- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

The mounting death toll of excessive accumulations of small arms poses a great humanitarian challenge. Yet, the international trade in small arms remains largely unregulated. In 2001, the United Nations will convene an international conference on illicit small arms trafficking.
Later this month, the first preparatory meeting for the conference will meet in New York. In the interest of saving lives, precious time should not be wasted on modalities. An action-oriented agenda for the conference should be agreed upon forthwith, spelling out objectives, goals and means.
In developing countries around the world, ever-expanding small arms expenditures aggravate deteriorating domestic conditions. Precious natural resources, rather than being means for economic and political empowerment for the many, end up fueling the engines of war and annihilation to enrich the few. The trade in diamonds, oil and precious metals increasingly provides funds for illicit arms purchases and has led to the creation of a dangerous strategic triad of political, criminal and commercial interests.
The excessive supply of inexpensive small arms also heightens interstate conflict. Increasingly, internal instabilities tend to evolve into larger regional wars, putting the nation-state system itself in jeopardy.
The majority of small arms originate in the industrialized North, the majority of victims of these weapons are scattered throughout all parts of the developing world. The primary choice of weapons in 47 of 49 post-Cold War conflicts, these are the weapons that kill most people in most wars.
Small arms are responsible for 90 percent of war casualties. A majority of the 200,000 deaths annually are civilian, most notably children. Africa's regional conflicts alone have caused an estimated 7-8 million fatalities, 2 million of whom were children. Given its role in creating the problem, basic morality suggests that it is time for the North to join with the South in confronting the humanitarian challenge to curb small arms proliferation.
Reductions in small arms requires a comprehensive approach to supply and demand, encompassing a whole range of political and economic measures. Within this overall context, 20 world leaders, including the president of Georgia, the secretary-general of the Organization of African Unity, the former prime minister of India, and foreign and defense ministers of Brazil, Cameroon, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States, have joined together with leading arms-control experts to make a specific contribution to the emerging global small arms effort.
An independent international commission, EPG's overall objective is to assist in efforts to regulate the international trade in small arms. Such an objective will require a constructive parallelism among a range of politically and legally binding instruments. As one building block towards this overall objective, the group's goal is to promote a cooperative regulatory approach built around a small arms control regime (SACR), broad in scope and global in reach.
Small arms control must limit supply and reduce demand. On the supply side such an approach necessitates measures aimed at effectively regulating legal transfers between states based on a principle of responsible restraint, controlling the availability, use and storage of small arms within states and preventing and combating illicit transfers.
Correspondingly, on the demand side, the international community must commit to helping reverse cultures of violence through reform of the security sector and by discouraging civilian possession . Also, reduction measures must be devised to secure, destroy or otherwise responsibly dispose of the obscene quantities of small arms already in circulation.
The weapons of violence must be brought back under the control of the state, with the state itself being made accountable for its deeds. This essentially means empowering the state at one level, and using all tools available to induce more responsible behavior on its part, at another. The two approaches must be mutually compatible. In this complex situation, a sincere abhorrence of covert wars and civilian destruction would prove conducive to putting in place the norms that would regulate state behavior.
The will is undoubtedly there in many affected countries to redress the myriad problems associated with the proliferation of small arms. The moratorium of western African states not to import nor export small arms for a renewable period of three years is an important test case to demonstrate the efficacy of self-restraint. What is urgently needed is sustained support in these efforts from the international community.
Galvanizing international action to this end should be the first goal of the preparatory committee.

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