13 January 2011 - 15 January 2011

Small arms: is control possible?

Chair: Sir Kevin Tebbit KCB CMG

The first Ditchley Conference of 2011 was devoted to the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons (SALW), and the consequences of their misuse in conflict and crime-prone areas, particularly in the developing world.  Ditchley has often looked at disarmament but this was the first conference dedicated to the weapons most frequently used, and therefore responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and suffering.

The Small Arms Survey estimates that there are some 875 million firearms in circulation worldwide, with millions of these in the hands of illegal groups or gangs of one kind or another.  The average annual value of authorised international transfer of these weapons is thought to be over $4 billion, with some 3-4 million weapons being transferred.  A significant proportion of these are diverted to unauthorized use, then or later, killing or maiming tens of thousands of people around the world every year.  In the last ten years initiatives to control these weapons have intensified, notably the UN Programme of Action (POA) agreed in 2001.  But these initiatives have not yet made much of a dent in supply or, crucially, demand for SALW.  Ditchley therefore set out to bring together different actors engaged in the search for better control methods, from the UN, governments, regional organisations, NGOs, the academic world, industry etc, and in efforts to reduce armed violence, in order to take stock of the current situation and look at the next steps.

Our starting point was how much had already been achieved.  Some participants pointed to remarkable progress over 10 years, given the complex nature of the issues in a world still dominated by states protective of their sovereignty, particularly in defining and agreeing norms and standards in areas like export controls, end use certificates, marking, record-keeping, tracing, and stockpile management. Small arms were particularly hard to control given their longevity, relatively easy maintenance and prevalence all over the globe. But controlling them was a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for better peace-making and peace–keeping. Export controls by most major international producers were now reasonably good, at least in principle, while the Wassenaar Arrangement worked well for those who were part of it.  Nevertheless there was still a very long way to go.

Others pointed out that the impact in the real world remained limited so far, including in terms of armed violence, which could even have increased; and that little more could be expected until demand for SALW was reduced by tackling the conflicts and structural issues allowing armed violence to flourish.  Meanwhile increasing local manufacture, legal and illegal, of small arms and ammunition, together with stockpile problems, and leakage from legitimate users, inevitably undermined the effectiveness of controls on international transfers.  SALW could not simply be banned like anti-personnel mines or cluster munitions since many were for legitimate use by security and law enforcement organisations, and many were legally in the hands of civilians, particularly in the US.  They therefore had to be regulated, not prohibited, which was inevitably messier and took longer to produce an impact.

One underlying question was whether there was a real need for universal legally binding treaties in this area, compared to political commitments, or a state by state, region by region approach.  Most participants thought that the benefits of legally binding arrangements could be exaggerated.  Sanctions for flouting such arrangements were very difficult to identify and enforce.  For example the UN Firearms Protocol was legally binding but ignored by many governments who were parties to it, without penalty.  The issue was one of political will, and provision of resources to help governments who had limited capacity of their own to devote to this problem amid many competing priorities.  So the main focus should be on implementation of existing commitments and initiatives.  The tools were now there. The challenge was to make sure they were used.  For example, 41 states had not submitted any annual reports as required by the POA, and 20 others only one.  A culture of openness about problems common to many countries needed to be fostered, rather than the current tendency of many defence establishments to obsessive secrecy.

At the same time the proposal on the table for a new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was important and had to be made use of if at all possible.  It was not yet clear whether SALW would be explicitly dealt with in an ATT, though most countries now seemed to favour this.  Debate was also continuing about the inclusion of ammunition.  Indeed the whole purpose, scope and nature of the proposed ATT remained unclear, even though the deadline for its conclusion was mid-2012. There were fears that the current consensus-based approach and the need for universality might mean either no agreement or an overly diluted final text.  There might therefore be a need for a “Plan B”, e.g. a less universal approach to start with, on the model of the processes ultimately used for anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, though this should not be explored publicly at this stage for fear of undermining the negotiations before they started.

Meanwhile there were good opportunities coming up for renewed focus on implementation of the POA – the Meeting of Governmental Experts in May 2011, which was going to focus usefully on the practical areas of marking, record-keeping and tracing; and the Review Conference in 2012.  The POA itself was reasonably comprehensive, but new mechanisms to encourage action, such as regular peer review, should be looked at.  Naming and shaming foot-draggers was always useful. Following the model of the UN SCR 1540 Committee on WMD could be a way forward.  Overall the POA had proved a useful instrument.  For example a number of African governments had begun to embrace what it had to offer to help constrain arms coming into their regions.  It had also helped stimulate regional organisations more widely to take a renewed interest, draw up action plans and begin to share best practice.  However there was a risk of losing momentum – hence the need to establish clear priorities such as marking, tracing, and stockpile management. 

The general conclusion was that effective control of SALW was bound to be a long game – 50 years was mentioned more than once – and could never be totally effective in any case since the quantities of weapons and ammunition were so large, and the opportunities for diversion from legitimate uses so great.  We needed to recognise that the standard paradigm, of weapons flowing from developed to developing countries, had changed for small arms, because of developing country legal and illegal production, and transfers between and within developing countries. Nevertheless efforts in effective marking and record-keeping, and secure stocks, would over time make a considerable difference to the ease with which large quantities of weapons could be illegally obtained, especially for new conflicts, and thereby save lives.  Moreover the incidental benefits for law enforcement would be very considerable – arguably more deaths were now resulting from organised-crime-related violence than from conflict.  Effective action against gun trafficking would have significant beneficial knock-on effects in areas like drugs and people trafficking. A risk-assessment based approach could help to set priorities when there were so many possible avenues but resources were always going to be limited.

The conference, with the active encouragement of the Chairman, concentrated particularly on practical recommendations for the next steps.  Not all commanded consensus, but the list is impressive in length and scope:

Constraining the supply of SALW

·         deepen and broaden export controls, including standardising and globalising end user certification, improved end use checking, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking of all SALW shipments.

·         standardise reporting on exports and imports to improve transparency and comparability.

·         increase international cooperation and assistance to poorer states to help them develop effective control procedures, including more extensive and more continuous training. Better donor coordination would also help.

·         take into account the extent of local production, and look at future possible sources of supply as well as the current ones.

·         promote better controls on exports of ammunition, despite the technical difficulties and potential extra costs.

·         make a major effort to improve stockpile management in developing countries, including better training, physical security, report-keeping/databases, marking and border controls ,with donors ready to provide resources accordingly.

·         encourage military authorities to accept more readily the need to destroy surplus/outdated stocks and the risks of keeping weapons which were no longer safely useable, compared to the supposed advantages of appearing to have a big arsenal.

·         engage the arms production industry more intensively in the search for better controls, as well as e.g. the transporters, financiers and insurers of the trade.

·         states to make better use of existing good practice guides.

International cooperation

·         ensure SALW are fully included in the ATT, resist attempts to water down any text, and start working behind the scenes on “Plan B” ie alternative fora or non-legally binding agreements in case the current approach fails. An ATT should not be drafted as a one-size-fits-all document but should allow for specific solutions for specific categories of weapons.

·         keep the focus on implementing the existing POA, and eg improving reporting to the UN Register of Conventional Arms, more than on thinking up new obligations, and help developing countries get the basics in place first e.g. effective export and import controls.

·         ensure international meetings achieve a better balance between diplomatic and genuine expert representation, including from law enforcement and other related disciplines, to avoid wasting time on unproductive debate and impractical proposals. More sponsorship for developing country experts would help.

·         put at least as much effort into regional implementation and cross-regional cooperation and information sharing as into global efforts.  Sharing of best practice between regions e.g. on marking could reduce repetition of mistakes and wasted time.  Not all of this cooperation needs to go through regional organisations themselves – ad hoc coalitions are a perfectly viable way forward, particularly when there is no effective regional organisation, as in parts of Asia.

·         stop “stove-piping” and increase cooperation with and between different international agencies, for example customs and law enforcement bodies, and intelligence agencies, who are too often unaware of international SALW agreements and what lies behind them.

Constraining demand

·         recognise that reducing armed violence in both conflict and crime contexts (and where, as often, the two are mixed together) requires an integrated approach from all relevant actors, including governments, international agencies (UN and NGOs), and donors, and implementation of the basic requirement of security sector reform.  Sub-national initiatives e.g. at city level can often be most effective in combating armed crime. Monitoring levels of armed violence, especially in non-conflict settings, should be improved, and indicators for the success/impact of controls developed.

·         recognise more clearly the links between the illegal trade in SALW and criminal activities such as people and drug trafficking.  Law enforcement and intelligence agencies should put tackling illegal SALW trade higher up their priority list.

·         encourage governments, aid agencies and the international community more widely to accept that security and justice are public goods and basic needs which are an integral part of development and an indispensable condition for it. (This should not be confused with the separate debate about the “securitisation of aid”.)  Aid and other programming should be directed and improved accordingly, in conflict-sensitive ways. The UN had a special responsibility in this area, but governments had to show they wanted this, eg by including security issues in their development plans.

·         promote alternative “models of democracy” to winner-takes-all approaches which fostered conflict, e.g. through greater decentralisation and sharing of power.

·         give a further global push to implementation of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development through the forthcoming ministerial meeting.

·         support the g7+, a group of fragile countries working together, in their efforts to improve state-building and reduce “ungoverned space”.

·         involve UN and other development actors in the ATT negotiation to help overcome current barriers and stove-piping.

In the discussions around these recommendations, the issue of ammunition was one of the most hotly debated.  Many participants agreed that efforts in this area needed to be stepped up – as one participant put it, “guns without ammunition are just sophisticated clubs”.  But many doubts were also voiced: weapons were less numerous, easier to control and track, and harder to manufacture illegally than ammunition – and ammunition without weapons was no use either.  Efforts to control ammunition production and supply could easily prove costly and ineffective, and distract attention from more productive approaches.  The general conclusion was that, despite these concerns, action on ammunition was complementary to that on weapons and should be pursued, including better protection of stocks in developing countries. Ammunition was already on the Wassenaar list. But the issues were to some extent different in ammunition and more expert discussion was needed to understand these differences fully.

If agreed practical priorities could be identified from the discussions, they were marking/tracing and stockpile management.  On tracing it was pointed out that good information about illegal flows of weapons was often lacking, which not only hindered law enforcement efforts but also led to unjustified conclusions e.g. the false assumption that most outside weapons used in Mexico’s drug wars came from the US, as opposed to elsewhere in Central America. It was an area where a big effort was needed to improve fulfilment of national commitments, for example by major players like China and Russia.

Overall, the conference’s answers to the question in the title were positive: small arms could be controlled, at least much better than now, even if total success would always be out of reach; this would produce important benefits of various kinds; and considerable progress had already been made in the last ten years.  But there was a recognition that a clearer narrative about these benefits, and the risks of inaction ie the high levels of death and suffering involved, would help overcome one of the main obstacles in the way of further action, namely lack of high-level political interest and will because of the complexity of the issues and the difficulty of guaranteeing quick results.  Highlighting that IEDs and hand-held missiles were SALW might help engage politicians.

Meanwhile there was a clear fear of loss of momentum in control efforts, and a tension between the need to stick at detailed implementation of what was already agreed and the political requirement for new, “sexy” objectives or commitments. The apparently declining interest in the proposed Arms Trade Treaty was worrying, although pursuing another international agreement should certainly not distract from the need to take action which made a real difference on the ground. 2011 and 2012, with the review of the Programme of Action and the negotiations on the ATT, would be a crucial period in determining how far the small arms control agenda could maintain and improve its place in the struggle for air-time between international priorities, and move beyond sanctimonious diplomatic statements.  Now was therefore the time to step up efforts, including from the vital constituency of civil society, to increase the political profile of the issue. The hope was expressed not only that discussions at this Ditchley conference, and dissemination of this Note, would contribute to that, but also that Ditchley would come back to these issues in a couple of years.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chair: Sir Kevin Tebbit KCB CMG (UK)
Chairman, Finmeccanica UK; Chairman, Defence Advisory Group, UKTI Defence and Security Organisation; Non-Executive Director Smiths Group plc; Visiting Professor, Queen Mary London University.  Formerly: Permanent Under- Secretary, Ministry of Defence (1998-2005); Director GCHQ (1998); Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Intelligence (1997-98).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Kenneth Epps
Senior Programme Associate, Project Ploughshares.
Professor Keith Krause 
Programme Director, Small Arms Survey (2000-), and Professor, International Politics (1994-), The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

Mr Troels Oerting
Assistant Director, Operations Department, Europol, The Hague.

Mr Nicolas Gérard

Political Affairs Officer & Deputy Director, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Lomé.  Formerly: Programme Manager, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
Dr Jacques Raharinaivo 
French Diplomatic Service (1995-); Deputy Director for Arms Controls and the OSCE (formerly Deputy Director for Multilateral Issues and Disarmament) (2008-). Formerly: Assistant Deputy Director for Industry Issues and Strategic Export (2006-08).
Mr Martin Langer

German Diplomatic Service; Deputy Head of Division Conventional Arms Control, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin. Formerly: Various assignments in Berlin and overseas, including Embassy of Germany in London, Baku and Sofia and Head, IAEA Unit, Berlin.
Mr Baffour Amoa

President, West African Action Network on Small Arms; Member, Ghana National Commission on Small Arms; Chair, International Network on Small Arms International Advisory Council; Co-Chair, Control Arms Campaign.
Mr John Pokoo 
Programme Coordinator, Small Arms and Light Weapons, Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Centre Accra (2009-).

Dr Patrick McCarthy

Coordinator, International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS), United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) (2008-).  Formerly: Coordinator, Geneva Forum (2000-08).

Mr Takashi Mashiko

Project Coordinator, UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) (2002-).  Formerly: Programme Officer (UNOPS RESS Kosovo) (2000-02); Project Management Officer (UNMIK) (1999-2000); Analyst, US Congress OTA (1991-93).

Dr Francis K Sang

RECSA Executive Secretary, Regional Centre on Small Arms, Nairobi.

Mr Erwin van Veen
Policy Analyst on Peace and Security, International Network on Conflict and Fragility, OECD, Paris.  Formerly: Security and Development Advisor, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Roy Isbister
Team Leader, Small Arms and Transfer Controls, Saferworld, London (2001-).

Ambassador Sune Danielsson 

Swedish Diplomatic Service; Head of Secretariat, Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, Vienna (2001-).  Formerly: Special Negotiator SALW, Swedish Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2000-01).

Mr Eric Berman 

Managing Director, Small Arms Survey, Geneva.  Formerly: Visiting Scholar, Thomas J Watson Jr Institute for International Studies, brown University, Rhode Island.

Ms Yasemin Nun
Eligibility Assistant, UNHCR, Ankara.

Ms Lydia Good

Technical Adviser, Small Arms and Light Weapons, UNDP Mozambique, Maputo.  Formerly: Programme Specialist, Mine Action, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery Overview, UNDP, New York; Mines Advisory Group.

Dr Mike Bourne

Lecturer in International Security Studies, Queens University Belfast.  Formerly: Project Co-ordinator, major international project to strengthen and monitor global and regional small arms agreements, primarily UN Programme of Action on Small Arms.
The Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP
Member of Parliament (Liberal Democrat) for Gordon (1983-); Member, Joint Committee on National Security Strategy (2010-), Quadripartite Committee on Strategic Export Controls/Arms Export Controls (2006-); Chair, International Development Select Committee (2005 -).
Mr Martin Butcher
Policy Adviser, Arms, Oxfam.
Dr Owen Greene 
Director, Centre for International Cooperation and Security (CICS), formerly Research Director, Department of Peace Studies (1994-2008), University of Bradford.  Formerly: Leader, EU Council mission to Cambodia on co-operation in tackling small arms (1999-2004).
Dr David Hall
HM Diplomatic Service; Deputy Head, Counter Proliferation Department, Directorate for Defence and Strategic Threats, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Previously: First Secretary, UK Delegation to NATO.
Dr Paul Holtom 
Director, Arms Transfers Programme, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2009-); Senior Researcher (2006-).  Formerly: Researcher, University of Glamorgan (2003-06); Consultant for Council of Europe and Saferworld.
Mr William Hughes CBE QPM 
Member, Centre for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, Durham Law School (2010-).  Formerly: Director General Serious Organised Crime Agency, London (2004-10).
Mr Nicholas Marsh
Research Fellow, International Peace Research Institute Oslo (2001-);  Consultant to the Small Arms Survey (2001-); Doctoral Candidate funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence (2005-).

Mrs Alison August Treppel 

Chief, Section on Transnational Organised Crime, Department of Public Security, Secretariat for Multidimensional Security.

Mr Steven Costner
Deputy Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, US Department of State.
Ms Tracy Hite 
Criminal Intelligence Officer for Firearms and Explosives, Public Safety & Terrorism Sub-Directorate,
INTERPOL.  Formerly: Supervisory Special Agent, United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Phoenix, Arizona.

Mr William Kullman III
Deputy Chief for International Affairs, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, US Department of Justice; Chief legal and policy advisor for the United States in areas of firearms, ammunition and explosives.
Major General (Ret) Allen Youngman
Executive Director, Defense Small Arms Advisory Council.