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Thursday, May 30, 2002
Peres: Guns don't matter. Scientific American: With a few hundred machine guns and mortars, a small army can take over an entire country, killing and wounding hundreds of thousands

[IMRA: Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israel Radio on the 30 May 2002
morning news program that "people say about Oslo 'why did you give them
guns' - but guns don't matter - what matters are suicide bombers." Peres
made the remark two days after a terrorist with a single assault rifle
murdered three teenagers and another terrorist murdered an Israeli in a
car - also with a rifle.

If Mr. Peres would take a look at the list of terrorist attacks detailed on
his own ministry's website he would find in fact that there are many cases
of Israelis murdered over the course of Mr. Peres' Oslo experiment with guns
that "don't matter".

It is no surprise that Shimon Peres feels uncomfortable when faced with the
sheer destructive madness of his own handiwork. But rather than trying to
be part of the solution, Mr. Peres continues to be part of the problem.
With CIA chief Tenet on the way to the region with the bizarre goal of
making the Palestine Liberation Army stronger and more efficient (so it can
make Israeli security actions more costly?) rather than the goal of cutting
down the size of the Palestinian security forces and turning them into a
domestic police force armed like beat cops rather than paratroopers, Mr.
Peres proclaims that it "doesn't matter" that there are many tens of
thousands of Palestinian soldiers armed with assault rifles.

For that matter, by proclaiming that guns "don't matter", Mr. Peres helps
undermine efforts to press for the immediate disarming of the various
illegal Palestinian militias.

Why dosn't Peres want to put the requirement of Palestinian compliance with
weapons restrictions as the very first task for teh Palestinians? Perhaps
because Mr. Peres does not want reality to interfere with his plans. As far
as Shimon Peres is concerned, full Israeli withdrawal and the declaration of
a Palestinian State is a few Kodak moments away. A declaration here. A
signing ceremony there. A few days that the Palestinians keep their
appetite for Israeli blood to just a "few" murders and its back to the heady
days of "hearing the fluttering of the wings of history".]



A Scourge of Small Arms

With a few hundred machine guns and mortars, a small army can take over an
entire country, killing and wounding hundreds of thousands

by Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael T. Klare

Scientific American - June 2000

Most media accounts of the 1994 Rwandan genocide emphasized the use of
traditional weapons--clubs, knives, machetes--by murderous gangs of
extremist Hutu. As many as one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu perished,
many of them women and children. To outsiders, it appeared as if the people
of Rwanda had been caught up in a violent frenzy, with common farm
implements as their favored instruments of extermination.

But this isn't the whole story. Before the killing began, the Hutu-dominated
government had distributed automatic rifles and hand grenades to official
militias and paramilitary gangs. It was this firepower that made the
genocide possible. Militia members terrorized their victims with guns and
grenades as they rounded them up for systematic slaughter with machetes and
knives. The murderous use of farm tools may have seemed a medieval
aberration, but the weapons and paramilitary gangs that facilitated the
genocide were all too modern.

The situation there was far from unique. Since the end of the cold war, from
the Balkans to East Timor and throughout Africa, the world has witnessed an
outbreak of ethnic, religious and sectarian conflict characterized by
routine massacre of civilians. More than 100 conflicts have erupted since
1990, about twice the number for previous decades. These wars have killed
more than five million people, devastated entire geographic regions, and
left tens of millions of refugees and orphans. Little of the destruction was
inflicted by the tanks, artillery or aircraft usually associated with modern
warfare; rather most was carried out with pistols, machine guns and
grenades. However beneficial the end of the cold war has been in other
respects, it has let loose a global deluge of surplus weapons into a setting
in which the risk of local conflict appears to have grown markedly.

The cold-war-era preoccupation with nuclear arms and major weapons systems
has left those of us in the arms-control community with very little
knowledge about the global trade in small arms (technically, pistols,
revolvers, rifles and carbines) and light weapons (machine guns, small
mortars, and other weapons that can be carried by one or two people). Over
the past few years, however, many of us have begun to examine why these
weapons are so easily accessible and how they affect the societies now
flooded with them. The disturbing findings are driving a new arms-control
movement, led by a loose coalition of the United Nations, concerned national
governments and nongovernmental organizations.

Small arms and light weapons are weapons of choice in most internal
conflicts for a number of reasons: they are widely obtainable, relatively
cheap, deadly, easy to use and easy to transport. Unlike major conventional
weapons, such as fighter jets and tanks, which are procured almost
exclusively by national military forces, small arms span the dividing line
between government forces--police and soldiers--and civilian populations.
Depending on the gun laws of a particular country (if such regulations even
exist or are enforced), citizens may be permitted to own anything from
pistols and hunting guns to military-type assault weapons.


In contrast to the declining trade in major weaponry since the end of the
cold war, global sales of small arms and light weapons remain strong. No
organization, private or public, provides detailed data on the global trade
in these weapons, in part because of the difficulty of tracking so many
transactions (and because of the low level of attention that has been paid
to the problem). Reliable estimates of the legal trade in small arms and
light weapons put the annual figure between $7 billion and $10 billion. A
large but unknown quantity of small arms--worth perhaps $2 billion to $3
billion a year--is traded through black-market channels. Because data are so
scarce, comparing these numbers to those for small-arms exports during the
cold war is difficult. But studies in southern Africa and the Indian
subcontinent do indicate that during the 1990s the availability of modern
assault rifles increased considerably.

Governments transfer vast quantities of small arms, either through open,
acknowledged military aid programs or through covert operations. And as the
size of their militaries has dwindled, Western and ex-Communist countries
have sold off their excess weapons to almost any interested party. Most
arms, though, are sold by private firms on the legal market through ordinary
trade channels. Although such sales are supposedly regulated, few countries
pay close attention. The U.S. probably has some of the strictest controls,
but even so, it sold or transferred $463 million worth of small arms and
ammunition to 124 countries in 1998 (the last year for which such data are
available). Of these countries, about 30 were at war or experiencing
persistent civil violence in 1998; in at least five, U.S. or U.N. soldiers
on peacekeeping duty have been fired on or threatened with U.S.-supplied

We have few data on the quantity or dollar value of small arms sold by other
manufacturers. Based on existing weapons inventories of military and police
forces around the world, though, certain major suppliers can be identified:
Russia (maker of the AK-47 assault rifle and its derivative, the AK-74),
China (maker of an AK-47 look-alike known as the Type 56 rifle), Belgium
(FAL assault rifle), Germany (G3 rifle), the U.S. (M16 rifle) and Israel
(Uzi submachine gun).

Common small arms such as the AK-47 are cheap and easy to produce and are
extremely durable. Manufactured in large quantities in more than 40
countries, they can be purchased at bargain-basement prices in many areas of
the world. In Angola, for instance, a used AK-47 can be acquired for as
little as $15--or a large sack of maize. Cost is a crucial factor: many of
the belligerents in these internal battles are poor and have often been
barred from the legal arms market. As a result, they consider cheap small
arms and light weapons, perhaps traded illegally, to be their only option.

The proliferation of automatic rifles and submachine guns has given
paramilitary groups a firepower that often matches or exceeds that of
national police or constabulary forces. Modern assault rifles can fire
hundreds of rounds of ammunition per minute. A single gunman can slaughter
dozens or even hundreds of people in a short time. With the incredible
firepower of such arms, untrained civilians--even children--can become
deadly combatants. Unlike the weapons of earlier eras, which typically
required precision aiming and physical strength to be used effectively,
ultralight automatic weapons can be carried and fired by children as young
as nine or 10 [see "Children of the Gun," on page 60].

Although the figure of $10 billion spent on small arms and light weapons
each year may seem insignificant when compared with the roughly $850 billion
spent annually on military forces around the world, the money for light
weapons has had a hugely disproportionate impact on global security. In
addition to ravaging so many countries, the arms have drastically increased
the demands placed on humanitarian aid agencies, U.N. peacekeepers and the
international community. To cite but one statistic, international relief aid
for regions in conflict increased fivefold during the 1990s, to a high of $5
billion a year. At the same time, long-term development aid dropped overall.
Short-term remedies have replaced more lasting cures for the worst ills of
poverty, deprivation and war. Moreover, armed militias equipped with but a
few thousand assault rifles have erased the benefits of billions of dollars
and years of development effort in many poor countries.

From 100 Men to the Presidency

Nowhere has the relation between the accessibility of light weapons and the
outbreak and severity of conflict been more dramatically evident than in
West Africa. Liberia was the first to suffer. On Christmas Eve in 1989,
insurgent leader Charles Taylor invaded the country with only 100 irregular
soldiers armed primarily with AK-47 assault rifles; within months, he had
seized mineral and timber resources and used the profits to purchase
additional light weapons. Had he needed to equip his forces with heavier
weapons such as artillery, armored cars and tanks--the weapons
conventionally associated with a conquering army--Taylor would have faced
crippling logistical obstacles. In comparison, a few boatloads of assault
rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns were simple to transport
and provided more than enough firepower. In 1990 Taylor's ill-trained and
undisciplined insurgents toppled the government of President Samuel Doe (who
had come to power in a conventional, albeit bloody, coup 10 years earlier).
Fighting continued for seven more years.

The firepower of modern small arms--and the rapid escalation of violence
that such weaponry makes possible--was evident even in the early stages of
Liberia's civil war. In August 1990, in retaliation for Ghana's
participation in a West African peacekeeping force (which had tried but
failed to stop the fighting), Taylor's troops slaughtered 1,000 Ghanaian
immigrants in one day in the Liberian village of Marshall. Likewise, forces
loyal to Doe massacred 600 ethnic Gio and Mano--Liberian groups that favored
Taylor--as they vainly sought refuge in a church in the capital city,

Sierra Leone was next. In 1991 Taylor and a disgruntled army officer from
Sierra Leone, Foday Sankoh, initiated an informal alliance. Soon weapons and
fighters were flowing back and forth across the border between the two
countries. By 1999 the civil war in Sierra Leone had claimed the lives of
more than 50,000 people, while another 100,000 had been deliberately injured
and mutilated. Only in the summer of 1999 did the combined efforts of the
U.N. and West African peacekeepers prove successful in helping to broker a
peace agreement--an agreement that included a campaign to collect and
destroy former combatants' weapons.

The current peace efforts in Sierra Leone and Liberia remain tenuous and
highly dependent on what happens to the tens of thousands of weapons now in
these countries. By October 1999 the disarmament program in Liberia had
destroyed some 20,000 small arms and light weapons and more than three
million rounds of ammunition. Across the border in Sierra Leone, however,
U.N. officials complain that former rebels surrender to peacekeepers without
also turning in their weapons, despite a $300 cash incentive to relinquish
their guns. Unfortunately, this inability to disarm former combatants has
led to renewed outbreaks of fighting during the past several months.

Much the same cycle of violence engulfed Rwanda--but on an even more
horrific scale. The majority Hutu government and the minority Tutsi
opposition both had been amply supplied with small arms and light weapons.
France, Egypt and South Africa outfitted the government; Uganda and China
equipped the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). While government
forces held off the RPF with mortars and machine guns, Hutu militiamen armed
with guns and machetes slaughtered up to one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu
in May and June of 1994. The genocide ended only when most Tutsi in Rwanda
had been killed or had fled to areas controlled by the RPF.

Similar acts of brutality routinely characterize today's ethnic and
sectarian violence. Once competing groups have been armed with automatic
weapons, any minor dispute can escalate quickly into a major bloodbath. And
the availability of such weapons, even in remote and inaccessible places
such as southern Sudan and eastern Congo, makes it difficult for the
international community to bring the warring parties to the bargaining
table--and, when a cease-fire is signed, to curb the cycle of bloodletting.
Brokering peace has proved especially difficult in countries such as Angola
and Sierra Leone, where rebel forces have been able to exchange diamonds or
other commodities for guns and ammunition on the black market.

The Corrosive Effect of Guns

The root causes of ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts around the
world are of course complex and varied, typically involving historical
grievances, economic deprivation, demagogic leadership and an absence of
democratic process. Although small arms and light weapons are not themselves
a cause of conflict, their ready accessibility and low cost can prolong
combat, encourage a violent rather than a peaceful resolution of
differences, and generate greater insecurity throughout society--which in
turn leads to a spiraling demand for, and use of, such weapons.

In 1998, in a comprehensive survey of the problem of small-arms
proliferation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted its
deepening concerns about this issue, particularly regarding the safety of
civilians. As a leading guardian of international humanitarian law, the ICRC
stated that it was especially troubled by three dangerous trends. First, the
group expressed its alarm at the growing number of civilian deaths and
injuries--which often reach 60 to 80 percent of total casualties--that occur
in modern conflicts. Equipped with rapid-fire automatic weapons, untrained
and undisciplined fighters, few of whom know anything of the Geneva
Conventions on human rights, either specifically target civilians or fire
indiscriminately into crowds, killing and wounding scores of noncombatants,
including women and children.

Second, civilians now suffer increased pain and deprivation when
international relief operations must be suspended more frequently because
the aid workers themselves have become targets of attack. In the 1990s more
than 40 ICRC personnel were killed in Chechnya and Rwanda alone, compared
with the 15 who lost their lives in all conflicts between 1945 and 1990.

Third, societies awash in weapons often find themselves caught in a culture
of violence even after the formal conflict ends. For young ex-combatants who
have known little else besides war, their weapons become a status symbol and
a means of making a living, either through individual acts of street crime
or as part of an organized criminal operation.

By conducting interviews with its field personnel and by analyzing medical
data collected during its operations in Cambodia and Afghanistan, the ICRC
has been able to document the high rates of civilian death and injury caused
by small arms and light weapons, both during armed combat and after the
fighting had stopped. In looking at the data from Afghanistan, for example,
researchers found that weapons-related injuries decreased by only one third
after the civil war ended and that gunshot fatalities actually increased. In
many postconflict societies, up to 70 percent of all civilians still possess
military-type firearms, mainly assault rifles such as the M16 and AK-47.
ICRC personnel indicate that these weapons are responsible for more than 60
percent of all weapons-related deaths and injuries in internal
conflicts--far more than land mines, mortars, grenades, artillery and major
weapons systems combined. From El Salvador to South Africa, the story is
depressingly similar: years of internal conflict are followed by high rates
of social and criminal violence made possible by the easy access to small
arms and light weapons.

Faced with the chaos and devastation wrought by the influx of small arms and
light weapons, political leaders are now beginning to push for their
control. In July 1998 representatives of 21 countries (including the U.S.,
Brazil, the U.K., Germany, Japan, Mexico and South Africa) met in Oslo and
agreed to work together to curb the proliferation of these weapons. The U.N.
has also called on member states to tighten their munitions-export
regulations and to cooperate in efforts to suppress illicit trade in small
arms. But although there is widespread agreement that something must be
done, there is considerable uncertainty as to what. Nevertheless, arms
experts and others are beginning to devise practical and enforceable methods
for controlling the small-arms trade.

Proponents of small-arms control have largely abandoned the goal of enacting
a single, all-encompassing instrument like the land-mine treaty. When signed
in 1997, that treaty seemed a natural model for an agreement that would
prohibit most exports of small arms and light weapons. But eliminating all
transfers of small arms between states would never receive the support of
those countries that depend on imported weapons for their basic military and
police requirements. Many states, including China and Russia, also view guns
as legitimate items of commerce and are thus reluctant to embrace any
measures that would restrict their trade. Accordingly, the favored approach
emphasizes a multidimensional effort aimed at eliminating illicit arms
transfers and imposing tighter controls on legal sales, along with promoting
democratic reform and economic development in poor, deeply divided

Setting Sights on Arms Control

No widely accepted blueprint describes how to accomplish such broad goals.
Arms-control experts have agreed, however, on five basic principles. First,
timely information on global trafficking in small arms must be made
available for the identification of dangerous trends (such as the buildup of
arms stockpiles in areas of instability) and for the facilitation of local
or regional curbs on imports. Some data on small-arms deliveries are now
made public by individual suppliers--the U.S. and Canada have been
particularly forthcoming in this regard--but at present there is no
international system of reporting. The only existing mechanism of this kind,
the U.N. Register of Conventional Weapons, covers major weapons only.

Second, major military suppliers should adopt strict standards for the
export of weapons through legal channels. Although the manufacture of small
arms and light weapons is widely dispersed, a dozen or so countries are
responsible for the bulk of arms sold on the international market. These
include the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--the U.S.,
Russia, China, the U.K. and France--plus a number of other European, Asian
and Latin American countries. If these countries could agree to a common
system of restraints on exports, the sale of arms to areas of instability
should fall substantially. Some weapons would still flow through clandestine
channels, but most large-scale transactions would be subject to
international oversight.

Third, no system that regulates the supply of arms can be entirely effective
without an effort to dampen the global demand for arms, especially in areas
of recurring conflict. Significant progress has been made in this direction
in West Africa, the locale of several of the most pernicious conflicts of
the 1990s. In 1998, under the prodding of Alpha Oumar Konaré, the visionary
president of Mali, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
adopted a three-year moratorium on the import, export and manufacture of
small arms and light weapons. This moratorium represents the first time that
a bloc of states that import large numbers of light weapons has adopted a
measure of this kind and stands as an important model that other regions can
emulate. Already member states of the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) have considered such a step; a group of East African states met in
Kenya in March to discuss a similar enterprise.

Fourth, efforts to control the legal trade will have only limited effect
unless steps are taken to eradicate the black-market trade in arms. The
Organization of American States (OAS) has been especially active in working
to curb this trade. Recognizing the close link between illicit arms sales,
drug trafficking and violent crime, the members of the OAS adopted a
convention in 1997 that requires member states to criminalize the
unauthorized production and transfer of small arms and to cooperate with one
another in suppressing the black-market trade. (The U.S. has signed the
treaty, but the Senate has not yet ratified it.) The Clinton administration
is pushing to have similar measures incorporated into the Transnational
Organized Crime Convention, now being negotiated in Vienna, to make them
applicable in every region of the world. To promote further cooperation in
this area, the U.N. plans to convene a conference on illicit arms
trafficking next summer.

Finally, as U.N. peacekeepers in Angola, Rwanda, Somalia and elsewhere have
learned, peace agreements must help reintegrate former combatants into the
civilian economy, or fighters are likely to drift into careers as
mercenaries, insurgents or brigands--taking their guns with them. The
collection and destruction of used and surplus weapons is perhaps the most
challenging aspect of the small-arms problem. Nevertheless, individual
states and nongovernmental organizations have begun to devise and test
possible solutions such as weapons "buy-back" programs. The European Union
and the World Bank have also promised to assist in the development of
job-training programs and other services for ex-combatants seeking to
reenter civil society in war-torn areas of Africa and Latin America.

None of these measures by itself can overcome the dangers posed by the
uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons. The problem is far too
complex to be solved by any single initiative. Yet each time international
leaders have sought to enact controls on nuclear, chemical or biological
arms, they have dealt with similar problems. The foundation has now been
laid for the world to bring small arms under effective control. If we fail,
we are likely to face even greater bloodshed and chaos in the decades ahead.

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