Examining the Role of Conventional Arms Control in Preventing Conflicts and Building Peace

November 12th, 2018

On 25 October 2018, the International Peace Institute (IPI), the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations hosted a First Committee side event entitled “Examining the Role of Conventional Arms Control in Preventing Conflicts and Building Peace”.

Mr. Jake Sherman, Director of the Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations at IPI and the event’s moderator, said the aim of the panel discussion was to better understand the role and impacts of conventional arms in communities as well as to better identify, utilize and integrate conventional arms control measures into conflict prevention. He then invited the panel’s five other speakers to reflect on these issues.

H.E. Mr. Yasuhisa Kawamura, Deputy Representative of Japan to the United Nations, voiced concern that small arms and light weapons are responsible for at least 500,000 deaths each year, more than double the number of victims from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings combined. He said the misuse and illicit transfer of such weapons lead to countless human rights violations, including sexual violence and the forced recruitment of children by armed groups. Small arms and light weapons also prolong and intensify conflicts and hinder humanitarian aid, reconstruction and development in post-conflict areas, he added. Therefore, it is imperative for the international community to enact adequate regulations and controls to reduce further armed violence involving the misuse of these types of weapons, Ambassador Kawamura said. He concluded by noting that Japan welcomes and supports the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda, “Securing Our Common Future”.

H.E. Mr. Aidan Liddle, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, added that conventional arms control instruments are clearly relevant in the security sector and to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this context, he stressed that United Nations disarmament efforts require better integration with other peace and security activities, particularly in the area of mediation. He emphasized a need for closer connections between intergovernmental disarmament processes in Geneva and New York as well as for more effective Security Council actions on arms control and prevention.

Dr. Renata Dawn, Director of UNIDIR, reflected on her years working at the United Nations, previously on prevention and peacekeeping and now on of arms control. She said that people involved in different parts of the peace and security field are not communicating enough about the issues and challenges they face in their respective “worlds”, including with regard to arms control.

Mr. Thomas Kontogeogos, Chief of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said his office assigns high priority to addressing the ongoing proliferation and illicit trade of small arms and light weapons. He noted a 2018 Small Arms Survey finding that 85 per cent of the world’s 1 billion firearms are in the hands of civilians while only 2 per cent are owned by law enforcement agencies, and he added that more non-State armed groups have emerged in the last 7 years than in the prior 70 years. He said there is a need to holistically address trends of arms proliferation, fragmentation and diversification, as well as the growing challenge posed by non-State armed actors in peacekeeping operations.

Ms. Allison Pytlak, Programme Manager at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, stressed the importance of involving civil society in activities that deal with prevention and arms control. People in civil society are “natural stakeholders in maintaining peace and preventing conflict”, she said, adding there is a need to further examine how to integrate small arms control and peacebuilding into conflict prevention initiatives. Ms. Pytlak stressed that many peace organizations recognize arms control as an important factor in economic development, and she identified several initiatives by NGOs to deal with arm controls at the local level:

  • In South Africa, the organization Gun Free South Africa carries out youth initiatives and political campaigns with the aim of making communities safer through the establishment of gun-free zones; and
  • In Burundi, women’s organizations are joining a radio campaign in support of arms control efforts.

Ms. Alexandra Fong, Senior Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, called for more attention to the role of arms control in preventing conflict.

“We have traditionally thought of conventional arms control measures as integral to crisis management and to conflict resolution, and we tend to link the presence of arms as symptoms of conflicts, not as enablers,” Ms. Fong said. As she concluded, the speaker said conflict is the major obstacle to achieving the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. Himayu Shiotani, Programme Lead of UNIDIR’s Conventional Arms Programme, shared the following messages and reflections:

– Progress, development and human rights are linked to the regulation of arms and ammunition;

– Professionals in the peace and security field must act to keep up with developments in the evolution of conflict, including illicit production of weapons on an industrial scale and the growing technological sophistication of many armaments; and

– It is necessary to devise alternative courses of action in dynamic conflict environments where disarmament and arms control efforts are not possible.

Drafted by Ester Rivarola