Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Removal
As a result of decades of conflicts and large arms supply routes created during the Cold War, many regions across the globe suffer from a surplus of small arms and light weapons (commonly known as SALW).
These arms have been called weapons of individual destruction and been used to kill and destroy lives, particularly for civilian populations struggling to recover from conflict and escape poverty. MAG works to help prevent these items from falling into unlawful hands, enabling improved security so crucial for social and economic development. MAG actively supports the 2001 UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons. Globally, MAG’s approach is to identify the problems caused by the proliferation of small arms and other weapons and then develop and deliver practical solutions to address those problems.
The Geneva Convention on Armed Violence and Development recognises armed violence as both a cause and consequence of poverty and underdevelopment. It is no coincidence that the world’s poorest countries are affected by current or recent conflicts, nor is it any coincidence that MAG works in many of them.
What are Small Arms and Light Weapons
Small arms and light weapons are typically categorized as weapons that can be used by one or two people and can be carried
on a person or on a pack animal or small vehicle. Small arms include revolvers, self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, light machine guns. Light weapons include hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS), mortars of less than 100mm calibre.
Starting during the Cold War, arms where often moved by superpowers to Governments and rebel groups or purchased by illegal or non-government factions to support military or political objectives in unstable regions. The fall of the Cold War did not break those supply lines and continuing global conflict fuels the trade in used and new arms.
Understanding the Threat
SALW have both direct and indirect consequences to the safety and development of affected countries.
Given the mobile nature of these arms, they are particularly dangerous to individual life, with hundreds and thousands of people dying each year from wounds caused by these weapons in both war zones and countries at peace. The global stockpile of small arms and light weapons is estimated at 639 million. Small arms and light weapons are responsible for the majority—between 60 and 90 per cent—of direct conflict deaths. The use of small arms also contributes to indirect conflict deaths, which are likely to be many times higher than the number of direct deaths, though they vary greatly in magnitude from conflict to conflict. Small arms and light weapons destabilise regions; spark, fuel and prolong conflicts; obstruct relief programmes; undermine peace initiatives; exacerbate human rights abuses; hamper development; and foster a “culture of violence”.
This is a very direct consequence. Sadly, statistics show that children are disproportionately affected by gun violence and the effect on children does not stop with the direct violence caused by these weapons. The weight and size of small arms makes them easy for children to use and encourages the use of children as combatants with children as young as eight being taught to use an assault rifle. Hundreds and thousands of children are serving as child soldiers in over 20 conflicts around the world.
Finally, development and small arms are inextricably linked with each goal impossible without the other. Economic growth is clearly stalled as a result of the many side effects of SALW proliferation in a region. Armed groups disrupt attempts at commerce both via the disruptive effect on marketplaces and trade groups and the funds required to combat these troubles that could be focused on supporting resource development and infrastructure growth, including schools and hospitals. However, the flip side is also an issue in that 50% of countries emerging from war slide backwards into turmoil due to inadequate post-conflict development and reintegration programs. If ex-soldiers cannot find a job, if armed they will clearly look to support themselves and their families in any way available to them.
The availability and proliferation of SALW contributes not only to country specific destabilization, but contributes towards regional insecurity and also has global security concerns. An integrated approach is critical to stopping the violence in these regions and also to reducing the threat posed to global security.
How does MAG help address this threat?
MAG first became involved in the destruction of SALW in the 1990s by providing technical support to demobilisation programmes in Angola and Cambodia. MAG teams possessed the necessary skills and equipment to deal with the small quantities of SALW being handed in by demobilizing soldiers at quartering areas where MAG mine and UXO clearance activities were already established.
More recently, MAG has become involved in SALW removal and destruction on a larger scale in countries such as Iraq and DR Congo. This has highlighted the need for funding for a dedicated long-term capacity and for donors to broaden their ability to support integrated programmes of this nature. In 2006, in DR Congo, MAG learned of a large stockpile of weapons and ammunition in Mbandaka town, consisting of more than 10,000 firearms and an estimated 100 tons of explosive ordnance. This stockpile was warehoused next to the local hospital in the centre of the town. Today, and within the context of the nationwide programme of Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), MAG is making progress in destroying these weapons and the ammunition in co-operation with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC). An additional aspect of this project is to advise FARDC on safe methods of storage for hazardous items in accordance with relevant international standards and to train FARDC staff in safe disposal techniques and in munitions management so that in future legitimate stockpiles do not pose a threat to communities. To-date MAG has destroyed over 100,000 small arms in DRC.
MAG has been operational in Libya since April 2011, ensuring we had personal on the ground to begin assisting impacted communities as soon as security was conducive to do so. Since then MAG has expanded operations across Libya, providing HMA and CWD support and services in Ajdabiya, Brega, Misrata, Sirte, and Zintan. Between April and December 2011 MAG teams have cleared more than 92,000 items of conventional weapons; including:
- over 35,000 landmines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO, including cluster Munitions and 19 MANPADS, and
- over 6,000 items of Small Arms Ammunition
In addition MAG teams have also provided 505 Risk Reduction sessions directly benefitting over 15,000 persons and indirectly benefitting a further 32,000 persons.
Once items have been destroyed and/or rendered unusable, MAG tries where possible to ensure that the resulting scrap metal benefits the communities and reconstruction activities - in Iraq, for example, scrap metal salvaged from the process was used to fund the rehabilitation of the school and hospital in the town of Hatra and to establish the Hatra Brass Recovery Company which then gave a proportion of the profits to the local town administration for use in regeneration projects.
SALW pose a serious threat to peace and reconstruction. They can be far more difficult to quantify, control and destroy than, for example, a minefield that once marked, represents a static and clearly defined threat, which can be further reduced through education until clearance takes place. MAG has the necessary expertise and experience to conduct SALW removal and destruction efficiently and effectively in the typically challenging environments where such weapons present a problem, and sees its role as one that encompasses the destruction of both the weapons themselves and most items of explosive ordnance, ‘to reduce the risk that the tools of one completed conflict are used to fight another.’
SALW is, therefore, an increasingly important aspect of MAG’s work both now and in the future.