Conventional weapons issues

"Since the adoption of the Programme of Action, States have nationally and collectively demonstrated their steadfast commitment to working together, within a multilateral framework, to address the accumulation and proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons. I am delighted to note the progress so far. But we must not relax our efforts to combat the scourge of illicit small arms and light weapons, which continue to kill, maim and displace scores of thousands of innocent people every year."1
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General


Issues related to the regulation and reduction of conventional arms and armed forces have been on the disarmament agenda of the United Nations since its creation.2 In the 1950s, the General Assembly dealt with disarmament in the context of ways and means to achieve the regulation, limitation and balanced reduction of all armed forces and all armaments and to achieve general and complete disarmament. In 1999, the Disarmament Commission adopted guidelines on conventional arms control with an emphasis on practical disarmament measures. 3
In the 1980s, the need to address conventional disarmament in a systematic way led to negotiations that resulted in the conclusion, in 1981, of the first global agreement on conventional weapons, the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW).4 The CCW, motivated by both disarmament and humanitarian causes, was concluded as an "umbrella" treaty5 to which additional specific agreements could be attached in the form of protocols. Three such protocols were concluded at its outset.6 The First Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, held in 1995-1996, adopted the amended Protocol II7 and a new Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV).8 By the end of 2004, there were 95 States Parties to the Convention. The 2001 Second Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW decided to commission follow-up work on the decisions arising from the Conference. Pursuant to that decision, an open-ended Group of Governmental Experts was established to address the issue of explosive remnants of war (ERW) as well as mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM). After two years of intensive negotiations, the GGE concluded a Protocol on ERW which was annexed to the CCW as Protocol V.
Following the end of the cold war in the early 1990s, the international community was confronted with the eruption of intra-State conflicts in many parts of the world in which small arms and light weapons (SALW) were the weapons of choice. This led Member States and the United Nations system to initiate efforts to curb the excessive and destabilizing accumulation and the uncontrolled transfers of these weapons. In the late 1990s, the General Assembly mandated three expert studies on the matter.9 In 1998, on the recommendation of one of those studies, the General Assembly decided to convene an international conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. In July 2001, the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, adopted by consensus the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects10 (PoA). The PoA recommended actions to be undertaken at the national, regional and global levels, as well as a follow-up process to the July 2001 conference. In 1998, the Secretary-General designated the Department of Disarmament Affairs (DDA or the Department) as the Organization's focal point for small arms. Subsequently, the Department established the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) mechanism, a consultative body with wide membership from within the UN system,11 aimed at ensuring that the UN system as a whole addressed the challenges posed by small arms and light weapons in a comprehensive, coordinated and coherent fashion. Parallel to global efforts, a number of important initiatives were taken at regional and subregional levels to combat the illicit circulation and excessive accumulation of SALW.12 Civil society, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), also contributed significantly to the global efforts to address the small arms scourge. The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a network comprising over 500 participating groups from nearly 100 countries, has played a key role in raising awareness, coordinating NGO activities and campaigning in this field.
In addressing the question of transparency in military matters, the General Assembly established two confidence-building mechanisms in 1980 and 1992 respectively: the United Nations standardized instrument for reporting military expenditures13 and the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.14 The Register, because of its high and consistent participation rate, continued to be the most important instrument in the field of conventional weapons at the global level.
To address the dramatically high number of civilian casualties caused by anti-personnel mines (APMs), in the early 1990s, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian civil society organizations, including the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)15 alerted the international community to this unfolding crisis. As a result, in 1996, Protocol II of the CCW was amended to extend its scope and application to cover both international and internal armed conflicts and to prohibit or restrict the use of non-detectable APMs and their transfer as well as the use of non-self-destructing and non-self-deactivating mines outside marked areas. As the humanitarian impact of landmines grew more apparent, a number of governments, international agencies and the ICBL made collective efforts towards a total ban of APMs, which led to the conclusion in December 1997 of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Mine-Ban Convention).16 The Convention entered into force on 1 March, 1999.
This chapter deals with the issue of conventional arms at the global level and covers small arms and light weapons, prohibition or restriction of the use of certain conventional weapons, anti-personnel mines, transparency measures, and export controls.

1Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the United Nations Second Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA), available from
2See The United Nations and Disarmament: 1945-1970, chap. II. (United Nations publications, Sales No. 70.IX.1), in particular, resolution 41(I) of 14 December 1946.
3A/54/42, annex III.
5See document CCW/CONF.1/GE/5 for a summary of the negotiations leading to the conclusion of the Convention.
6Protocol I on non-detectable fragments; Protocol II and a technical Annex on mines and booby traps; and Protocol III on incendiary weapons.
7 Amended Protocol II entered into force on 3 December 1998. The First and Second Annual Conferences of its States parties took place in Geneva in December 1999 and December 2000, respectively. For the declarations, see . The United Nations Disarmament Yearbook, (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.00.IX.1), vol. 24: 1999, pp. 110-111, and vol. 25:2000, pp. 135-136 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.00.IX.1).
8 Protocol IV entered into force on 30 July 1998. The text of Protocol IV is reproduced in Status of Multilateral Arms Regulation and Disarmament Agreements, (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.97.IX.3), 5th edition, 1996. Also available from
9See documents A/52/298 (1997), A/54/258 (1999) and A/54/155 (1999).
10See document A/CONF.192/15, pp. 7-17 for full text of the Programme of Action.
11The following departments and agencies are current members of CASA: the Department of Disarmament Affairs (DDA), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Department for Political Affairs (DPA), the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Department of Public Information (DPI), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG/CAAC), the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Geneva-based United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), the Vienna-based Centre for International Crime Prevention of the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP/CICP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
12See The United Nations Disarmament Yearbook, (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.02.IX.1), vol.26: 2001, p. 73.
13The instrument covers three categories of expenditure (operating costs, procurement and construction, and research and development) relating to strategic, land, naval, air and other combat forces, central support administration and command, paramilitary forces, and military assistance.
14The Register covers transfers in seven categories of weapons: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.
15The ICBL, created in 1991, is a coalition of over 1,000 NGOs in over 60 countries working to ban landmines. On October 10 1997, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICBL and its coordinator Jody Williams in recognition of the its crucial role in this field.
16The text of the Mine-Ban Convention is reproduced in The United Nations Disarmament Yearbook, (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.98.IX.1), vol.22:1997, appendix II, pp. 227-241. Also available from the Department's web site