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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Jeff Abramson

In a First, U.S. Attends Landmine Meeting

Jeff Abramson

For the first time since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force in 1999, the United States officially participated in a meeting of states-parties, joining more than 120 other countries in Colombia Nov. 30-Dec. 4 at the treaty’s second five-year review conference.

At the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, the United States reiterated its recent decision to conduct a review of its policies on landmines. Also at the meeting, the treaty’s member states agreed to a detailed action plan and granted deadline extensions to four states for landmine clearance.

The United States, which has not signed the treaty and had never officially attended an annual meeting of states-parties or a five-year review conference, participated as an observer state. James Lawrence, head of the U.S. delegation and director of the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, said Dec. 1, “The administration’s decision to attend this review conference is the result of an on-going comprehensive review of U.S. landmine policy initiated at the direction of President Obama.” He indicated that the review “will take some time to complete.”

That statement contradicted one made Nov. 24 by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly that a review had already been concluded and that the United States would not be joining the treaty. That announcement immediately drew criticism from nongovernmental organizations and longtime anti-landmine leader Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who said, “This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history.” On Nov. 25, Kelly changed the statement, saying that the Obama administration “is committed to a comprehensive review of its landmine policy. That review is still on-going.”

In 2004 the Bush administration declared that the United States would not join the treaty. That decision overrode pledges made by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to set the United States on the path to sign the pact in 2006. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The 1997 treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, prohibits the use, stockpiling, transfer, and production of anti-personnel landmines, defined as “a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person.” The treaty also applies to some mixed landmine systems that have both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle devices, but does not rule out the use of purely anti-vehicle landmines. One hundred fifty-six countries are parties to the treaty, including all NATO countries, other than the United States and Poland. Poland signed the treaty in 1997 and has said it expects to ratify it in 2012.

The United States has not deployed anti-personnel landmines since 1992 and is the world’s top funder of landmine clearance and victim assistance activities. In his statement to the conference, Lawrence reiterated U.S. policy to “end all [U.S.] use of persistent mines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, by the end of next year, in 2010.” After 2010, U.S. policy allows for the use of so-called smart mines, which are designed to self-destruct and self-deactivate within a specified period of time. The treaty and U.S. policy also allow for the use of so-called man-in-the-loop mines, which are designed to be detonated by a live controller, as opposed to victim contact.

Like the United States, China and Russia attended the meeting as observers. Together, those three countries maintain approximately 145 million stockpiled anti-personnel landmines, the vast majority of the global total, according to the latest Landmine Monitor Report, an annual publication supported by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and widely regarded as the de facto monitoring regime for the treaty. In a statement to the summit, Chinese delegation leader Cheng Jingye highlighted Beijing’s commitment not to export anti-personnel landmines as well as its support of Protocol 2 to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which specifically deals with the use of mines. As with cluster munitions, China, Russia, and the United States have preferred to address controls on landmines within the CCW rather than through other treaties. (See ACT, December 2009.)

Under the Mine Ban Treaty, countries have 10 years from the time the pact enters into force for them to clear areas of anti-personnel mines and four years to destroy their stockpiles, with the exception of the minimum number necessary for the development of and training in mine detection, clearance, and destruction techniques. At the Cartagena meeting, Albania, Greece, Rwanda, and Zambia announced that they had cleared all known mined areas within their borders. With the treaty now 10 years old, however, a number of countries have sought extensions to their mine clearance deadlines. In 2008, 15 states sought and were granted extensions. (See ACT, January/February 2009.) In Cartagena, Argentina, Cambodia, and Tajikistan received extensions until 2020 to clear mine-affected areas, and Uganda received an extension until 2012. Ukraine announced in 2009 that it would likely miss its 2010 stockpile destruction deadline. Belarus, Greece, and Turkey failed to meet stockpile destruction deadlines in 2008 and remain in violation of the treaty.

The conference adopted a 67-point action plan that included commitments across a range of issues, including victim assistance, mine clearance, risk education, stockpile destruction, and international cooperation. “This plan spells out in concrete terms what we will do to better meet the needs of landmine survivors,” said the president of the Cartagena conference, Norway’s Susan Eckey. “It is a strong plan that will require a shared commitment to be implemented. Doing so will get us closer to our aim of a world without anti-personnel mines.”

 

 

For the first time since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force in 1999, the United States officially participated in a meeting of states-parties, joining more than 120 other countries in Colombia Nov. 30-Dec. 4 at the treaty’s second five-year review conference.

At the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, the United States reiterated its recent decision to conduct a review of its policies on landmines. Also at the meeting, the treaty’s member states agreed to a detailed action plan and granted deadline extensions to four states for landmine clearance.

Work on Cluster Munitions Extended Again

Jeff Abramson

In what has now become an annual occurrence, delegates to a meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed in November to continue work on proposals specifically addressing cluster munitions after failing to reach consensus during the past year. Meanwhile, a different treaty on the weapons grew closer to the number of ratifying states needed for its entry into force, drawing into question the role of future CCW efforts on the topic.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas that sometimes strike civilians or fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing military forces and noncombatants. An international outcry over use of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon in 2006 and the failure of the CCW to adopt new measures related to the weapons helped lead to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which was opened for signature and ratification last year. That treaty bars the use of nearly all cluster munitions and obligates countries to destroy stockpiles, conduct clearance efforts, and take steps to help victims. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Next year’s CCW group of governmental experts meetings are scheduled to take place April 12-16 and Aug. 30- Sept. 3 “to address urgently the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, while striking a balance between military and humanitarian considerations,” according to the resolution authorizing the group. Those meetings will take into account a draft protocol on cluster munitions prepared by this year’s experts group chairperson, Gustavo Ainchil of Argentina, the resolution said. Ainchil fashioned the draft text after two weeks of group meetings in February and April, as well as a week of informal consultations in August. (See ACT, May 2009.)

That draft prohibits the use of cluster munitions unless they leave behind no more than 1 percent of unexploded ordnance or possess one of a number of safeguards. It includes a provision allowing for an eight-year deferral of this prohibition, with the possibility of an additional four-year extension if requested. These provisions differ from the CCM, as do other aspects of the draft.

Twenty-four countries have ratified the CCM, and 103 have signed it. The CCM will enter into force six months after 30 states ratify it.

Many delegates from countries that have already signed the CCM argued that a CCW protocol must not weaken progress on controlling the weapons. Calling her country a “strong supporter” of the CCM, Australian Ambassador Caroline Millar said in a Nov. 12 statement to the meeting of CCW states-parties that any future protocol “must provide for a strong humanitarian outcome and progress—not hinder—the development of international humanitarian law.” She listed five elements a CCW protocol should have at a minimum, including “definitional consistency” with the CCM.

A number of the world’s major producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions, including Russia and the United States, have opted out of the CCM, insisting that the CCW is the proper place to negotiate an agreement. In a Nov. 9 statement at the CCW meeting, U.S. representative Harold Koh said, “[M]any States, including the United States, have determined that their national security interests cannot be fully ensured consistent with the terms of the CCM. A comprehensive international response to the humanitarian concerns associated with cluster munitions must include action by those States that are not in a position to become parties to the CCM, because those States produce and stockpile the vast majority of the world’s cluster munitions.”

He reiterated U.S. policy set by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2008 that, “by 2018, the U.S. armed forces will not use cluster munitions that, after arming, result in more than 1 percent of unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational conditions.” Critics of this approach have rejected failure-based criteria, pointing to data showing that failure rates in the field are often higher than in tests.

Koh also argued that the United States needs time to design and replace its existing stockpile, which contains more than 700 million submunitions. Destroying the stockpile, a step required by the CCM, would cost $2.2 billion using current U.S. demilitarization capabilities, he said.

In what has now become an annual occurrence, delegates to a meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed in November to continue work on proposals specifically addressing cluster munitions after failing to reach consensus during the past year. Meanwhile, a different treaty on the weapons grew closer to the number of ratifying states needed for its entry into force, drawing into question the role of future CCW efforts on the topic.

Arms Exports Fell in 2008, UN Data Say

Jeff Abramson

After increasing to record levels in 2007, transfers of major weapons systems as well as small arms and light weapons dropped in 2008, according to voluntary reports submitted to the United Nations’ conventional arms registry.

Based on a 1991 agreement, the UN Register of Conventional Arms collects voluntary information on imports, exports, domestic production, and holdings of seven categories of major weapons systems: tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. In 2003, countries agreed to request data on small arms and light weapons but did not create an official category for the weapons. (See ACT, September 2009.)

A comparison of reports submitted to the UN by or near the end of September for each reporting year indicates that exports of major weapons systems dropped from 28,577 to 7,913 between 2007 and 2008. Small arms and light weapons exports declined from 2,089,986 to 1,480,790, according to the data in the reports (see table 1).

The register’s data do not provide a complete picture of the global arms trade. Some countries do not submit reports; all countries do not define transfers in the same way; and there is no verification provision. Nonetheless, the register is the primary international mechanism for states to detail their arms trade, and the 2008 decline aligns with findings reported by other sources. A recent report from the Congressional Research Service said the conventional arms market shrank in 2008. (See ACT, October 2009.) The 2009 yearbook produced by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) calculated a drop of approximately 10 percent in major conventional weapons trade between 2007 and 2008.

The number of countries submitting data to the register declined. At least 100 countries submitted records each year from 1999 to 2006, but that number fell to 91 for 2007. By September 30 of this year, only 75 countries had reported calendar year 2008 transfers. Some of that decrease can be attributed to a reduction in the number of countries filing “nil” reports. For 2006, 63 countries filed such reports, claiming no transfers in any of the seven categories of major weapons. Only 39 did so for 2007 and 32 for 2008. Such reports, which affirmatively state that there were no transfers, are seen as statements of support for the register. The recent failure of a group of government experts to recommend adding small arms and light weapons as an official eighth category may further erode participation in the register.

Missiles Lead Decline in Major Weapons

Five of the seven major weapons categories saw a drop in deliveries, led by a dramatic decline in claimed missile and missile launcher exports. Because a missile and a warship are each counted as one unit in the register despite the difference in size and capability, comparing overall numbers can be misleading.

Slovakia, which reported the export of 17,740 missiles in 2007, said it had no missile exports in 2008, accounting for the biggest single difference.

Within the missiles category, Turkey delivered 1,480 122 mm rockets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), marking the fourth year in a row that Ankara claimed at least 1,000 missiles exported to Abu Dhabi. As in 2007, one-half of the rockets delivered contained submunitions, which are smaller bombs that often fail to explode as originally intended. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which would ban such weapons, has 23 ratifying parties, seven short of the number required for entry into force, but neither Turkey nor the UAE has signed the treaty (see page 5).

Russia led the missile category in 2008, noting a total of 1,683 missiles and launching mechanisms exported. Most went to Algeria, Egypt, and Venezuela. These weapons accounted for the vast majority of Russia’s 1,884 claimed exports across all seven categories.

Among Russia’s exports were 12 attack helicopters and eight combat aircraft sent to Venezuela. The strengthening relationship between the two countries drew statements of concern from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when additional arms deals were announced in September.

Russia continued its long-standing arms relationship with India, sending the country 24 tanks, 12 large-caliber artillery systems, four combat aircraft, and 29 missiles, according to the Russian report. India claimed that all its imported weapons came from Russia in 2008, but future sales to the country are a possible source of Russian-U.S. rivalry as Washington seeks to expand its conventional arms trade with New Delhi. U.S. firms are currently competing for a combat fighter contract estimated at more than $10 billion. (See ACT, September 2009.)

As with Russia, missiles accounted for the majority of U.S. exports, with 298 of a total of 463 weapons exported falling into the missile category. According to the U.S. report, Turkey received 114 missiles from the United States. Washington also noted the transfer of 89 missiles to Pakistan, an ally in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and a traditional rival of India.

In the combat aircraft category, the United States led all other states, claiming the transfer of 50 such weapons in 2008. Israel received 17 F-16D aircraft, the most sophisticated combat planes exported by the United States. Pakistan received 10 F-16Bs. Belarus was second in total claimed exports of combat aircraft, sending 33 Russian-origin MiG-23s to Syria and 11 Russian-origin Su-25s to Sudan.

China, a traditional supplier of less-sophisticated arms, especially to Africa, claimed very few transfers in 2008. Beijing delivered 20 armored combat vehicles to Rwanda and six fighter aircraft to Pakistan, a marked decrease from its reports of 120 exported weapons in 2007 and 387 in 2006.

Paul Holtom, an arms expert at SIPRI, highlighted China’s low number as one of several filings in 2008 in which national interpretations of what constitutes a transfer could lead to an underreporting of exports of conventional arms. In an Oct. 19 interview, he also noted the relative absence of data directly from African countries.

The group of governmental experts examining the register earlier this year concluded that the register “continues to be an important confidence-building measure.” Although the overall number of countries participating in the register declined, most major weapons suppliers, with the exception of Israel, did submit reports on their major weapons exports.

Those reports indicate that some African countries were major importers in certain weapons categories. The United States reported sending 55 battle tanks to Egypt, Russia reported the transfer of 53 tanks to Algeria, and Ukraine sent 33 tanks to Kenya. According to exporter’s claims, Nigeria received 153 armored combat vehicles, 149 from Turkey and four from Canada, while Chad received 113 armored combat vehicles, 88 from Ukraine and 25 from France.

Overall, 27 countries filed non-nil export reports for major weapons in 2008, providing data on 74 recipient states.

U.S. Is Dominant Small-Arms Customer

Although not filing a report on its small arms and light weapons transfers, the United States remained the dominant destination for exports of those weapons in a shrinking market. (See ACT, November 2007; October 2008.)

Eighteen of 22 countries reporting nonzero and nonclassified exports of small arms and light weapons for 2008 indicated the United States was a recipient. Together, these states transferred 936,036 weapons to the United States, 63 percent of all claimed exports. In 2007 the United States received approximately 75 percent of the 2.1 million small arms and light weapons exported.

Italy, the largest exporter in 2008, reported transferring 472,991 small arms, 301,957 of which went to the United States. Turkey received 28,989 small arms from Italy; Russia received 23,978. Mexico and South Africa each imported more than 10,000 weapons from Italy, according to Rome’s report.

All of Italy’s exports came from the first two of six categories of small arms, consisting of revolvers and self-loading pistols, and rifles and carbines. The four additional small arms categories are assault rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, and others. Light weapons, which accounted for slightly more than 2 percent of total exports claimed in 2008 by all countries, are defined in seven categories as heavy machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable anti-tank missile launchers and rocket systems, mortars of calibers less than 75 millimeters, and others.

Italy replaced Croatia as the top exporter in 2008. Croatia claimed the export of more than 650,000 weapons in 2007, but reported only the transfer of 10,000 AK-47s to Iraq in 2008.

After not filing for 2007, the Philippines reported transferring 299,739 small arms in 2008 to become the second-largest exporter. The United States received 220,316 small arms from the Philippines, Thailand received 50,538, and Australia 15,290. As with Italy, two categories, revolvers and self-loading pistols and rifles and carbines, comprised the entirety of Philippine exports.

The United Kingdom remained the third-largest exporter of small arms and light weapons, claiming the transfer of 283,450 weapons, 266,906 of which went to the United States. Both numbers were approximately 30,000 higher than in 2007. Unlike Italy and the Philippines, the majority of the United Kingdom’s exports consisted of assault rifles.

Submissions to the register did capture some small arms and light weapons transfers to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008, although neither country submitted a report. Four countries claimed sending 18,852 weapons in total to Iraq. Five countries transferred a total of 16,838 weapons to Afghanistan. In each instance, the number of weapons declined significantly from 2007, when nearly 100,000 weapons went to Iraq and 30,000 to Afghanistan. The ongoing lack of a U.S. small arms and light weapons report, even though the United States is a known major supplier of weapons to Iraq, indicates that the register only captures a small portion of the transfers to that country. (See ACT, September 2007.)

In total, exporting states claimed to transfer weapons to 131 countries in 2008.

Table 1: International Arms Exports Reported to the UN Register of Conventional Arms

2007 2008
Major Weapons Systems
Warships 16 14
Attack Helicopters 81 70
Combat Aircraft 219 222
Large-Caliber Artillery Systems 630 874
Battle Tanks 954 510
Armored Combat Vehicles 2,254 1,385
Missiles and Missile Launchers 24,423 4,838
TOTAL 28,577 7,913
Small Arms and Light Weapons 2,089,986 1,480,790

Source: Data derived from claimed exports in voluntary submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms by or near the end of September of each reporting year. See http://disarmament.un.org/UN_REGISTER.NSF for specific country reports. See www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_11/UNROCA for more details on data calculations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes on Data Source

Major weapons data is derived from voluntary reports of major weapons exports submitted to the annual UN Register of Conventional Arms. Data for 2007 was compiled near the end of September 2008 from 32 arms suppliers: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, the CzechRepublic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Data for 2008 was submitted by Sept. 30, 2009 from 27 arms suppliers: Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States,

Small arms and light weapons data is derived from voluntary reports of small arms and light weapons exports to the annual UN Register of Conventional Arms. Data for 2007 was submitted by Sept. 24, 2008 from 25 arms suppliers: Albania, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the Ukraine. Data for 2008 was submitted by Sept. 30, 2009 from 22 arms suppliers: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, CzechRepublic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdoom. Sweden also submitted details, but stated that numbers of items transferred were classified. Additional countries filed reports indicating no exports or that the number of exports is classified.

Data files for 2008 import and exports reports are attached, as well as country and weapons codes associated with that data. Not all notes associated with each transfer are captured in these files, which were created by the Arms Control Association based on records available online at http://disarmament.un.org/UN_REGISTER.NSF. In some cases, there was a discrepancy between the reports available online and those published as a pdf document (A/64/135). These discrepancies are highlighted in red in the files. The United Nations is not responsible for any transcription errors made in the creation of these files.

After increasing to record levels in 2007, transfers of major weapons systems as well as small arms and light weapons dropped in 2008, according to voluntary reports submitted to the United Nations’ conventional arms registry.

U.S. Supports Arms Trade Treaty Process

Jeff Abramson

The United States last month pledged its support for talks on a legally binding instrument to regulate the global trade of conventional arms, breaking with previous U.S. votes against the United Nations-led process. UN member states are now expected to approve a schedule that could see an arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiated in 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an Oct. 14 statement that “the Arms Trade Treaty initiative presents us with the opportunity to promote the same high standards for the entire international community that the United States and other responsible arms exporters already have in place to ensure that weaponry is transferred for legitimate purposes.” Her statement marked a change in U.S. policy from the Bush administration, which opposed resolutions on the ATT process in 2006 and 2008. (See ACT, December 2008.)

The breakthrough occurred as the UN First Committee considered a draft resolution that would convert the four remaining sessions of an open-ended working group into preparatory committee meetings leading up to the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2012. The resolution, approved Oct. 30, states that the conference will be undertaken “on the basis of consensus,” a controversial and key demand made by the United States.

Supporters of a consensus process argue that it is necessary to promote universal standards. In her brief statement, Clinton said that “[c]onsensus is needed to ensure the widest possible support for the Treaty and to avoid loopholes in the Treaty that can be exploited by those wishing to export arms irresponsibly.” Last year, U.S. officials indicated to Arms Control Today that the United States would likely have supported the 2008 resolution if it had included a consensus provision. Observers suggest that U.S. leaders also do not want a treaty to proceed without them, as happened recently with the Convention on Cluster Munitions. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Detractors of the consensus requirement contend that it gives individual countries the ability to stall the process or weaken the final document.

The United States is the world’s top arms exporter and maintains what Clinton called the “gold standard” of export controls on arms transfers. ATT advocates have long been seeking Washington’s involvement in the treaty process.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband, whose country has been an ATT leader, welcomed Clinton’s announcement. In an Oct. 15 statement, he said, “For many years we have sought an active U.S. partner in the drive for a strong Arms Trade Treaty. Now for the first time, we have one.”

With U.S. opposition removed, some observers had wondered whether other major arms-trading countries that had previously abstained would be forced to vote either for or against the treaty process. However, China, India, Pakistan, and Russia again abstained. Those countries participated in last year’s group of governmental experts meetings but abstained in UN First Committee and General Assembly votes. In total, 153 states voted for the resolution, 19 abstained, and Zimbabwe voted against it.

The resolution was offered by Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya, and the United Kingdom. Committee recommendations are typically referred to and later approved by the entire General Assembly.

In 2006 the General Assembly passed Resolution 61/89, entitled “Toward an Arms Trade Treaty: Establishing Common International Standards for the Import, Export and Transfer of Conventional Arms.” The resolution led to the submission of views from approximately 100 states on the feasibility and parameters of a treaty. It also led to the establishment of a group of governmental experts. The United States decided at the last minute to participate in the group. (See ACT, March 2008.)

In December 2008, the General Assembly passed Resolution 63/240 establishing an open-ended working group to meet for six one-week sessions from 2009 to 2011. In contrast to a group of governmental experts, which is closed to the public and limited to invited experts, an open-ended working group conducts public debate that is open to all member states.

This year, the open-ended working group met March 2-6 and July 13-17 in New York. Far from resolving all issues, the group reported that the meetings had “allowed for constructive, in-depth, and extensive discussion on the elements regarding objectives, goals, scope, parameters and other aspects where consensus could be developed for their inclusion in a possible treaty.”

The United States last month pledged its support for talks on a legally binding instrument to regulate the global trade of conventional arms, breaking with previous U.S. votes against the United Nations-led process. UN member states are now expected to approve a schedule that could see an arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiated in 2012.

UN Conventional Arms Register Falters

Jeff Abramson

A group of governmental experts examining a UN list of imports and exports of major conventional weapons has failed to agree to add an official category for small arms and light weapons to that annual record, sources familiar with the discussions said. The setback likely means that the UN Register of Conventional Arms will not see significant improvements in participation until after the next triennial meeting of experts in 2012.

Beginning in 1992, the United Nations has urged countries to report their previous year’s exports and imports of major conventional weapons. Many countries, especially those in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean have participated in the register inconsistently because it did not include a category for small arms and light weapons. Those weapons are much more relevant to such countries’ security concerns than the arms covered by the register’s seven official categories: tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

The experts group held three sessions this year but at the final meeting in July could not agree to add small arms and light weapons as an eighth category. Instead, they recommended that the UN General Assembly seek views from member states on reporting about the weapons. While some sources familiar with the discussions said that one country was primarily responsible for holding up the creation of an eighth category, another source stressed that many countries lack the capacity to report on this category and that questions remain on the definition of small arms.

In 2003 the experts group recommended supplemental reporting on small arms and light weapons and, in 2006, agreed to a standardized form for such reports, although still not as an official category. (See ACT, November 2003; October 2006.) Since then, the number of countries submitting information on those weapons has dramatically increased, but the total number of countries filing reports has declined, in part due to a decrease in “nil” reporting. (See ACT, October 2008.) Because it is an official submission, a “nil” report, indicating no transactions, is typically a sign of support for the register.

In an Aug. 24 interview, a source close to the experts group said the failure to include a new official category for the weapons means that participation will be “negatively affected.” In 2001, 126 countries filed reports for transfers, but only 113 submitted them for 2006, and 91 for 2007. As of last month, just 68 had submitted reports for 2008, according to the register’s online database. It is not uncommon for countries to submit reports after the deadline, which is May 31 of the next year, but many experts are predicting that fewer than 100 countries will ultimately report on last year’s transfers.

Daniël Prins, head of the conventional arms branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, which oversees the register, said in an Aug. 24 interview that he, “like many others, was disappointed” by the content of the consensus-based group’s report. He emphasized that the decrease in participation is another sign that “the register is not in very good health.”

Some other proposals that the group took up also failed. These included calls for reporting on force multipliers, such as combat support vehicles; clarity on inclusion of unmanned aerial combat vehicles; and changes in the range of torpedoes covered by the register.

Nonetheless, Prins did say the register maintains “great potential” because it is the internationally agreed-on mechanism for “authoritative provision of arms import and export data and related information.” He highlighted two steps that he said the UN will take to improve the register. He said he hopes to convert the now unwieldy register into a truly searchable database and to offer more regional workshops on using the record.

A group of governmental experts examining a UN list of imports and exports of major conventional weapons has failed to agree to add an official category for small arms and light weapons to that annual record, sources familiar with the discussions said. The setback likely means that the UN Register of Conventional Arms will not see significant improvements in participation until after the next triennial meeting of experts in 2012. (Continue)

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