[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]



Dear BurmaNetters and BurmaWatchers,
I reck that  most of you are involved in resolving the armed conflict in
Burma in one way or another and the following article, I believe, will be of
use to you in decisions you'll have to make regarding policies and
activities you may prescribe and do.A rare but insightful article it is.



Julien Moe

Arms control orphans 
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Chicago; Jan/Feb 1999; Michael Renner; 

Start Page: 
Full Text:
Copyright Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science Jan/Feb 1999

Millions of the assault rifles now in the hands of the world's killers
started out as legal weapons. 

SMITH & WESSON, A CONNECTICUTbased handgun manufacturer, used an exhibit of
wares at an April 1867 Paris exhibition to jumpstart its sales in Europe.
When the Russian
government ordered 20,000 Model-3 .44 revolvers (which could be loaded and
unloaded more
rapidly than earlier guns), it spurred additional orders from rival nations.
These European
purchases helped Smith & Wesson weather the severe downturn in U.S. demand
following the
Civil War boom. 

At least since the days of that 1867 exhibit, exports have been important to
small arms
manufacturers. Similarly, economic motives are of growing importance today,
even though a few
years ago it was primarily geopolitical reasoning that lay behind foreign
sales. Then as now,
however, the small-arms market has relied on two pillars: military and
civilian demand-or, put
another way, state and non-state demand. 

                      Enlarge 200%
                      Enlarge 400%

  August 12, 1996: A group of youthful rebel
recruits listening to lectures at a Tamil Tigers
training camp at Vakarai village, Sri Lanka. 

Legal but problematic 

Although they have been overshadowed by the firepower, range, and
technological dazzle of
intercontinental missiles, jet fighters, and combat tanks, small arms are
the weapons of choice in
many of today's conflicts-internal struggles rather than wars between
sovereign nations. 

These weapons belong to a well-established class manufactured bv a mature
industry, but there

is little information about the numbers of small arms and light weapons
being produced,
transferred, or stockpiled. And the lack of good data is merely the
beginning of the problem. 

Small arms are the orphans of arms control. Throughout the Cold Var years,
arms control and
disarmament efforts focused exclusively on major weapons systems. In
consequence, there are
no internationally accepted norms or standards regarding small arms. Their
production, trade,
and possession are essentially unmonitored and unregulated-subject to the
ups and downs of
demand rather than international policy. 

Belatedly, and spurred by growing pressure from human rights, humanitarian,
and other
nongovernmental organizations, governments are scrambling to address the
dangers of the global
dispersal of small arms. However, most of the emphasis is on cracking down
on illegal transfers.
The Organization of American States, for instance, passed a convention in
November 1997
designed to "prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit manufacturing of and
trafficking in fireanns,
ammunition, explosives, and other related materials." 

A growing list of intergovernmental organizations is joining the bandwagon:
the European Union,
the Council of Europe, the G-8, NATO, the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in
Europe, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the
Arrangement, the World Customs Organization, the World Bank, and a variety
of U.N. bodies
have all kicked off efforts to address and curb the illicit trade in small

Although these initiatives are important and overdue, there is a danger that
legal transfers-those
approved by a government and not in apparent contradiction of international
lawwill be let off the
hook. Despite the rising concern about the "excessive and destabilizing
accumulation and
transfer" of small arms (the language used by the U.N. Panel of Governmental
Experts on Small
Arms), the legitimacy of officially approved sales is rarely challenged. 

But legal sales-whether conducted by governments or by commercial concerns
with the approval
of governments-spread huge quantities of small arms around the world. This
is true even if we
exclude clandestine transfers from consideration. And because a weapon
produced and sold
legally may at some later time become an illegal weapon, the dividing line
between legal and
illegal sales can be murky. 

It is not always clear what happens after an initial transfer. First,
weapons may be stolen from a
military or police depot and fed into the black marketsomething that seems
to happen with
alarming frequency in many countries around the world. 

Second, they are sometimes reexported to a secondary recipient without
permission from the
original seller. The U.S. State Department recently determined, for
instance, that semi-automatic
pistols and rifles sold to European firearms dealers often end up in places
like Rwanda, the
former Yugoslavia, Algeria, and Turkey, or in the hands of East European
criminal gangs. 

Third, the legal-illegal threshold may also be crossed in the licensed
manufacture of arms. In the

late 1980s, South Korea violated the terms of a license to produce
U.S.-designed M-16A1
assault rifles by churning out greater quantities than permitted and
exporting them without U.S.

Fourth, entirely unauthorized copies are manufactured. The Bonn
International Center for
Conversion's yearbook, Conversion Survey 1997, explained that the Soviet
Kalashnikov assault
rifle was adapted by Israel and sold to other countries under the name
Galil; the Gal in turn was
license-produced as the R-4 by South Africa. 

Fifth, political upheaval in a recipient country can turn past weapon
deliveries from a routine
transaction into a sudden cause for concern. This was the case with U.S.
small arms supplied to
regimes in Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Somalia. For all these reasons, legal
transfers need to be
understood as part of the problem. They not only add mightily to the
weaponization of the planet,
they indirectly feed gray and black markets as well. 

Complex structures 

Both the supply and demand sides of the market for small arms are broader
and more complex
than those for major arms; they involve larger numbers of manufacturers,
dealers, supply
networks, and customers. Major conventional weapons are usually procured
only by the armed
forces of sovereign states, although opposition forces may also seek some
heavier weapons. The
demand for small arms, however, is influenced not only by a state's military
and paramilitary
organizations, but also by guerrilla groups, organized crime, law
enforcement agencies, growing
numbers of private security firms, and individual citizens. 

Private individuals in most societies are permitted to own a variety of
small arms-rifles or
handguns-for hunting, sport, collecting, or personal security reasons. The
U.lN. International
Study on Firearm Regulation, a 1997 survey of nearly 50 countries
representing two-thirds of the
world's population, found that few countries impose a complete ban on
civilian ownership of
firearms-just four countries in the case of rifles, seven in the case of
handguns. Nine nations have
no prohibitions whatsoever. Similarly, the manufacture, import, and export
of firearms is fairly
liberal. The U.N. survey lists 26 countries that export firearms to foreign
countries for civilian
use; 43 reported imports of firearms. It is illegal in five countries to
import any type of firearms
for civilian use, but 11 countries have no prohibition. 

Although military forces have traditionally had access to more powerful
small arms than police
forces or private citizens, this distinction is being blurred. Police forces
are being
militarized-acquiring firearms with greater firepower, partly through
transfers of surplus military
equipment. Private security forces are growing, and individuals are
acquiring more powerful
guns. (This change is taking place only with regard to the firearms side of
the lightweapons
category; higher-end items like light mortars and shoulder-fired missiles
remain principally in
military hands.) 

The scope of international trade 

No one knows the true magnitude of the international small arms trade. The
U.S. Arms Control

and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) estimates that the global trade in small arms
and ammunition
accounts for perhaps 13 percent of the total conventional arms trade,
meaning that about $3
billion worth of small arms and light weapons are shipped across borders
each year. By
comparison, the illegal trade has been estimated at anywhere from $2 to $10
billion. Michael
Klare, a small-arms expert based at Hampshire College in Massachusetts,
points out that
ACD:A's estimate excludes transfers of machine guns, light artillery, and
anti-tank weapons that
could legitimately be considered part of the light-weapons category.
Including these weapons,
the small-arms trade could be $6 billion per year. 

Although these are very rough estimates at best, it is clear that huge
quantities of small
arms-probably millions of units-are transferred each year. Moreover, these
figures are for
military-type weapons only. The civilian market for firearms involves very
large numbers.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, in the United
States alone some
three to five million handguns, rifles, and pistols are offered for sale
each year. 

Although no worldwide data are available, anecdotal evidence leads many
analysts to believe
that the demand for and trade in small weapons continues to be robust and
may even be
accelerating-in marked contrast to the plummeting trade in major weapons
systems since the late

Because there are no production and trade figures, no one knows how large
global stockpiles of
small arms and light weapons really are. A figure that has found a measure
of acceptance is 500
million military-style firearms in worldwide circulation. Ed Laurance of the
Monterey Institute of
International Studies estimates that more than 100 million rifles are
currently in the hands of
combatants or in military depots. 

In all likelihood, civilian-type small arms-handguns and rifles-number in
the hundreds of millions
as well. The U.N. International Study on Firearm Regulation found that in 33
reporting countries,
official figures listed a total of 34 million firearms held by private
citizens. This is clearly an
extremely conservative count. South Africa's official figure, for instance,
is 3.5 million, yet there
may be another five to eight million unregistered weapons. There may be
seven million registered
firearms in Canada, but a total of 21 to 25 million firearms in all. 

How many small-caliber arms are in civilian hands in Russia (official
figure: 3.6 million) is
anybody's guess; anecdotal evidence suggests that vast numbers of
military-style weapons are
"leaking" from the country's stockpiles. 

Not included in the U.N. survey are countries like the United States and
China. In the United
States, anywhere from 190 million to 250 million firearms are believed to be
in circulation. 

Throughout the Cold War, the smallarms supply network was running in high
gear. The two
superpowers provided their friends with vast quantities of light arms,
either at heavily, discounted
prices or for free-and most of these weapons are still in circulation today.
As Michael Klare

wrote in Light Weapons and International Security: "Even today, the arsenals
of many countries
in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are replete with guns, mortars, and
rockets provided by the
United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s." 

Klare believes that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the $62 billion worth
of U.S. military
grants given between 1955 and 1994 consisted of small arms and light
weapons. The Soviet
Union, too, is believed to have given large quantities of small arms to its
allies. In fact, the
Soviet-made Kalashnikov assault rifle (AK-47/AK74) has been sold around the
world in such
massive quantities that it has become the symbol of the small-arms trade. It
is believed that
anywhere from 35 to 70 million units have been manufactured since World War
II. But the wide
range in estimates underscores how little we know. 

Today, the United States continues to provide light weapons as part of its
standard military
assistance programs. In Central and Latin America, it does so through
anti-narcotics programs.
But since the end of the Cold War, the impetus has shifted from geopolitical
motivations to
economic interest. Grants are more and more being supplanted by commercial
sales, either by
government agencies or by private companies. By all indications, large
quantities of arms
continue to be transferred. In "Foreign Policy in Focus," Lora Lumpe, now
with the International
Peace Research Institute in Oslo, points out that in 1996 alone, the U.S.
State and Commerce
Departments approved $530 million worth of small arms exports by private

Unfortunately, detailed data for other important exporters are not
available. But it is clear that
producers in other countries make significant sales. Companies like Heckler
& Koch (Germany),
Fabrique Nationale Herstal (Belgium), Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft
SteyrDaimler-Puch (Austria), Beretta (Italy), and Israeli Military
Industries are important
manufacturers of both military and civilian small arms. Among the most
important producing and
exporting countries are Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, the
Czech Republic, and
Israel. Their pistols, rifles, and machine guns have been acquired by armed
forces the world

Surplus sales 

Another important source-for both legal and illegal transfers-are surplus
stocks. When the
post-Cold War armies of both the East and West began to shrink, many
governments decided to
pass on excess equipment to allies and friends, usually at low or no cost.
The argument advanced
in favor of this practice is that it is cheaper to give these weapons away
than to bear the costs of
storing and guarding or dismantling them. 

But governments may come to regret this narrow cost-benefit calculus.
Western countries
certainly have the wherewithal to withdraw surplus arms rather than feed a
market that attracts
even less scrutiny than the export of newly produced weapons. For Russia, on
the other hand,
surplus sales are part of a desperate struggle for survival. 

In one of the largest of these transfers, Germany gave Turkey 304,000
formerly East German

Kalashnikovs and 106 million rounds of ammunition. The United States
routinely gives away
surplus weapons through the Excess Defense Articles program. From 1990
through 1996,
according to Paul Lansu of the International Secretariat of Pax Christi in
Belgium, that included
200,000 machine guns. Lora Lumpe reports that in recent years the Pentagon's
surplus small
arms have gone to Mexico, Latvia, Taiwan, Bosnia, Israel, the Philippines,
and Thailand. 

Although the end of East-West rivalry has given new impetus to shedding
excess equipment, the
sale of surplus arms is not new. Since the 1950s, the U.S. government has
given away or sold at
discount almost three million surplus military firearms to allies such as
South Korea, South
Vietnam, Iran, and Turkey. 

New producers 

The ability to manufacture major weapons is limited to a fairly small number
of advanced
industrial countries, but small-arms production is far more widespread. This
is the result of both
growing numbers of license agreements and an increase in unauthorized
copying through reverse
engineering. The U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva
identifled nearly 300
companies in 52 countries that manufactured small arms and related equipment
in 1994-a 25
percent increase in the number of countries since the mid-1980s. 

According to Michael Klare, licensed production is taking place in at least
22 developing
countries, 16 of which are also exporting the small arms they churn out.
Prominent among them
are Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Turkey, India, Indonesia,
North and South Korea,
Pakistan, and Singapore. Klare wrote in the April 1997 issue of Current
History that the Belgian
FN-FAL assault rifle, for instance, is being produced under license in 10
Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, India, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, and
Venezuela. Lora
Lumpe adds that Turkey is now able to satisfy most of its small-arms needs
through domestic
production based on U.S. designs. 

In addition to licensed production, new models of weapons are introduced
that are essentially
based on existing, proven models. As Jane's Infantry Weapons points out,
recently introduced
assault rifles produced by Croatia, South Africa, and China may be "traced
back to the
venerable Kalashnikov." 

Old technology, new technology 

One of the reasons that so many countries can relatively easily enter
smallarms production (but
not necessarily squeeze out a profit) is that the technology is
well-established. The first rifle was
invented almost 500 years ago, and although the eighteenth, nineteenth, and
twentieth centuries
have witnessed important inventions and breakthroughs, the industry is
mature. "The basic
infantry rifle has yet to be redefined," as Terry Gander and Charles Cutshaw
of Jane's Infantry
Weapons put it. 

Most of the small-arms trade is in weapons based on decidedly old
technology, but new
capabilities continue to be incorporated. The U.S. Anny, for instance,
announced in 1998 that bv
2006 it will field a new assault rifle (the "Objective Individual Combat
\\;eapon" or oicw) that will

"shoot around corners," pack more lethal power than earlier models, shoot
reliably over longer
distances, and offer more precision through night-vision scopes, laser
range-finders, thermal
imagers, and a variety of electronic devices. Russian, French, Belgian, and
German companies,
too, are pushing the envelope. 

Most manufacturers cannot survive by supplying the military market alone.
For instance, the U.S.
armed forces expect that their current small arms procurement needs will be
met by 2003 and
the oIcw will have a relatively small production run. In the aftermath of
the Cold War, many
manufacturers have placed their hopes on commercial sales-and on selling
arms to police and
other law enforcement agencies. 

Following the reunification of Germany, the German government canceled its
contract with
Heckler & Koch for a futuristic G-ll assault rifle; the company subsequently
became a subsidiary
of Royal Ordnance of Britain. Belgium's Fabrique Nationale has been
struggling with huge debts
since the 1980s, requiring large-scale financial assistance from the
government. In 1990, it was
taken over by French tank manufacturer GIAT (which also bought Manurhin, a
French firearms

While the global market in small arms appears to be robust, there are
important shifts within that
market: the military demand for small arms is not as strong as it once was,
but internal wars and
conflicts, rising crime, and the urge among communities and individuals to
arm themselves for
personal safety or to protect their business assets have set the stage for
strong commercial and
police demand for small arms. Analyzing these trends, Ernie Regehr of
Project Ploughshares
comments in the Armed Conflicts Report 1998 that "perhaps the most prominent
feature of contemporary warfare is not that it is a case of the
militarization of civil conflict, but
rather a case of the demiltarization of armed conflict.... 

"Civilians are the primary victims of war, but they have also become the
principal combatants.
Modern combat technology-notably small arms and light weapons-has made
available to the untrained as well as the trained, the amateur and the
professional alike." 

Popular models* Machine guns FN MAG (Fabrique Nationale, Belgium) Used in 74
countries, including
Argentina, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel,
South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria,
Rwanda, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Zaire. HK21 (Heckler & Koch,
Germany) Used in 14 countries,
including Colombia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Sudan. Submachine
guns: Uzi (Israeli Military
Industries, Israel) Ten million produced; sold to 47 countries, including
Algeria, Chad, Chile, Colombia,
Guatemala, Ethiopia, Iran, Liberia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Zaire.
HK MP5 (Heckler & Koch,
Germany) Used in 42 countries, including Argentina, Chile, El Salvador,
Greece, India, Iran, Mexico,
Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Zaire. Assault
Rifles AK-47, AK-74 (Soviet
State Arsenals, Soviet Union/Izhmash, Russia) Anywhere from 35-70 million
produced; manufactured in

14 countries; sold to 78 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola,
Cambodia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq,
Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria. M-16 (Colt, United States)
Eight million produced,
manufactured in seven countries; deployed in 67, including Brazil, Burma,
Cambodia, El Salvador,
Greece, Haiti, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria,
Somalia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan,
Turkey, Zaire. FN-FAL (Fabrique Nationale, Belgium) Five to seven million
produced; manufactured in
15 countries, deployed in 94, including Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Burma,
Cambodia, Colombia, Greece,
India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Turkey,
Zaire. G-3 (Heckler & Koch,
Germany) Manufactured in 18 countries; more than seven million produced;
deployed in 64 countries,
including Angola, Burma, Colombia, Greece, Iran, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria,
Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi
Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey. Gall (Israeli Military
Industries, Israel) Used in 14
countries, mostly in Central and South America. AUG (Steyr, Austria) Used in
11 countries, including
Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia. Pistols FN 35 (Fabrique Nationale, Belgium)
Used in 35 countries.
M92/M34 (Beretta, Italy) Used in 15 countries. *The number of countries in
which these weapons are in
use include only those whose national armed forced are outfitted with them.
In many countries,
guerrilla forces, law-enforcement agencies, organized crime, and other
groups may also have one or
the other model in their possession. 
[Author note]
Michael Renner is a senior researcher for the Worldwatch Institute in
Washington, D.C.