The Global Market for Small Arms and Light Weapons
Law of Nationbuilding
Professor H. Perritt
*The above cartoon is for educational purposes only.
Proper licensing has been secured for the purpose of this seminar paper.
WHAT ARE SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT
Despite their world-wide prevalence, there is no universal definition for “small arms” or “light weapons.” In 1997, the United Nations loosely defined a small arm as “one that can be fired, maintained and transported by one person.” It defined a light weapon as one that is “used by a small crew and transported on a light vehicle or pack animal.”
Examples of small arms include: revolvers and self loading pistols, rifles, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns. Light weapons include: heavy machine-guns, certain types of grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, and portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems. They are considered the “weapon of choice” in most conflicts because they are cheap, portable, lethal, long-lasting and easy to operate. They are the subject of many illicit activities, and are exchanged for currency, diamonds, drugs and other contraband. They escalate violence and have been used in nearly every contemporary conflict known to man.  As Robert Muggah and Peter Bachelor, analysts for the Small Arms Survey, a European research institute, report in a recent study, "the durability of small arms ensures that once they are present in a country they present a continuous risk -- especially in societies where there are large accumulations of weapons.... They frequently outlast peace agreements and are taken up again in the post-conflict period"
II. AN ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLE: THE IRA AND THE ACQUISITION, DISTRIBUTION, AND USE OF SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS
Most insurgent groups have neither guided leadership nor the benefit of learning from previous insurgent operations. However, a close examination of another insurgency can offer guidance and insight regarding weapons supply. One particular operation a hypothetical insurgent group should consider is the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”). It is helpful to first study a brief history of the IRA.
A. A Brief History of the IRA and Arms Acquisition
In 1954, the IRA
accomplished its most successful arms raid ever. An IRA group from
First, the British were completely unprepared for such an attack. Second, and most importantly, there was no method of raising the alarm. Ultimately, this incident became a major propaganda coup for the IRA. Afterward, the IRA was able to raise hundreds of recruits.
1962, monetary funds the IRA received from the
The IRA sent men
to look for arms they had buried six (6) years prior. However, many of the weapons in the
the IRA was not part of a larger terrorist network. In fact, to many other insurgencies, the IRA
appeared insular and single-minded. They
did not have contacts outside of
Second, the IRA needed guns and explosives in
large quantities arriving on a regular basis, rather than at sporadic
intervals. At this time, the IRA was a
low intensity conflict with approximately 300 members. In contrast, the Red Army Faction, which has
fewer than 100 members, needs very few arms and can collect them over a longer
and irregular period of time. In
addition, it is fairly easy for the Red Army Faction to acquire arms from
The IRA is opposed
by a dedicated and professional police force and the considerable resources of
the British Army.
great benefit to the IRA was the influx of money
and sympathy from the
purpose of this rumor was not only to get more money from sympathetic
Americans, but also to show
the IRA had to counter the surveillance and enforcement of the British
Government. First, the IRA countered the
British Government by increasing the organization’s security. However, the IRA made a monstrous mistake by
allowing a prominent leader travel to
the Czech disaster, the IRA continued to get small hauls of weapons from the
At this time the IRA also started increasing its own technological skills and began to create its own bombs. However, the quest for weapons continued. 
B. One Success and One Failure
In conducting an examination of weapons acquisition by the IRA, two significant
operations should be noted. One was a great success, the other a complete failure. Both
were funded by Colonel Muammar
1. Operation #1: A Complete Failure
1973, a German arms dealer agreed to transport much needed weapons for the IRA
When the ship was seized, O’Connell escaped, but the Irish government apprehended over five tons of weapons. Subsequently, Colonel Gadaffi, the financial broker of the operation, broke all ties with the IRA. He was angered by the failure and indifferent to the IRA’s cause. Originally, Colonel Gandaffi’s backing was spawned by a personal need to embarrass the British through the IRA’s attacks. After the failure, the IRA did not hear from Gandaffi again for ten years.
2. Operation #2: An Enormous Success
The IRA finally
resumed ties with Colonel Gandaffi after a British policewoman was allegedly
gunned down by a Libyan diplomat in
first, the weapons from
IRA successfully received tons of weapons until one shipment was accidentally
discovered by the Dutch. French patrol
aircraft noticed the Eskund, a ship
registered to sail from
are specific key elements which led to the IRA’s successful acquisition of
weapons. First, the IRA exercised
incredibly tight security. The
organization worked in a complicated cell structure, and each cell was kept
uninformed about the activities of the other.
Second, the Eskund did not go
III. GLOBAL PROLIFERATION OF SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS
There are at least
639 million firearms in the world today, mostly manufactured by the
Mark Malloch Brown, a former administrator to the United Nations Development Programme and current chief of staff under General Kofi Annan stated, “Small arms have an insidious effect on development: by understanding the safety and security of communities, threatening livelihoods, and destroying social networks, they at best hold back and at worst contribute to the reversal of hard-won developmental gains.” The work of the United Nations is important to ensure international peace and security, but it is also the responsibility of its Member States to support and strictly enforce international small arms regulations.
IV. INTERNATIONAL SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS REGULATIONS
Though several nation
states have considered a global arms treaty, currently there are no international
treaties or laws specifically addressing the proliferation of small arms and
light weapons. Under the protection of the United Nations
Charter article 51, “States uphold the right of individual and collective
self-defense.” Article 2, paragraph 7,
also specifically forbids the United Nations from intervening in matters that
are within a
Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan,
stated in 1999 that “small arms are widely used in conflicts in which a high
proportion of the casualties are civilians, and in which violence has been
perpetrated in gross violation of international law.” The United Nations first raised the issue of
proliferation of small arms and weapons on
then, the United Nations has become increasingly involved in post-conflict
measures to ensure the safety of citizens of the state, peace keepers, and
humanitarians who have found themselves surrounded by enormous amounts of
weapons moving freely among combatants, ex-combatants, and civilians. The Security Council also addressed this
In July 2001, the United Nations held the Conference on the Illicit Traffic in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. A Program of Action (“PoA”) was derived by the Member States at the conference with a national, regional, and global plan in the areas of legislation, destruction of weapons that were confiscated, seized, or collected, as well as international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the ability of States in identifying and tracing illicit arms and light weapons. This document also provided provisions for follow up mechanisms to oversee the implementation of this plan. The General Assembly welcomed the adoption of PoA in Resolution 56/24V and supported the Members States’ actions. Though this was a great step towards international arms regulation, subsequent UN statements noted that the Conference “will not become international law and will not result in a legally binding treaty.”
OF SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS CURRENTLY IN EFFECT BY THE
to push foreign arms sales. President Clinton eliminated former President
Carter’s restriction on sales of arms to
In 1995, a proposed bill to tie all
The Arms Control Export Act (“AECA”) establishes procedures for the sale and transfer of military equipment and related services, specifically requiring that weapons be transferred only for self-defense, internal security, and UN operations. The AECA also requires that the President notify Congress either fifteen or thirty days in advance of an arms sale over $14 million.
The AECA is implemented through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”), which is created by the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls. The ITAR establishes categories of equipment that are considered “munitions” and are therefore subject to export controls by the State Department.
The AECA originally contained a mechanism whereby a Congressional veto could overrule the President’s decision to transfer arms to a particular country with a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but this provision was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Currently, Congress may override the President’s decision with a two-thirds majority in both Houses. Specific provisions within the AECA and ITAR function to:
a. Control the export and temporary import of defense articles, technical data and defense services itemized on the U.S. Munitions List;
b. Require export licenses or temporary import licenses be obtained from the Department of State prior to shipping any item, technical data, software or related article providing any defense service as defined in the ITAR;
c. Be administered by the Department of State in consultation primarily with the Department of Defense;
d. Impose extensive record keeping and reporting requirements;
e. Require registration with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls as a prerequisite to obtaining any export authorizations from State;
f. Apply to exports, temporary imports and re-exports of any item, technical data or defense service enumerated on the U.S. Munitions List;
Apply to exports and re-exports of
Apply to foreign persons, as well as
Antiterrorism Laws: Uniting and Strengthening
The U.S. Patriot
Act was passed in response to the events of
Registration requirements for certain foreign people in
b. Limitations on judicial review for detention of suspected “enemies of the State” or suspected terrorists;
c. New regulations affecting information sharing with the U.S. Government by insured depository institutions;
d. New restrictions on monetary transfers to address potential money laundering services
e. Expanded application of the law to terrorism which transcends national boundaries
VI. VI. SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS IN OTHER NATION STATES
The various and sundry small arms regulations across the globe assist in the
proliferation of small arms and light weapons, as there is no common system of
enforcement and many transactions occur across multiple borders.
The exportation of “war arms” requires governmental authorization and an end-user certificate. In contrast, the exportation of “civil arms,” which includes almost all types of small arms, simply requires permission from a local police commander. In sum, the Italian government is hesitant to prosecute arms trafficking violations that do not “threaten the internal security” of the country. For example, in August of 2000, the Italian Supreme Court refused to prosecute a known arms dealer who possessed diagrams and contracts in his hotel room because the weapons had not yet touched Italian soil. 
law allows for the transport of small
arms and light weapons on its ships to countries blacklisted by the European
Union.  This practice encourages a lack of
transparency in arms transfers, and allows
The Export Control Act of 2002 was
designed to bring the activities of UK-based arms brokers under control of the government. However, similar to French law, the UK Export
Control Act does not include arms deals which take place abroad or offshore. Some exceptions are allowed for torture
equipment, long-range missiles, and embargo breaking. The last is especially difficult to enforce
because the Act requires proof of intent, and many dealers do not know where
the final shipment will land. Additionally, since
4. European Union in General
With the expanded European Union, arms brokers find countries with the weakest arms restraints to do their deals. The EU’s first step toward international regulation was the 2003 European Union Common Position on Arms Brokering. Though not a treaty, this common position requires all member states to “take all the necessary measures to regulate brokering activities taking place within their countries.” Additionally, lawful engagement of small arms and light weapons transactions should require written authorization from the competent authorities of the member states. Though strongly worded, this common position only requires nation states to consider more effective regulations within their borders, and does not mention nationals who live or broker abroad.
B. Arabic Nations
Fed by conflicts
that spread across the
the availability and use of small arms in places where fighting has ended is
critically important to
Latin American countries came together
at the “2003 Lima Challenge” where States pledged to review their stockpiles,
destroy surplus weapons and upgrade stockpile facilities. Over 17,575 firearms and 8,000 rounds of
ammunition were destroyed in 2002 in
Accumulation of and illegal trafficking in small arms has intensified conflicts in some regions and caused a gross number of civilian casualties. Much is unknown about this region, but there are increasing efforts to monitor this area. The Chinese government has taken its own proactive stance by creating laws on gun control in 1996 and on the management of exports of military material in 1998. 
VII. THE LEGAL, BLACK, AND GRAY SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS MARKETS
A. Supply: Where has the great influx of weapons in the last 10 years come from?
significant source of the small arms and light weapons problem can be traced to
the days of the Cold War when the
In the last decade, governments’ control of the manufacturing, possession, and trade of small arms has given way to privatized military firms, private firms that sell military services. Privatized military firms sell everything from small teams of commandos to massive military supply operations, and have operated in places as diverse as Sierra Leone and Iraq, and on behalf of many states, including the United States. These private companies also produce most of the small arms and light weapons today. As one recent survey noted, 600 manufacturing firms in approximately 95 countries produce small arms, light weapons, or other types of ammunition and parts. Another study estimated that approximately 385 manufacturing companies in 64 countries produced arms in the 1990’s, an almost two hundred percent increase from the prior decade.
B. How do the Legal, Black, and Gray Small Arms and Light Weapons Markets flow together? What is the Reality of the Global Arms Market?
Globally, the legal small arms and light weapons trade is valued at an estimated $4-6 billion annually, and account for eighty to ninety percent of the total annual value of the small arms trade. At the same time, small arms and light weapons represent only five percent of the total value of legal arms exports. Although this is a small percentage, small arms and light weapons exports account for as much as 90 percent of causalities in armed conflicts.
In addition to this legal trade, there is also a substantial illicit small arms and light weapons market. The illicit market includes sales to recipient countries that have to identifiable legal government or authority…and transfers by governments to non-state actors (i.e. rebel insurgent groups). In addition, there are cases where governments illegally hire brokers to transfer weapons (e.g. Iran-Contra Affair). Such transfers may be in violation of the supplier and/or recipient country’s laws or policies. They may also blatantly disregard international law. Regulating the illicit market is one of the greatest challenges to the international community today.
It must be noted
that the legal and illicit small arms and light weapons trades go hand in hand,
as demonstrated below in
C. Distribution: Moving from Seller to Agent to Buyer to Final Destination: The Difficulty of Tracking Small Arms and Light Weapons
movement of arms entails cross-border shipments and country stop-overs and involves the assistance of customs inspectors,
licensing governments, weapons flights, and even heads of state. The difficulty of tracking the distribution
of small arms is well documented by the United Nations Security Counsel in
panel report cites a 68-ton shipment of Ukrainian weapons to the RUF Sierra
fact that these weapons found their way to
D. Financing the Acquisition of Small Arms and Light Weapons
individual involved the Sierra Leno weapons trafficking scheme was compensated
to ensure their compliance. The
financier was Tatal El-Ndine,
a wealthy businessman from
In addition, loopholes in the international financial regulatory system foster the destabilization of national supervisions and enforcement procedures. The existing global financial infrastructure consists of “(a) small international business companies or trusts, established in jurisdictions of convenience, which establish (b) back account at local financial institutions, which have corresponding banking relationships with (c) major international financial institutions, which (d) move funds willy-nilly throughout the world without regard to the provenance of the funds.” One of the best means of reducing illicit activities, such as the illegal transfer of arms, is to establish accountability and traceability standards for international financial institutions. 
To conclude, in
many parts of the world, the Russian AK-47 is considered romantic. It is a symbol of guerilla resistance and
even appears on the
 United Nations
Department for Disarmament Affairs: http://ww.un.org/Depts/dda (accessed
 Small Arms Survey Development Held Hostage: Assessing the Effects of Small Arms on Human Development
 The United Nations, General Assembly, General and Complete Disarmament, U.N. Doc. A/52/298 (1997); see also: Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied: http//www.smallarmssurvey.org.
U.N. Charter art. 51; see also United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs: http://www.n.org/Dept/dda.
 Marcaillou, Agnes.
“Statement to the UN-OSCE on the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and Light
Weapons in All Its Aspects in
 General Assembly Small Arms Resolution A/RES/50/70B,
 Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied: http/:smallarmssurvey.org.
Security Council 4048 Meeting,, S/PV.4048,
United Nations Millennium Declaration,
 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Traffic in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects:, U.N.Doc. A/COF.192/15http://disarmament.un.org:8080/cab/smallarms/.
 Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. §§ 2778 et. seq. (“AECA”).
 International Traffic in Arms Regulations, 22 C.F.R part 120, et seq. (“ITAR”).
 Lora Lumpe & Jeff Donarski, The Arms Trade Revealed: A Guide for Investigators and Activists 8 (1998),
 INS v. Chadha, 462
 Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, P.L. 107-56, 115 Stat. II 272 (2001) (the “U.S. Patriot Act”)
 A Catalogue of Failures, G8 Arms Exports and Human Rights Violations at 7.1 Production and Trade - 7.4 Law on Arms Exports (2003).
 Amnesty International: Undermining Global Security: The European Union’s arms exports (2003): http:// www.iansa.org/regions/europe/documents/undermining_security/brokering transport.
 The Export Control Act 2002 http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2002/20020028.htm
 Amnesty International Undermining Global Security: The European Union’s arms exports (2003): http://www.iansa.org/regions/europe/documents/undermining_security/brokering_transport.htm
 European Union Common Position on Arms Brokering (2003) http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/cfsp/sanctions/468.pdf
Campaign Against Arms Trade, Death on Delivery: The Impact of the Arms Trade on
 Small Arms Survey 2001, see note 76 supra, at 177.
 Id.at 166.
 Id. at 123; see also Report of the Panel of Experts Appointed Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000), Paragraph 19, in Relation to Sierra Leone, U.N. SCOR, 55th Sess., P 167, U.N. Doc. s/2000/1195 (2000)
Jonathon M. Winer, Combating Global Conflict by
Promoting Financial Transparency: The Utility of Global White List, Paper presented at the
 A World Drowning in Guns, 71 Fordham L. Review. 2333, 2334.