Securitization of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Southeast Asian Region

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MABAYO, Raisa A. IS 267 – SALW Securitization

01 April 2009 Word Count: 3,560

1 Securitization of the Illicit Trade in

2 Small Arms and Light Weapons in Southeast Asia

Introduction

The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW) is one of the leading issues in transnational crime and sits comfortably amidst a wide range of non-traditional security threats. As a transnational crime, it characteristically operates with complete disregard for national territorial boundaries, thus thriving in this era of interconnectedness and globalization. By themselves, states are unable to manage the spectrum of threats to their own security, neither can they manage the threats faced by their neighbors inside and outside their own regions.

Since 1997, transnational crime has already been recognized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a non-traditional security threat through the ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime.[1] Further securitization of the issue can be attributed to the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. Then UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan spoke of his wish to emulate the success of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in mobilizing governments’ resources against landmines, this time turning global attention to SALW which are, he stated, as deadly as landmines but more pervasive.[2]

This paper gives an overview of arms smuggling, the various threats it poses on man and society and looks at the extent of the issue’s securitization in the ASEAN region. As a significant number of arms smuggling research tackle the ASEAN and its member-states’ inaction on the issue, a section will thus deal with the challenges to securitizing the illicit trafficking of SALW.

An Overview of the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons

The 1997 report of the United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts identify small arms as military weapons designed for personal use, such as revolvers, self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns. Light weapons, meanwhile, are weapons designed for use by two or three persons serving as a crew, although some may be carried and used by a single person. They include heavy machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars of a calibre of less than 100 millimetres. The Panel defined “illicit” trafficking as “that international trade in conventional weapons, which is contrary to the law of States and/or international law.”[3] It noticeably failed to clarify whether illicit transfers refer solely to illegal shipments or if they include covertly directed state-authorized transfers as well.[4]

The global legal trade in small arms and light weapons amounts to an estimated US$4 billion annually. Yet even the legal aspect of arms trade is notorious for its lack of transparency. Only half of the 90 arms-producing countries report their imports and exports to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database (COMTRADE).[5] Around 99% of global small arms production is legal yet through corruption, battlefield seizure and stockpile mismanagement, these weapons are diverted from the legal to the illicit market, which comprises about 10-20% of the global trade in small arms.[6]

The illicit arms trade has an expected annual worth of several hundred million dollars. It falls under two categories, one of which is referred to as the black market, wherein transfers involve clear violations of domestic and international laws and operate without any official or covert government approval or control. Black market transfers are carried out by private individuals or companies whose primary motivation is profit. The other category, known as the grey market, includes covert transfers...
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