Thousands of civilian lives continue to be lost because of illicit small arms and the use in urban areas of explosive weapons designed for open battlefields. New weapon technologies are intensifying risks in ways we do not yet understand and cannot even imagine. We need a new vision for arms control in the complex international security environment of today.
Developments and trends, 2019
The challenges posed by conventional arms—their illicit trade, their accumulation and their proliferation—persisted through 2019. Of equal significance were the immediate, direct impacts of addressing, or failing to address, those challenges. In the context of conventional arms, the international community’s efforts to accomplish the Secretary-General’s vision of “disarmament that saves lives” resulted in varying levels of progress, setbacks and stasis, as in previous years.
Global sales of arms and military services increased again in 2019, reaching a level almost 50 per cent higher than in 2002, and an independent analysis found that arms flows to the Middle East had almost doubled over the previous five years. While the global authorized small arms trade recorded its highest sales since 2001, the transparency of States in that area was in decline.
Meanwhile, States parties to the Arms Trade Treaty focused on gender and gender-based violence as a priority theme for their sixth Conference. They also addressed continuing concerns about the timely submission of reports and unpaid contributions, as well as the need for the Treaty’s universalization.
In the context of ammunition management, States continued to pay increased attention to the issue of conventional ammunition as a stand-alone matter of concern. During the year, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) organized informal consultations, regional outreach activities and seminars, which were convened to inform and facilitate the work of a new group of governmental experts on “problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus”. The group was scheduled to begin work in January 2020. Building on informal consultations convened in 2018 in the framework of General Assembly resolution 72/55 of 4 December 2017, States actively engaged in three informal consultations organized by Germany, the resolution’s main sponsor. They were held in February, May and September 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
In another development on the issue of ammunition, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining established the Ammunition Management Advisory Team to provide technical assistance to interested States in accordance with the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines, including under the quick-response mechanism of the United Nations SaferGuard Programme. The Advisory Team was established to enhance State and regional action on safe and secure management of ammunition and to facilitate effective and sustainable international cooperation and assistance.
The Security Council, for its part, remained seized of the issue of small arms and light weapons, including the role of weapons and ammunition management in support of peace operations. In December, the Secretary-General issued his sixth biennial thematic report on small arms and light weapons to the Council, providing an overview of relevant trends and developments in that area over the previous two years. In that regard, particular emphasis was placed on the prioritization of “disarmament that saves lives”, including a call for enhanced efforts on small arms and light weapons at the national level. The Secretary-General concluded that the destabilizing accumulation, illicit transfer and misuse of small arms and light weapons continued to initiate, sustain and exacerbate armed conflict and pervasive crime.
Reporting by Member States to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and in the United Nations Report on Military Expenditures trended downwards from the previous year, underscoring a decade of marked decline. Encouragingly, however, the proportion of States reporting transfers of small arms and light weapons as part of their reporting to the Register held generally steady, at 73 per cent. A recommendation on small arms and light weapons in that context was, in fact, one of the key outcomes of the 2019 Group of Governmental Experts on the Register (for more information on the Group, see p. 105).
The increasing attention to the gender dimension of conventional arms issues represented a continuing and welcome trend in 2019. That was reflected in, for example, the strong gender-relevant language and discussions during the fifth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, as well as in the framework of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons. The focus has now shifted to supporting States in their implementation efforts of those international commitments. (For more information on gender and disarmament, see chapter VI.)
In addition, the Office for Disarmament Affairs partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to launch the Saving Lives Entity, a facility designed to support Member States in tackling illicit small arms and light weapons as part of a comprehensive approach to sustainable security and development. The aim was not only to address specific problems, but also to change cultural attitudes and perceptions regarding small arms, including resistance to women’s involvement in decision-making and conflation of masculinity with gun ownership. As at the end of 2019, work was under way to identify initial pilot activities to be carried out under the facility.
The continued development of the Modular Small-arms-control Implementation Compendium included planning for new modules and the translation of existing modules. The growing availability of modules in languages other than English continued to be seen as critical to the overall function of the Compendium by providing increased access to the best expert advice on small arms in succinct operational terminology.