Norway debates small arms

Arms that can be carried by an individual cause an estimated 90 per cent of all casualties. Clearly, small arms are not a small problem, and Norway is looking at solutions

By Jan Egeland and Ole-Petter Sunde

THE Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT) was launched on 17 December 1997 - the first anniversary of the killing of six Red Cross workers in Chechnya - by four organizations with the support of the Norwegian government.

The proliferation of hundreds of millions of small arms probably is the world's biggest source of violent deaths, internal armed conflicts, and massive human rights abuse. As armies in Northern America, Europe and former Soviet Union shrink, much of their excess equipment is given away or sold cheaply to other countries. The light weapons trade has grown into a wave since the Cold War, transforming minor incidents into massacres, escalating tensions between small groups into full-scale wars, and making tranquil societies into the killing fields of criminal gangs.

Arms that can be carried by an individual cause an estimated 90 per cent of all casualties - mostly children, women, and other civilians. Even after conflicts formally end, demobilization and reconciliation efforts are frustrated by the flow of these inexpensive and sturdy weapons into the wrong hands at the wrong time. There will be little progress in settling existing and future wars and complex emergencies if there is not more control over the production and transfer of small arms.

Representing two of the world's largest non-governmental movements, the Norwegian Red Cross (NorCross) and the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) have joined with the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) to initiate a joint international effort to study, control, and limit global small arms transfers. Together with international and Norwegian partners, this core group expects to cooperate closely with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Norway is well placed to facilitate both non-governmental and governmental efforts to control and limit small arms transfers: Norwegian NGOs and academic institutions take an active part in large international networks, Norwegian regulations for weapons transfers are already in harmony with most proposals for control of small arms transfers, and the successful adoption in Oslo in September 1997 of the draft Ottawa convention on anti-personnel mines gave us useful experience for working in the larger and even more difficult small arms arena.

The NISAT secretariat, based in the Norwegian Red Cross offices in Oslo, consist of Mr. Jan Egeland, 40, former State Secretary in Norwegian foreign ministry as President of NISAT and Mr.Ole-Petter Sunde, 37, as Administrative Manager. Mr. Sunde formerly headed the Norwegian Red Cross International Department. Both he and Mr. Egeland were involved in the land mine conference in Oslo.


Ultimately, our project aims to form a wide coalition of like-minded governments and NGOs to control the flow of small arms to places where they may produce conflict, violence, and human rights abuse. Given the vastness of the problem, the goals will have to be specified one by one, as the campaign and the coalition build. But from the outset we can say, in general, what we will try to do.

First, we want to formulate and advocate agreements by which countries should register, control, or ban certain small arms transfers. In setting these standards, we will need to cooperate closely with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and like-minded countries such as Canada, South Africa, Sweden and representatives of other countries involved in regional proposals for moratoria.

Our second goal is to promote a wider understanding of the relationship between security and development. This is not just theoretical, but also a pragmatic objective - a search for practical ways of curbing the flow of small arms in order to create a secure environment for development. Accordingly, our project will document small arms transfers, especially those which will regulated by the agreements mentioned above.

Many groups exist elsewhere that already are working to control or limit small arms transfers. From our base in Oslo, we will try to build new institutions and networks among those organizations, researchers, and officials who are active at the local, regional, or global level.

All this will require research. We must gather information to identify the best approaches to take and to find possible partners. We will ask, for example: Who else is engaged in similar existing initiatives? Who has the relevant expertise to work along with us? With these quests, we shall be organizing seminars and conferences. We also want to generate a lot of media exposure to help us mobilize support and action. We will provide moral - and when possible, financial - support to local and regional arms transfer campaigns and moratoria that emerge.


As we gear the campaign up, we are setting ourselves two research tasks: first, to assess the state of existing information concerning the small arms trade, and second, to look into the various policy initiatives and campaigns that are already underway elsewhere.

The state of information seems patchy: lots of facts and half-facts circulate, but there's no systematic, comprehensive source of information. Indeed, most researchers of small arms trade agree that the main thing that is known is that not much is known. The same situation existed with the trade in major weapons in the early 1960s, before the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute began its arms trade registers. Today, information on the trade in major weapons is still incomplete but far more is known. On the trade in small arms, there has been no effort to compile a proper database, registering all known manufacturers, traders, deals, customers, prices, volumes, and values. That knowledge base is required as the campaign develops, so the PRIO Board has decided to initiate this research.


The first major task for the campaign, apart from filling in the details of our initial campaign goals and starting the research, will be to establish the international network. The main bulk of our budget is allocated to network meetings, support for regional moratoria in West Africa. The first moratoria conference will be held in Oslo on April 1- 2 with representatives from West Africa. There are several positive initiatives to limit the flow of small arms between Colombia and the Balkans, and between Southern Africa and the European Union. We need to contact these projects, whether they are governmental or non-governmental, and establish co-operative partnerships with them.

Supporting, morally and financially, local and regional arms transfer campaigns and moratoria is an important task for NISAT. In this respect the April meeting on a West African regional moratorium on production, export, and import of small arms will be of importance. The main object of this moratorium, as proposed by the Mali government with help from the U.N. is to create a framework within which a secure environment for socio-economic development can be obtained.

If your work is relevant to ours, please contact the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT) in Oslo at Ole-Petter Sunde, Tlf:+47 22 05 40 00/mobile phone +913 40 652. Jan Egeland, e-mail: Tlf +47 22 05 40 00/mobile phone+ 917 03 123. FAX:+47 22 05 40 40

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1998

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1998, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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