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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #12: June 24, 2002

Japan and EU Fall Short of Small Arms Pledge

John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)

In the post-Cold War era, the world has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of deaths caused by small arms and light weapons. Of particular concern has been the fact that more than 3 million people have been killed in conflicts fought with small arms over the past decade with most of the victims being civilians. The increasing level of international concern over the problem of trafficking in small arms and light weapons was most recently expressed in the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons held in 2001. Prior to and following this conference the European Union and Japan took the lead in trying to create initiatives, both nationally and internationally, that would restrict and even prevent domestic producers of small arms from making irresponsible shipments. In 1998 the EU passed a Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers which required each of the 15 member states to provide a certain amount of information on arms exports on an annual basis. Japan has also emerged as a global leader calling on all countries to limit small arms transfers and pledging to closely monitor and restrict weapons sales by Japanese manufactures and trading companies. Unfortunately, Japan and the EU are hardly living up to their pledges as they continue to conceal the specifics of arms transactions conducted by their companies under a thick veil of secrecy. This week's EU Report will take up this extremely important issue with the hope of urging both the EU and Japan to live up to their promises to control the level of trade in small arms and light weapons. The fulfillment of which is fundamental to promoting human security and human rights.

Before we proceed further, it is necessary to provide a clear definition of what small arms and light weapons consist of.

  • Small Arms - revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles, carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns.
  • Light Weapons - heavy machine guns, hand-held under barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems and mortars of less than 100mm caliber.

The issue of small arms and light weapons has become one of increasing concern for the international community because of their wide availability and ease of use, which is feeding crime and conflict throughout the world. The level of destruction caused by these arms is particularly high in under-developed and conflict ridden countries throughout Asia, Africa and in Eastern Europe. Despite pledges on the part of European and Japanese suppliers to restrict their arms sales to governments and "others" who respect international commitments, human rights, who do not engage in terrorism and who do not intend to divert the weapons to areas and groups of risk, no decisive action has been taken by either to guarantee this.

In fact, as Kofi Annan has stated, a shroud of secrecy continues to veil much of the arms trade. While many Japanese and European citizens believe that their countries do not engage in illicit or risky arms deals that exacerbate conflict and cause innocent civilians to die the truth of the matter is that there is no evidence to prove that this is so.

Despite the EU having passed a Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers requiring EU member states to publish annual reports, very few have produced such reports and the ones that have report only on the monetary value of their transactions and not on the type or quantity of weapons sold. In the case of Japan, it does not report on arms transfers at all and no restrictions exist on the export of dual-use technology.

Sadly, Japan and the EU are not exceptions to the rule. According to a paper produced by the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers ("Shining a Light on Small Arms Exports: The Record of State Transparency", January 2002), out of the 95 countries that are involved in manufacturing small arms only 22 produce national reports on arms exports with only a few reporting on small arms. Making matters worse, only two countries in the world provide public and parliamentary awareness, albeit limited, before the weapons are shipped. This means that there is a total lack of transparency and accountability on the part of governments and businesses that engage in the trade of small arms and light weapons, Japan and the EU included.

Currently, there are a whole range of arms registries and agreements which were set up to monitor and prevent the sale of arms to human rights violators or conflict zones. These include international registries such as the UN Arms Registry and regional mechanisms. In Africa there is the Economic Council of West African States (ECOWAS), which signed a moratorium on the export, import and manufacturing of light weapons in 1998. In the Americas, OAS member states have signed an Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and other Related Materials. There is also an OSCE document binding all 55 member states to produce a report on small arms exports and imports by 30 June 2002. Finally, there is the Wassenaar Arrangement requiring 33 arms exporting countries to share arms transaction information on a semi-annual basis in a detailed fashion. However, the truth of the matter is that none of these arrangements have functioned.

Unfortunately, the data available suggests that some of the states expressing concern about the negative impact of the illicit trade on human security and human rights continue to authorize the export of small weapons to conflict zones as well as corrupt and abusive regimes. Japan and the EU have failed to demonstrate that they are not part of this group.

For the purposes of awareness creating I will list a few arms export categories in which Japan and EU countries figure prominently. According to data available in the UN Registry on Conventional Arms between 1995-99, which is by no means complete, Japan and many EU countries are among those who export the most revolvers, pistols, shotguns and rifles. The table below documents this fact.

Top 29 Exporters of Small Arms by Category between 1995-99
4Czech RepublicSwitzerlandJapanUS
7SwitzerlandChinaSpainCzech Republic
9UKSouth AfricaCzech RepublicFinland
11Republic of KoreaSpainFranceCanada
14ChinaCzech RepublicChinaSwitzerland
18South AfricaChileGreeceRussia
20SwedenSenegalDenmarkSouth Korea
22FinlandSouth KoreaSloveniaDenmark
26NetherlandsNew ZealandS. AfricaArgentina
27New ZealandIndonesiaPhilippinesNetherlands
28PhilippinesJapanYugoslaviaNew Zealand
29MexicoArgentinaSouth KoreaGreece
Highlighted countries part of EU and Japan. Source: UN Registry on Conventional Arms

Considering that small arms and light weapons are the most misused and deadly weapons in the world, governments need to take an open stance on their sale and shipment. Public pledges are not enough, action is what is required. Unfortunately, most governments and businesses have been unwilling to disclose the facts. According to Transparency International the arms trade is one of the most corrupt and bribery laden endeavors in the world, this leads to conclusion that those involved in manufacturing, selling and approving the deals may have something to hide.

It is critical that the EU and Japan make true on their promise to limit the sale of small arms, prevent them from being shipped to conflict zones and from falling into the hands of repressive regimes, groups and individuals. As leading democratic regimes, Japan and EU members are required to disclose. Without good governance on their part, the world will not be a safe and prosperous place.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications