Conventional weapons kill the most civilians, yet remain under-regulated

The statue outside of The International Disarmament Institute, on Pace University’s NY Campus. The statue outside of The International Disarmament Institute, on Pace University’s NY Campus. National Today / Accessed from

24 October 2022

The UN’s thematic discussion on conventional weapons included devastating statistics on civilian casualties, emphasizing the urgency of this issue.

In 2021, we broke the record for military spending once again, surpassing $2 trillion and exceeding cold war levels, as the representatives of Norway and Pakistan described. Mr. Hashmi, speaking for Pakistan, continued, explaining how we allocated 150 times more funds towards exacerbating global conflicts than preventing them, creating a detrimental series of arms races that often consumed the “most volatile parts of the world.” On ammunition alone, the world spent $15 billion, which the representative for Peru stressed was “enough bullets to kill almost twice the number of inhabitants of the planet.”

Conventional weapons received the most resources and subsequently resulted in the most significant number of deaths during armed conflict, as described by Mr. Rydning, from Norway. He continued to present that civilians are at the center of these weapons’ wrath—accounting for 90% of those killed by explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA)—and are the common victims of crimes made possible through illegal arms trades. By participating in arms races, these weapons’ producers are “enriching themselves,” at the cost of human lives, Cuba’s representative stated. A quote from Pope Francis shared by the Permanent Observer for the Holy See reflects on this harsh reality: 

“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money:  money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

The representative for Nigeria spoke on behalf of the African Group, expressing the deep impacts that the illegal arms trade has produced across Africa, which is at “the forefront…and [has] suffered the most.” Weapons are produced outside of Africa and traded with illegally armed groups, who have carried out over 300 terrorist attacks across the continent in the first three months of 2022 alone, as explained by Ghana’s representative. He also emphasized that more than half of these attacks took place in the West African subregion, where civilians face widespread violence and thousands of casualties have been reported in recent years.

Belize, representing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), also spoke about the impacts of the arms trade in their region. Illegal firearms are the weapon of choice and makeup 70% of all homicides in the area. However, the Caribbean does not produce or largely import firearms, “yet its citizens [bear] the brunt of their deadly impact.” Israel’s representative described the arms trade in the Middle East as armed groups using civilians as “human shields.”

Concerns about EWIPA, including anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, were also raised. The Russian Federation was once again condemned for its actions in Ukraine, as the representative of the European Union (EU) drew attention to the numerous attacks in liberated areas. The speaker for Azerbaijan highlighted the crisis in their nation, as it has become “one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in the world.” Weapons were planted by Armenia across their 30-year military occupation, and have resulted in over 3,300 civilian deaths throughout this time. Azerbaijan forces have neutralized over 67,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines, which only account for 4% of the land subjected to mine action.

Addressing conventional weapons is as urgent as any other weapons, as expressed by the observer for the State of Palestine: “Weapons of mass destruction pose an existential threat to humanity, but it is conventional weapons that kill most civilians around the world.” Similar to nuclear weapons, disarmament of conventional weapons lies in the hands of certain countries that are “perpetuating their power,” as described by the representative of Peru. Countries whose civilians are harmed pick up the burden of trying to fix the problem, yet are faced with fighting the power of states in control. This frustrating pattern was explained by Mr. Davis, representing Jamaica, “We cannot keep mopping up the damage, while the pipeline keeps leaking.” 

Senegal’s representative called for conventional weapons to be equated with other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Considering that they produce the most deaths in conflict zones, he argued that small arms and light weapons should be included in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, alongside the pre-existing seven categories. Furthermore, per the EU’s statement, mines are another issue that should fall highly on the agenda for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Numerous states mentioned regulation measures, including but not limited to—the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Political Declaration on EWIPA, Mine Ban Convention, and Arms Trade Treaty—encouraging others to join and support these efforts.

Resolutions posed during this thematic discussion reflect a dedication to this issue, but still face the tasks of ratification and, most importantly, proper implementation. Colombia, El Salvador, South Africa, and Japan are some of the nations that worked towards and supported a draft resolution on “illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons.” Additionally, the Republic of Korea submitted a resolution for the Arms Trade Treaty while Australia and France co-sponsored a resolution on improvised explosive devices. Considering the widespread fatal consequences of conventional weapons, it is hoped that the UN will work towards adopting these resolutions: for the sake of innocent civilians across the globe.


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by Nicole Piusienski


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