weapons and 105,000 imported weapons. (See ACT, November 2007.) In both years, a handful of other countries submitted reports claiming no trade in the weapons or that specific numbers were confidential.
Whether the increase marks a global uptick in trade of these easily portable weapons is difficult to ascertain. As with last year’s data, the majority of participating countries are members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), skewing the findings to these states and their partners. Much of the increase is due to submissions of
Twenty-five of the 36 participating countries claimed to export small arms and light weapons in 2007. Together, they listed more than 140 recipient countries, thereby revealing information about many countries that provided no data.
The single largest exporter,
The third-largest exporter, the
Although not filing a report on small arms and light weapons, the
Submissions to the UN register also show transfers to
Import Data Highlights Complexity of Transfers
Although claimed imports only accounted for 290,000 weapons in 2007, the data from 32 filing countries reveal that additional countries are involved in the trade of small arms and light weapons.
The top five countries claiming imports were
Together, the countries filing import information to the UN register claim to be receiving weapons from 47 countries, led by
Still, the UN register is limited. Import and export data nearly never matches, making it difficult to verify trade information. For example, the
The UN register orginated from a 1991 agreement seeking to add transparency to the global arms trade, calling on all countries to report annually on their previous year’s exports and imports. Historically, declarations have focused on heavy equipment such as tanks, combat aircraft, warships, large-caliber artillery, and missiles and missile systems. In December 2003, the UN General Assembly invited members also to submit small arms and light weapons data. A standardized reporting form was introduced in 2006.
That form is comprised of six categories of small arms and seven of light weapons. The first two categories of small arms, consisting of revolvers and self-loading pistols and rifles and carbines, account for more than 80 percent of total reported exports and imports. Additional small arms categories include assault rifles, sub- and light machine guns, and others. Light weapons, which account for less than 1 percent of total claimed transfers, are defined as heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, mortars of calibers less than 75 millimeters, portable anti-tank guns, missile launchers and rocket systems, and others.