Arms Control 2.0: Operationalizing Sustainable Development Goals Target 16.4

November 9th, 2017

On 23 October 2017, the Small Arms Survey discussed its new report aimed at strengthening global implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 16.4, which calls on governments to “significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows” by 2030. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored the organization’s briefing paper, titled “Arms Control 2.0: Operationalizing SDG Target 16.4”, and assisted with a presentation of the document on the margins of the 72nd Session General Assembly.

Glenn McDonald, Managing Editor and Senior Researcher at the Small Arms Survey, presented the paper on behalf of its two other co-authors, Anna Alvazzi del Frate and Moshe Ben Hamo Yeger. Their analysis considers how the implementation of existing international arms control instruments supports the pursuit of SDG Target 16.4, specifically through implementing measures to reduce the possibility of weapons diversion and separate steps to curb illicit arms manufacturing and misuse of transferred arms. In addition, the study addresses the challenge of measuring progress on each of these fronts in relation to achieving Target 16.4 and other related SDGs.

The report includes several key findings on these matters, and McDonald noted its emphasis on the importance of comprehensive implementation of international arms control instruments. States, he added, can establish synergies between reporting mechanisms for these instruments and reporting and monitoring procedures for the SDGs at both national and regional levels. Additionally, the report calls on countries to  improve their collection of information on the types, quantities and value of illicit arms they seize globally, as outlined in SDG Indicator 16.4.2. McDonald said that collecting higher-quality information on seized weapons will not fully explain fluctuations in illicit markets for small arms and light weapons, but it can shed light on various characteristics of illicit arms networks.

McDonald also recommended further encouraging Member States to improve their reporting practices. In this regard, he highlighted ongoing work by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) to assist nations in providing detailed information in support of SDG Indicator 16.4.2. The briefing paper notes, for example, that UNODC is “developing an annual questionnaire for the collection of information on weapons, ammunition, and parts and components that are seized, found, or surrendered”. In addition, UNODA has revised the Member State reporting template for the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the International Tracing Instrument “to support data collection for relevant SDG indicators, including Indicator 16.4.2,” the report states. These actions seek not only to support Member States with their reporting responsibilities, but also to encourage the establishment of national-level indicators that, according to the report, could “help fill the gap” in information gathering for SDG 16.4.

To conclude, McDonald argued that SDG Target 16.4 will be achieved through existing instruments, such as the Arms Trade Treaty, the Programme of Action, the International Tracing Instrument and the Firearms Protocol, but that current measurement practices under these instruments are relatively weak. He said the collection of high-quality data is one of the greatest challenges of countering the illicit arms trade, but he added that the strength of the SDGs—specifically, SDG Target 16.4—presents an opportunity to greatly improve measurement practices. McDonald said his organization’s report ultimately indicates a need for more detailed data on seized arms not just to meet reporting requirements, but to improve security around the world. He said that improved measurement capabilities could help Member States and the United Nations system to better understand the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons and, more importantly, to better identify how to effectively combat illicit arms trafficking.


Text by Emily Addison