"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
UN Experts Call for Drone Reporting

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Jefferson Morley

A group of UN experts has called on member states to report international transfers of armed drones to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. In a July 15 report to the UN General Assembly, experts from 15 countries asserted that drones are covered by the fourth and fifth categories of the register, which cover combat aircraft and attack helicopters, respectively.

The experts, who meet once every three years to assess the effectiveness of the register, debated incorporation of new language on unmanned aerial vehicles to reflect the rapid growth and spread of drone technology. But the group could not reach consensus on the proposed definitions, according to two sources familiar with the experts’ discussions.

The voluntary UN Register seeks to build international confidence and reduce the risk of armed conflict through “transparency in armaments.” Established in 1991 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait revealed that Saddam Hussein’s government had secretly built up its armed forces with diverse purchases from different nations, the register covers battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

The experts discussed adding small arms and light weapons as the eighth category of weapons covered by the register, according to the sources. Consensus again proved elusive as China and Cuba objected, the sources said.

The experts’ report expressed concern about the relevance of the register, noting that participation by member states is declining. Since the inception of the register, 170 states have reported on arms transfers at least once, with an average of 98 governments having submitted reports each year on their international conventional arms transfers. But since 2007, the level of participation in the register has seen a notable decline, with the lowest level of reporting recorded in 2012, when only 52 states provided a report, the report found.

Some experts linked declining participation to the failure to include small arms and light weapons in the register’s tally. “More countries are threatened by small arms and light weapons than anything else,” one of the sources familiar with the experts’ discussions said in an Aug. 28 interview. “Register participation level may be going down because the register doesn’t cover the weapons that most countries find most threatening,” the source said. The failure to incorporate small arms and light weapons into the register was “a setback” that will not be addressed until the experts meet again in 2016, the source said.