Lessening the Demand for Small Arms and
From the earliest discussions on controlling the spread of small arms, one of the most common analytic metaphors was that, just like the movement of other less lethal commodities, small arms trafficking was a matter of supply and demand. Since the mid 1990s, the formal negotiations at the UN about small arms control have predominantly been dominated by supply aspects, a focus on shrinking the availability of the weapons themselves.
Nevertheless, an increasing number of analysts, policy makers and field organizers have been urging the international community to give equal attention to the demand side of the small arms trade. More than half the world's small arms are in the hands of civilians and are considered valuable tools by those who acquire and keep them. This perceived need won't disappear even if governments can shrink the available supply. And given the very large number of small arms now in circulation, there is always likely to be plenty of such weapons available for people who think them desirable or essential. These realities indicate that, along with efforts to curb the supply, there will need to be parallel and equally important programmes that are aimed at lessening the perceived value of and need for small arms - i.e., programmes that seek to lessen demand. Such programmes have been one focus of QUNO's research and advocacy work over recent years, and this will continue in the run-up to the Review Conference of the Programme of Action on Small Arms in June-July 2006.
What causes demand?
It is often fear of the outbreak of violence, the inability to end active warfare, or the inability to deal with threats to physical safety and livelihoods that lead individuals and communities to acquire weapons. Perceived vulnerability is exacerbated particularly by the inability of the state to provide adequate security and protection through policing, causing people to arm themselves in self-defence. Generally, the root causes of this violence lie in poverty, lack of employment, poor infrastructure and in a social-legal system that does not support people's basic rights.
How can this be addressed?
What are collectively referred to as demand issues are actually a whole range of cross-cutting issues that encompass conflict, development, human rights, post-war recovery and governance. In order to reduce demand for small arms, there is a need to engage in approaches to the above that reduce the perceived need of individuals and communities to resort to violence as a means of guaranteeing security and welfare. Researchers have identified five crucial themes for demand programmes:
- Conflict-Sensitive Development;
- Gender Mainstreaming and Positive Engagement of Youth (recognizing that young males are the most vulnerable to recruitment into armed violence);
- Governance and Security Sector Reform;
- Conflict Prevention, Resolution and Reconciliation; and
- Effective Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of former combatants in post-conflict situations.
Recent research shows that disarmament programmes are more likely to be successful and sustainable if they are designed to take these issues into consideration - see Occasional Paper "Demanding Attention: Addressing the Dynamics of Small Arms Demand", January 2006.