Press Conference to Launch Small Arms Survey 2012, ‘Moving Targets’

27 August 2012

Press Conference to Launch Small Arms Survey 2012, ‘Moving Targets’

27 August 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Launch Small Arms Survey 2012, ‘Moving Targets’


Authorized transfers of small arms and light weapons, their parts and accessories now totalled at least $8.5 billion, or more than double the previous estimate in 2006, with ammunition accounting for half that amount, correspondents heard at a Headquarters press conference today.

Introducing the 2012 edition of the Small Arms Survey, entitled Moving Targets, Eric Berman, its Managing Director, attributed the upsurge to procurement, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the arming of State actors.  Additionally, civilian procurement in the United States was “definitely growing”, Governments were more transparent and the Survey had better data.

He explained that Moving Targets was the result of a four-year review of legal international arms transfers, culled from tens of thousands of documents, as well as from customs officials and Governments.  Acknowledging the difficulty in assessing transfers of guided weapons, such as man-portable air defence systems and anti-tank weapons, he said they were not included in the $8.5 billion figure.

He stressed that transparency issues remained a stumbling block despite better knowledge of the global authorized trade.  The Survey had examined 52 countries in 2012, judging them on a 25‑point scale.  Switzerland had been the most transparent, followed by Slovakia, Sweden, Norway and the United States.  At the other end of the scale, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had been the least transparent, scoring zero.  China and the Russian Federation, both importers as well as exporters, were also in the bottom 10, he said, noting that while some of the least transparent countries might not produce weapons, they re-exported and re-transferred them.

Looking at the top exporters, Mr. Berman said that in 2009, the United States had topped the list of 12 countries exporting at least $100 million worth of small arms and light weapons.  Two of them, France and Japan, had reached that figure for the first time, while Italy, Germany and Brazil had also ranked high.

Accompanying Mr. Berman were Pius Wennubst of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland; Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Small Arms Survey Research Director; and Nicolas Florquin, Senior Researcher.  Sponsored by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, the briefing was moderated by Pericles Gasparini, Senior Political Affairs Officer and Deputy Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch.

Ms. Alvazzi del Frate said the Survey looked at trends as well as the impact of firearms and violence, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, and also included a case study on Kazakhstan.  The use of firearms in homicide cases factored prominently in 21 of the 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, where rates exceeded the global average of 42 per cent.  The Survey found that a firearm had been used in 70 per cent of homicides in Central America, 61 per cent in the Caribbean and in 60 per cent in South America.

Handguns were the weapon of choice in most of those cases, she said, noting that data from the United States indicated that they caused approximately three quarters of firearm injuries.  It was impossible to determine which type of firearm caused the greatest number of non-lethal injuries in the majority of cases in that country, but pistols and revolvers topped the list in similar patterns found in Latin America and the Caribbean.  For every person killed by a gunshot, another three survived, she said, adding that each year, an estimated 500,000 people sustained a firearm injury in a non-conflict setting.  Many suffered long-term injuries, including permanent disabilities, incurring a high cost for families and society.

She went on to say that the Survey also looked at the relationship between firearm use and drug trafficking, specifically in Mexico and Brazil.  Official action had been taken in the latter country’s Rio de Janeiro State in 2007, but following the deaths of 19 civilians, as well as condemnation by the United Nations and several human rights groups, the state government had started a new programme to alleviate armed violence.  A clear departure from its traditional approach, the new tactic had focused on specially trained police forces and was generally considered a success, she said.

Taking up the question of piracy off the coast of Somalia, Mr. Wennubst said it had reached unprecedented levels in the last decade, especially since 2008, but the number of attacks had begun to decline towards the end of 2011.  Underpinning that trend were deployments of national naval forces and reinforced mandates that included tracking pirates in Somali waters and making ships less vulnerable to attacks, he said.  The latter effort involved the use of armed private security guards on ships transiting through high-risk areas.  However, reasons for concern remained, including a change in tactics among the pirates.  Previously, they had used weapons for intimidation purposes, but now they seemed to be firing in a “much more systematic” way, he said, noting also that the perpetrators used a variety of weapons, from machine guns to long-range sniper rifles, while policies on the use of force by armed guards were inconsistent.

He said that in the context of illicit arms — weapons produced, transferred, held or used in violation of national or international law, particularly those obtained or used by non-State actors — the Survey looked at Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.  From more than 1,500 seized weapons caches in the latter two countries, as well as several hundred seized in Somalia, a database had been created and now included more than 80,000 firearms, light weapons and ammunition rounds.  Most of the seized weapons in all three countries were old, usually of Soviet or Chinese design from 20 to 30 years ago, he said.  Very few had been latest-generation systems, except those reportedly of Iranian origin.  In Iraq, almost one third of the 900 weapons identified as Iranian had been manufactured since 2003.  Few man-portable air defence systems or anti-tank guided weapons had been recovered, the most recent, from the 1990s, having been found in Somalia and Iraq.

Surprisingly, no modern anti-tank missiles had been documented, given that armed groups in Angola and Afghanistan had enjoyed access to latest-generation missiles in the 1980s, he said, adding that in his opinion, that was due to growing global awareness of the threats posed by those systems, which made it very difficult diplomatically and politically for any producing State to arm insurgents.  However, the research also showed the need to control the availability of earlier-generation weapons because they could also be extremely destructive if acquired in large numbers or used in innovative ways.

Asked about the combined trade value of licit and illicit weapons, Mr. Berman said that arriving at a figure for the authorized arms trade had been a multi-year effort, and the Survey was just starting to look at the illicit trade.  However, the combined figure could be more than $10 billion.  As for the Survey’s position on an arms trade treaty, he recalled the failure to reach agreement on such an instrument at a conference last month.  He added that while the Survey was not an advocacy group, it saw value in what was now “completely unregulated activity”.

When asked if the Survey included information on the role of small arms and light weapons in gun violence in the United States, he said the research did not advocate local disarmament issues, but that the country had the highest per capita arms holdings in the world.  However, the high-profile incidents involving misuse of such weapons did not necessarily mean the United States had the highest homicide rate.

Asked about reports that the five permanent Security Council members had used a no-fly zone to “airdrop machine guns” into Libya, Mr. Wennubst said researchers were trying to document the specific types of weapons and ammunition remaining in that country, where “vast amounts of Government stockpiles were looted”.  Arms had indeed flowed in from international sources, and the threats and proliferation risks were being assessed.  A human security baseline assessment project undertaken in Sudan and South Sudan had not been able to document activity along those countries’ borders with Libya, he added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.