The New Business Of War: Small Arms and the Proliferation of Conflict [Full Text]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 15.1 (Spring 2001)

May 4, 2001

The proliferation of internal conflicts fueled by small arms poses a grave threat to peace, democracy, and the rule of law. The weapons of choice in today's conflicts are not big-ticket items like long-range missiles, tanks, and fighter planes, but small and frighteningly accessible weapons ranging from handguns, carbines, and assault rifles on up to machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and shoulder-fired missiles. In conflict zones from Colombia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, picking up a gun has become the preferred route for generating income, obtaining political power, and generating "employment" for young people, many no more than children, who have little prospect of securing a decent education or a steady job. Ending the cycle of violence fueled by small arms must become a top priority for the international community. No single treaty or set of actions, however, will "solve" the problem of light weapons proliferation. What is needed is a series of overlapping measures involving stricter laws and regulations, greater transparency, and innovative diplomatic and economic initiatives. If efforts to deal comprehensively with the supply and demand factors fueling the trade in small arms and light weapons are sustained and expanded over the next decade, rampant small arms proliferation can be contained.