On 20 October, on the margins of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs held a side event commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA).
The United Nations Register of Conventional Arms was established by the General Assembly in 1991, to serve as an annual reporting mechanism through which Member States can report their arms transfers.
Entitled “25 Years of UNROCA: How transparent is the arms trade?” the event featured an expert panel discussion and a video message by United Nations Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas.
Ms. Sachi Claringbould, representing the Government of the Netherlands said that the latest Group of Governmental Experts (GGEs), which concluded its work in 2016, recommended adding small arms and light weapons (SALW) in a 7 + 1 formula, on a trial basis, as well as adding unmanned aerial vehicles to category IV. Providing nil report was also to be promoted in an effort to increase reporting.
Ms. Claringbould also said that the Register can greatly contribute to peace and security as well as to promoting transparency and trust. Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) remain key, in light of geopolitical developments, globalization, rapidly evolving weapons technologies, and the changing nature of warfare. The need for showing signs of goodwill becomes all the more important.
Though there is a cause for celebrating 25 years of work, this commemoration, he said, is also a reminder of the work that remains to be done. Having more complete information remains a challenge.
H.E. Mr. Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina, Chair of the 2003, 2006 and 2009 GGEs on UNROCA said much work still remains to be done in the next phase of the Register as conventional weapons make up 80 per cent of global military expenditures and world trade. Conventional weapons are regarded as legitimate means to exercise self-defense, and serve as a tacit quid pro quo with prohibiting mass destruction – making transparency in the arms trade the only means of limiting conventional weapons. The main achievement in 25 years of UNROCA has been the normalization of States publicly reporting their imports and exports of arms. UNROCA records now account for the bulk of arms trade: almost all significant suppliers and recipients voluntarily make reports. As a result, it is estimated that well over 90 per cent of the world’s international transfers of conventional arms are reported to the Register. And over the years, 170 Member States have reported at least once to the Register.
Addressing the trend of diminished reporting, H.E. Mr. Paul Beijer of Sweden, Chair of the 2016 GGE on UNROCA, said that a growth in participation should be a goal in and of itself in order to promote the “bandwagon effect” whereby States feel compelled to participate because others are. Quality of reporting is also an important aspect. More emphasis should also be placed on procurement from national production, as it would correct the inherent imbalance of reports between countries that produce weapons and those who do not.
Rachel Stohl, Senior Associate at Stimson Center said that the Register is an important tool for researchers. Official information provided by Governments has changed the way information on arms trade is viewed – it has allowed such data to be seen and analyzed. It has been incredibly useful information that civil society can question, and hold governments accountable for. The omission of SALW is a significant setback, however, with implications on the Register as it means that it cannot represent the majority of weapons traded today. It has also diminished support for the Register among States that believe that it is not relevant for them.
Text by Jihan Abdalla