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Conventional Weapons

Worldwide spending on military forces continued to decline in 1997—the most recent year for which data were available in October 1998—although at a much reduced pace. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, worldwide military spending was roughly U.S.$740 billion in 1997.

The United States continued to lead the world in arms transfer agreements and deliveries for the seventh year in a row. In 1997 the United States signed arms transfer agreements worth U.S.$5.3 billion, with France a close second (U.S.$5.1 billion), and Russia third (U.S.$4.1 billion). France led in arms transfer agreements with the developing world, signing contracts worth U.S.$4.6 billion, more than a quarter of all arms sales agreements. Russia came in second (U.S.$3.3 billion) and the United States third (U.S.$2.3 billion), while two developing states, South Africa and China, ranked fourth and fifth respectively (U.S.$1.8 and U.S.$1.5 billion).

U.S. government-to-government arms deliveries in 1997 were worth a staggering U.S.$15.2 billion, nearly half (44 percent) of the world total. This figure was further inflated when an estimated U.S.$1.4 billion in U.S. commercial deliveries were included. The United Kingdom ranked second (U.S.$5.9 billion), and France was third (U.S.$4.9 billion). The United States also dominated the field in deliveries to developing nations, with a value of U.S.$11.7 billion (40.9 percent); the United Kingdom ranked second (U.S.$5.3 billion).

The unbridled proliferation of conventional weapons continued to play a significant role in the humanitarian crises that evolved in 1998, especially in Africa. Armed conflicts in Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Sierra Leone, among others, were accompanied by gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and all of these conflicts were fed by a steady influx of arms. Many weapons were being recycled regionally, but significant new shipments of arms continued to arrive from outside the continent as well, especially from China and states of the former Warsaw Pact. Arms-producing and arms-transshipment states that supplied these weapons to abusive forces, or failed to interdict such transfers, were complicit in the violations that were committed with these weapons.

Codes of Conduct on Arms Transfers
The year 1998 saw a dawning recognition by members of the international community of their role in human rights violations in other continents through their own arms transfer policies. This recognition translated into renewed efforts—lukewarm on the part of some, more enthusiastic on the part of others—to tighten existing regulations and seek new curbs on both the legal and illegal trade in arms.

One significant initiative came from Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government in the United Kingdom, which used its E.U. presidency during the first half of the year to push forward a European code of conduct. Its efforts bore fruit on June 8 when the fifteen E.U. member states formally adopted the European Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers through a declaration of the General Affairs Council. The new code established principles and criteria governing the approval of arms exports to countries where these weapons might be used for internal repression, for the commission of serious violations of human rights, or to provoke or prolong conflicts.

If the new code represented an important first step in regulating the arms export policies of E.U. member states, it contained a number of flaws as well. These included the absence of an explicit obligation to prohibit arms transfers to forces that fail to respect international humanitarian law—the laws of war—a necessary corollary to the prohibition on transfers to forces that fail to respect human rights. Moreover, the new code was not adopted as an E.U. “common position” that would have made it politically binding on member states. It lamely exhorted member states to “exercise special caution and vigilance” in allowing arms transfers to human rights abusers whose violations had been documented by “the competent bodies of the U.N., the Council of Europe, or by the E.U.” Nor did the code incorporate common lists of controlled military items or sensitive destinations, or provide for parliamentary or public scrutiny over E.U. arms exports. As such, the new code did not meet some of the key requirements outlined by NGOs, but it did offer the opportunity to strengthen and fine-tune it through annual reviews.

To address some of these deficiencies, the European Parliament’s subcommittees on Human Rights and on Security and Disarmament in May pledged to jointly monitor the code’s implementation and promote ways to make it more robust, requiring periodic progress reports from the E.U. Council of Ministers. In a further boost to the code, thirteen European nations outside the E.U. declared in August that they were aligning themselves to the criteria and principles contained in the code, which, they said, would guide them in their national export control policies (Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia).

In the United States, the Code of Conduct for Arms Transfers Act sponsored by Representatives Cynthia McKinney and Dana Rohrabacher was dropped in March from the authorization bill to which it had been attached in 1997. A second code bill, which was seriously flawed in several important respects, was introduced by Representative Sam Gejdenson in June 1998. NGOs strongly objected to this bill, which never came to a vote.

Other Mechanisms of Arms Control
Additional developments of note concerning mechanisms that aimed to rein in the arms trade included the entry into force of Protocol IV—on blinding laser weapons—of the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (the Convention on Conventional Weapons, CCW) on July 30. This event followed the twentieth ratification of the protocol (by Hungary) in January, marking only the second time that a particular means of warfare was prohibited before it was even employed on the battlefield (exploding bullets were banned soon after their development in 1868).

In 1998, the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, established in 1996, had thirty-three members, who had started to implement changes to their export control regulations in compliance with the arrangement’s lists of munitions and of dual-use goods and technologies. They also agreed to “exercise maximum restraint in considering arms transfers to the Central Africa/Great Lakes region.”

An important U.N. mechanism designed to control the trade in conventional weapons through enhanced transparency as a confidence-building measure was the (voluntary) United Nations Register on Conventional Arms, which in 1998 was in its sixth year. Though covering only the seven largest conventional weapons systems (excluding small arms and light weapons, which proportionally had the largest impact on civilians in armed conflicts), the register remained a useful device.

There was also some progress in the fight against the illicit trade in arms. The first inter-state treaty targeting arms trafficking, the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Production of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials, adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in November 1997, entered into force on July 1 after the two necessary ratifications had been submitted (by Mexico and Belize). The Bahamas also submitted its instrument of ratification,while several other signatory states that had not yet ratified, including Canada and the United States, had started implementing the treaty’s provisions.

A parallel initiative in Europe, the E.U. Programme for Preventing and Combatting IllicitTrafficking in Conventional Arms, adopted by the E.U. Council working group, COARM, on June 26, 1997, did not result in visibly enhanced cooperation among E.U. member states to curb illicit arms trafficking from Europe to the developing world. Two member states, Belgium and the Netherlands, did start regular joint interagency meetings to foster cooperation in monitoring arms trafficking. And in May, the United Kingdom sponsored a conference in South Africa on arms trafficking in southern Africa.



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