Monday, January 19, 2004

The small arms traffic is one of the most evil trades in the world. It perpetuates continuous conflict, by making war a lot cheaper and by increasing the number of potential soldiers. This is directly responsible for poverty, health troubles and generalized underdevelopment in dozens of countries around the world. Countries in which a tiny group of maniacal thugs can easily hold the overwhelming majority hostage.

An article in the British paper The Guardian reports that charities say 500,000 people are killed each year by small arms. The trade has exploded since the beginning of the war on al-Qaeda, according to the paper.

"A new urgency has been created by the so-called war on terror," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International. "This is fuelling the proliferation of weapons rather than combating it. Many countries, including the US, have relaxed controls on sales of arms to allies known to have appalling human rights records... In the past two years, the US has increased arms sales to [such states] and Britain has followed suit. British arms sales to Indonesia rose from £2m [US$3.4 million] in 2000 to £40m [$68 million] in 2002."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the death toll from small arms "dwarfs that of all other weapons systems, and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms could well be described as weapons of mass destruction - yet there is still no global non-proliferation regime to limit their spread".

The US is one of the leading opponents of attempts to regulate trade in small arms, because it violates the US Constitution's 2nd Amendment. This treaty would, of course, interfere with free trade as well, which others object to. The Bush administration is likely to actively "lobby" other countries to scrap the treaty as well. The US is the world's leading weapons' exporter.

Critics of gun regulations argue that if more people had guns, there would much less violence. Guns are a deterrent to violence, they insist. Not even considering the shining example of Somalia, The Guardian notes In June [2003] there were 24m guns in Iraq, enough to arm every man, woman, and child. They could be bought for $10. And we know how little violence there is in Iraq as a result of all these "deterrents."

One of the insidious results of lighter and more mobile small arms is the increased phenomenon of child soldiers. The BBC notes that [t]he use of child soldiers in war is continuing around the world and in some African countries it has increased, human rights groups say. Countries like Ivory Coast, Liberia, Burma and the DR Congo are particularly hard hit by this scourge. These groups call on the United Nations to take the lead in ending the flow of weapons to those recruiting children, placing travel restrictions on leaders who use children in their armies and ending military assistance to them.

The flood of small arms didn't invent violence, war, civilian casualities or destruction. But it sure made those things exponentially easier.

[Radio Netherlands' English service has a number of dossiers on the child soldier plague including one on young boy combattants in Sierra Leone and another on ones from Liberia]

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