Arms trade

Arms Arms © Phoo by mofles on iStock

What is the arms trade? 

For a variety of reasons, there is no straightforward answer to the definition of arms trade, primarily because there’s no globally agreed definition of the word “weapon”, secondly because there is no common agreement on what types of activities constitute the arms trade, and thirdly because of the lack of openness and transparency by many arms suppliers and recipients regarding the value and volume of their arms exports and imports, which makes it difficult to report accurate data.

However, arms trade can be broadly defined as the either national or international transferring of several kinds of weapons and munitions, generally from a (sponsoring) country to another. 


How is it affecting civilians?

There is always a terrible human cost caused by a poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and its effects can be noticed in a variety of crimes: in the killing, wounding and rape of civilians – including children – and the perpetration of other serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, in the displacement of people within and across borders and in the endurance of extreme insecurity and economic hardships by those affected by armed violence.

Unregulated arms transfers can destabilize security in a region, enable the violation of the Security Council arms embargoes and contribute to an inconvenient domino effect.


What’s the international community doing about it?

States have primary responsibility for enforcing arms regulation and controlling the activities of arms brokers and dealers operating from their national territory or registered with their national authorities. However, several international organizations contribute to the monitoring of arms trade. In 2003, the Control Arms Coalition was formed to advocate for better regulation of the licit arms trade, an important first step to reducing illicit trade. It helped pressure the UN General Assembly to initiate the negotiations of the Arms Trade Treaty, which was adopted in 2013 by 110 countries, including several legally exporting states. The treaty regulates the transfer of conventional arms ranging from small arms and light weapons to tanks, combat aircraft, and warships. It obliges states parties to assess the risks of proposed arms exports and not to authorize transfers if the risks cannot be mitigated. The treaty expressly prohibits transfers of arms that a state party knows would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and serious human rights violations.




Author: Benedetta Spizzichino; Editor: Francesca Mencuccini

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