Jordan Ryan is Assistant Administrator and Director of the UNDP's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in New York.
25 Mar 2013
We need to better regulate the international arms trade. Today.
Thanks in part to the efforts of organizations like the United Nations (UN) and its Member States, wars between countries are rarer now than at any other time in history.
To be sure, tensions, such as between Pakistan and India, and North and South Korea still exist, yet intense conflicts, i.e. those resulting in more than 1,000 deaths in a year, dropped by half between 1980 and 2000, and continue to fall.
But we can’t celebrate just yet. Armed violence still kills more than half a million people a year.
As participants meet at the UN in New York try to agree on an international Arms Trade Treaty, the widespread availability of guns still causes suffering for millions around the world.
While “traditional” warfare between states is subsiding, new types of violence have come to the fore. Asymmetrical conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan and Syria; inter community violence like we continue to see in Somalia; and violence linked to crime, such as what we are seeing in El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico are becoming new norms in many fragile countries. For every death from a recognized war, there are now nine casualties from a violent gang related or organized crime; fuelled by a burgeoning multi-billion dollar international market in weapons.
I have seen with my own eyes in places like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, how conflict hinders and reverses development, sometimes for decades. The evidence is clear, lax control on weapons of war fuels conflict, and many countries with high levels of violence are unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the looming target date of 2015.
The international community needs to meet these challenges with a revised approach – not only to peacebuilding and citizen security, but also to controlling the arms trade. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already urged countries to act.
We need to close current loopholes, and we need to make it more difficult for warlords and criminals to obtain weapons. A treaty that covers all types of international arms transfers, including gun parts, ammunition, loans, leases, and defence cooperation agreements, is desperately required. And governments who will likely use weapons to abuse human rights need to have their access denied – background checks on a national scale, if you will.
It is ironic that at a time of unprecedented peace between states, many in developing countries are now more likely to live life under the muzzle of a Kalashnikov.
The time has come to agree on an international treaty that saves lives and controls this deadly trade.