No Meeting of Minds on Small Arms


The first preparatory meeting for a UN conference on stemming the plague of small arms ended in disarray in a late night session on March 3 with failure to agree on anything other than the dates of the next meeting.

The week-long meeting was the first of three sessions mandated by the UN General Assembly to plan a conference in 2001 on "the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects." Those last four words are used by advocates of the broad scope to argue that since most illegal arms started their existence are legal products, the two issues can not be separated. A small but important minority wants to keep the conference focused solely on the illicit trade. Most of those advocating a broad scope also argue the issues have to be looked at in the whole context of human rights and social and economic development.

This last point is particularly important for the Global Action to Prevent War campaign. If this position can be maintained throughout these sessions, it offers GAP an opportunity to make its broader case in a formal UN setting.

In the end, the only agreement was to hold the second session in New York from Jan. 8 -19, 2001, and the third session in March at an unspecified location. The dates and venue for the conference itself were not settled: the choices are between New York and Geneva; the dates could be anywhere between June and August 2001. The First Committee, rather than the prep com, may settle the conference date and venue this fall.

The meeting began on a more optimistic note. While it has been clear from the start that there would be disagreement on the scope, most of the opening speeches emphasized common ground, such a the need for a coordinated plan of action to combat the effects of the widespread distribution and use of small arms. Some proposed elements of such a plan that came up in many speeches included the need for stronger means to eradicate the illicit trade, improved regional cooperation, the collection and destruction of surplus weapons after a conflict, a universal marking of weapons to make tracing them easier, and greater cooperation among national law enforcement and custom officers. Any substantive outcome will probably be framed as a action plan, rather than a convention or conventions.


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