Small arms – the main tool of terrorists

5973579115_77e3abd3dd_mThe flow of many types of weapons to Gaza has not been interrupted by Israeli efforts. A recent work made by the U.N, puts a focus on the problem of small arms in the world and their use by terrorists.

According to the work, Insurgents, armed gang members, pirates, and terrorists – they can all multiply their force through the use of unlawfully acquired firepower. The illicit circulation of small arms, light weapons and their ammunition destabilizes communities, and impacts security and development in all regions of the world.

Contemporary armed conflict is the main cause of people fleeing their homes, and is now the most common cause of food insecurity.

Reliable data sets on small arms can only be built if countries provide information on production, holdings, trade, legislation and use. But of all transparency measures on weapons systems, those on small arms are the least developed. According to the Small Arms Survey, “more is known about the number of nuclear warheads, stocks of chemical weapons and transfers of major conventional weapons than about small arms”.

There are no accurate figures for the number of small arms and light weapons currently in circulation globally. Sources estimate the total to be at least 875 million. The majority of small arms – generally the only category of weapons not falling under Government monopoly of possession and use – are in private hands.

Sources of small arms supplies to areas of crisis and conflict are varied. Domestically, small arms can enter illicit circulation through distribution, theft, leakage, divergence, pilferage or resale. Shipments of small arms to conflict zones from abroad are most often small-scale consignments – a steady trickle of weapons across porous borders. The cumulative destabilizing force of such small-scale trade is not to be underestimated, particularly in unstable regions where small arms are traded from one conflict to another.

The small arms industry appears to be fragmenting, bringing manufacturers closer to potential markets. More than 1,000 companies in about 100 countries are involved in some aspect of small arms production, with significant producers in around 30 countries. Conservative estimates mention 7.5 to 8 million small arms being produced per year.

Licensed production is now a common feature worldwide, sometimes leaving questions as to where responsibility lies with regard to the export of production techniques. Craft production, carried out in private workshops, is practiced in some regions and remains largely outside of control systems.

The vast majority of small arms are sold and transferred legally, but global patterns of supply of small arms and light weapons have changed profoundly over the past few decades. This has complicated controls. In the past, arms markets were relatively easy to survey, with far fewer supply outlets and less intermediate activity. Typically, closing a deal and delivering the goods were done by State authorities or Government agents. The use of private intermediaries has become common practice. These actors now routinely arrange transactions for defense industries, armed forces, law enforcement agencies and suppliers to Government as well as private entities, operating in a particularly globalized environment and often from multiple locations.

Contemporary traders, agents, brokers, shippers and financiers may well combine activities, making it difficult at times to distinguish small arms trade from brokering. Governments must assure that the shipments handled through these often complex networks are regulated according to the rule of law.

Investigations of arms embargo violations by the monitoring groups of the Security Council have exposed some international networks involved in the illicit trade and brokering of small arms. These brokers and dealers exploit legal loopholes, evade customs and airport controls and falsify documents such as passports, end-user certificates, cargo papers and flight schedules. Illicit activities by certain brokers and traders – and by the Government officials they collude with – have violated every UN arms embargo, with small arms and ammunition as the main items transferred.

A recurring problem concerning the proliferation of small arms, in particular in zones of crisis and conflict, is the absence of a normative framework for all States to guide decisions regarding arms transfers.


Information on global ammunition flows is difficult to obtain. More than 80 per cent of ammunition trade seems to remain outside of reliable export data. However, ammunition forms a key component of tackling the small arms topic in all its aspects. In contexts of sustained use, ammunition stockpiles are rapidly depleted. Preventing their resupply in unlawful situations should be a matter of prime concern. Furthermore, these stockpiles present a two-fold problem of security and safety – research shows that much of the non-State actors’ ammunition are illicitly diverted from State security forces, and ammunition warehouses located in densely populated areas have exploded in a number of countries, causing thousands of casualties. Therefore, security as well as safety measures with regard to ammunition stockpiles need to be urgently addressed.


Illustration Pictures with courtesy of IDF’s spokesman unit