Tag Archives: SALW

Second Review Conference: Reviewing, Strengthening, and Energizing the PoA on small arms

15 Aug

As member states gather for the second Review Conference for the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (PoA), a potentially contentious policy gap remains between those who emphasize only the implementation of the PoA and those who seek to strengthen the instrument itself. During the first Review Conference (Rev Con) in 2006, the PoA came close to collapse as divisions surfaced between those states wanting to expand its scope to include provisions on ammunition, civilian possession, and a prohibition on transfers to non-state actors and those that wished only to focus on implementation of the existing measures adopted in 2001. Concern that the PoA process would be permanently damaged was fortunately unfounded, although much of the attention devoted to the PoA was subsequently diverted to the arms trade treaty (ATT) process. The PoA process did received a welcome infusion of robustness following the successful (and first of its kind) 2011 Meeting of Governmental Experts (MGE) under the leadership of Ambassador McLay of New Zealand when practical and technical discussions were held regarding the PoA and the corresponding International Tracing Instrument (ITI).  However, after a busy summer for First Committee experts with the conclusion (without agreement on a consensus Treaty document ) of the ATT negotiating conference just a few weeks back, there is now legitimate worry that the PoA will not receive the attention it deserves during this Rev Con.

As previously expressed, member states have extensively debated whether the Rev Con mandate, in addition to a “review,” should include “strengthening” (through expansion, legal status, or amendment) of the PoA. This disagreement is not semantic in nature. It is a critical distinction that will affect both member states’ approach to the Rev Con and the future of the PoA framework. Methods of strengthening national implementation measures must be identified and pursued at this Rev Con. Therefore, it would be wise to avoid highly divisive debates regarding expansion of the scope and nature of the PoA (i.e. discussion over its non-legally-binding status) and focus instead on highly important and practical implementation issues such as stockpile management, proper disposal and storage of surplus arms, the role of peacekeepers and DDR programmes in SALW management, the responsibilities of national contact points, and the possibility of institutionalizing technical meetings such as MGEs. In this case, functionality should trump legality, at least for the moment.

Despite the arguable “overshadowing” of the PoA process by the ATT, preparations for this Rev Con have been moderately successful. The March 2012 Preparatory Committee for the Rev Con yielded a factual and procedural report, although a more substantive Chair’s summary under the authorship of Ambassador Ogwu of Nigeria was also produced. The summary laid forth views expressed by member states during the week according to the structure of the PoA itself—measures to combat illicit trade at the national, regional, and international levels; international cooperation and assistance; follow-up mechanisms to the Review Conference; and review of the ITI. The summary was not a consensus document, but did its best to summarize member states’ views and recommendations on which elements would serve as a basis for the discussion during this Rev Con.

As the two-week Rev Con gets underway, the PoA’s importance must not be underestimated. While the lion’s share of attention this year has been paid to the ATT process, the PoA is an instrument with tremendous potential to directly and practically address the dire consequences related to the illicit trade in SALWs and, perhaps most notably, to dry up existing stockpiles of weapons already in circulation. This was an issue all too clear in the aftermath of the Libyan revolution when weapons went unaccounted for and stockpiles were pillaged by rebel groups after the fall of Qadaffi. Member states must take advantage of the Rev Con both to honestly assess existing efforts to curb illicit small arms and to robustly and comprehensively tackle the proliferation of looted arms and lack of adequate stockpile management.

The real challenge of the PoA is to fully implement the benchmarks laid forth in the instrument in all national contexts.  The division of provisions among the national, regional, and global level is a helpful format and allows states to thoroughly address the responsibilities at all levels for implementation of the PoA and ITI. Moreover, the proposal to address the schedule of future meetings is an important contribution to the long-term success of the framework. For example, modification of biennial meetings of states into biennial meetings of governmental experts who are directly responsible for national implementation of the PoA would be significantly beneficial to fulfilling a host of PoA-related responsibilities.

It is clear that full implementation of the PoA requires continuous review with an eye towards strengthening national implementation of its measures. Many, if not all, of the challenges associated with full implementation—border control mechanisms, technical information exchange, marking and tracing expertise—require international efforts and cooperation. Therefore, this Rev Con, as well as future meetings of states, must provide for a transparent and honest exchange of information regarding implementation and how to best combat the deadly consequences of illicit trade in SALWs. There is little argument that the PoA’s provisions, if adopted according to national needs and flexible with regard to new challenges, can and will prevent illicit flows of SALWs and thus eliminate the dire consequences of these flows for international peace and security.


–Katherine Prizeman