Towards an Evidence-Based Arms Control and Disarmament - Episode 3
Ms Ashley Müller: Welcome to Episode 3, of this mini-series on evidence-based arms control and disarmament, I’m your host Ashley Müller with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and in this episode we speak with Matthias Nowak, Researcher at the Small Arms Survey. He will provide an overview of Small Arms and Light Weapons
Ms Ashley Müller: Matthias, what are the main challenges in dealing with the proliferation of, and trafficking in small arms and light weapons in the world, particularly in conflict-affected regions?
Matthias Nowak: Actually, the main challenges remain the same whether you're in a conflict affected setting, or in a non conflict affected setting just witnessed high levels of criminality and armed violence. It is important to address it is important to understand the scale and scope of the problem in all of these settings. So, for example, how many small arms and light weapons are circulating across the globe? What type of weapons are actually in the hands of criminals, armed actors, terrorist organisations, or armed groups? How do these weapons enter the illicit sphere or how do these groups access these types of weapons? And of course, what type of impacts do firearms circulating across the globe have on people's lives and securities? These are some of the main issues we're looking to at the Small Arms Survey. We know that there were about 1 billion small arms and light weapons in the hands of people across the globe. Actually, nine out of 10 of these weapons are in the hands of civilians. We also know that firearms are responsible for about 37% or 38% of violent deaths across the globe, we know that there's around 600,000 violent deaths each year across the globe. And 233,000 are caused by small arms and light weapons each year. We do know that there's very important regional national variation however, so violence is unequally distributed across the globe. And it depends very much where you live, whether in urban or rural setting, the regions where you live, and also your sex or your age are high predictors of how much violence you might encounter in your life. For example, nowadays, we understand that Latin American and the Caribbean region, suffer some or witnessed some of the highest levels of violence across the globe, in some cases higher than any country at war can witness.
One of the core elements of data that we need to understand and need to address is the size of the illicit market of small arms and light weapons, so how many weapons are being transferred each year. Because weapons for the most part, start the lifecycle in the licit sphere, a legal producer, fabricates them, and hands them over through a licit transfer or legal transfer, an authorised transfer to an authorised end user. However, at some point of the lifecycle of these weapons, these weapons might become illicit and being used to illicit ends. In 2016, the Small Arms Survey estimates the global markets to be 6.5 billion US dollars, which is quite a high figure, it has increased 13% in comparison to our last global study. And interestingly, but not surprisingly, ammunition is the largest bulk of this market. We do know that weapons have a rather long life cycle and can survive decades, ammunition is clearly the one that is mostly needed in the market.
Then, of course, understanding the quantities and the characteristics of the weapons that enter the illicit sphere and are being used by armed actors, criminals, armed groups, terrorist organizations, etc, across the world is a key element of data. For now, our research has shown that the way that weapons enter the illicit sphere are mainly grouped in the following categories. We know that there is illicit trafficking. So weapons that are already in the licit sphere that end up in the hands of illicit users. We know that there's some a lot of hand trafficking going on. So this image of container loads of weapons being shipped to the country at war does hold in certain cases. But we have seen also that the vast majority of illicit transactions, or illicit flows across the world take place in hand-trade format, small quantities being transported by a small number of actors. Diversion does occur during authorised international transfers, meaning that weapons can either be diverted from the legally authorized transaction between country A and country B. But in some cases also false information of the end user is provided or we also know that after the transfer, of course, it is immediately being re-transferred to an unauthorised end user. We also know that illicit production of small arms takes place. We call that either craft production or artisanal production. This can be crude and rudimentary in small, not very modern, let's say, workshops. Some of these craft production, however, are very, very high level and sophisticated production of weapons that look like a manufactured weapon by an official factory. And then the recirculation of small arms of illicit small arms, is quite an important issue. Given the provided this long lifecycle of the weapons, we do see that a lot of these weapons can be used in one conflict. When this conflict ends, they will be captured by interested actors, and being re-transferred to another theatre of war or another place where just serious instability or insecurity, and the weapon continues its illicit lifecycle or its illicit life. Therefore, it's very important to understand this particular bit of the problem, and make sure that when a conflict ends, and the peace deal is being negotiated, that the disarmament aspect, is really well studied and well dealt with.
This modern survey looks to generate policy relevant data on these aspects in different ways, and applying different methods. For example, we have conducted their study in the Central African Republic to understand the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons, but within the civilian population. So this was not a mapping of the weapons of the armed groups, but proliferation of weapons within the civilian population. In this case, we apply key informant interviews, focus group discussions in the field with the communities that we were interested in consulting, we inspect also weapons that are being seized by different Armed Forces be it the United Nation Peacekeeping Operation or being national security and defence forces. With these different methods, we can aim at understanding what's going on, what is in the hands of the civilian population, how sophisticated or how modern are these weapons, we can also approach a little bit or gain an understanding of where the weapon might be sourced from. Interestingly, we found that the weapons are being sourced in multitude of sources and the multitude of countries within or outside the region, in general. But for a particular case of 12 gauge shotgun ammunition being used mostly in weapons at use of the Anti Balaka Group. Most of these were sourced within the neighboring Congolese Manufacture d’Armée de Cartouche and being brought over again, and trafficking small loads being brought to the country by pandas or by foot, by individuals.
Other contexts in which we have applied these types of methods, were, for example, border regions between Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and Mali, where we looked at the mechanics of illicit arms trafficking within this region. And again, we found that end trafficking makes the bulk of the illicit transactions within that sub region in particular, and trafficking hands small scale Indeed, it is a few actors transporting a limited number of weapons or ammunition. But however, we do know that there are a vast amount of these actors transporting a constantly small amount of weapons across the border. So this type of illicit flow is still quite important. Now, another method that we also have applied to understand what is proliferating, what is circulating, how the issue could be addressed, how do populations suffer from this topic is household surveys, household surveys are an interesting tool because they allow us to generate statistically representative data at the national level based on general population perceptions or experiences with small arms or armed violence, this type of data can be used then also to design policy or be used as a baseline assessment to monitor and evaluate programmes and projects again at the national level. Now, what is key in understanding this problem and that the challenges that it represents is that it's a complex issue, it is often hidden, and very context specific. So our take on this is to generate policy relevant data, but based on a multitude of resource of research methods, combining and comparing the different research results that we gain, to try to generate the most accurate as possible, or at least the most context specific possible data and research products that then can be used by different actors interested in this data. As an example, I can cite the Central African Republic, where we did this mapping of arms proliferating among civilians, where this was based on a request from the national authorities in comparative in collaboration, of course, with the United Nations mission, to create a baseline that will then directly inform the National Small Arms and Light Weapons strategy, strategic plan, and the national action plan that would address this issue. So this was an interesting take where such research is being taken up directly by the policymakers at the national level and being used to try to address the issue with context specific and of course realistic measures and adapted to the problem that they were going through. But that's a little bit the way we try to inform policy and generate data that is relevant.
Ms Ashley Müller: That’s all we have now for this episode. Thank you to Matthias Nowak for joining us for this mini-series. Click the next button to listen to Episode 4 where we discuss good practice of Parliaments in arms control and disarmament affairs. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow us on Spotify or iTunes or subscribe to us on your favourite podcast player and follow us across all of our social media platforms.