OPINION: Crackdown on Private Entities Important, But Government Contribution to Illicit Trade Equally Crucial

Aliya Lee, Straits Times columnist

Heated discussions have erupted in the Disarmament and International Security Committee  (DISEC) on the importance of suppressing trafficking through state control, and government commitment to heavy crackdowns on illicit small arms trade in countries. 

Yet the implication of stronger government regulation as the be-all solution is that private actors comprise the bulk of illicit small arms trafficking. That is not necessarily the case. Governments need to be held to account as much as private actors within their borders. 

While most arms trafficking appears to be conducted by private entities, certain governments also contribute to the illicit trade by deliberately arming proxy groups involved in insurgencies against rival governments, terrorists with similar ideological agendas, or other non-state armed groups. These types of transfers are prevalent in Africa and other regions where armed conflict is common. In Somalia, tens of thousands of small arms and light weapons have been delivered to armed groups in the country’s ongoing civil conflict. Tracing investigations presented in the Small Arms Survey 2014 have also found that Sudan government stockpiles are the primary source of weapons for non-state armed groups of all allegiances in Sudan and South Sudan—both through deliberate arming and battlefield capture. 

The Committee spoke extensively about the proliferation of small arms trafficking in contravention of UN arms embargoes, and the destabilising effects of such activities on neighbouring countries. Yet one must not forget that country governments themselves are major perpetrators as well.

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