The earliest evidence for a specialized technology of war dates from the period before knowledge of metalworking had been acquired. The stone walls of Jericho situated in the West Bank of Palestinian dates back about 8000 BCE and historically it represents the first technology that can be credited unambiguously to purely military purposes.
Evidences of using the earliest forms of weapons like stone tools by human being are tracked back almost from the same age. The first arrowheads date to more than 60,000 years ago. Since then, there had been relentless development of weapons in three broad dimensions, namely, small arms, medium guns and heavy weapons though there are different categories basing on its nomenclature, use, characteristics and lethality.
World media and peace activists are comparatively more vocal about devastating nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons but fact remains that small arms with ammunition and improvised explosive devices are taking heavy toll on human life, state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in different forms as a silent killer.
SMALL IN SIZE BUT BIG IN IMPACT
One of the growing concerns of the modern world is the proliferation of small arms and ammunition that destroys not only the human life but also impede the socio-economic development of countries. Small arms like handguns, rifles, and machine guns are a significant and lucrative part of the international arms trade now a days. The market for these weapons continues to grow worldwide despite efforts to control the proliferation of small arms. Illegal trafficking and unauthorised cross-border movement of small arms, ammunition and explosives possess serious threat to the national security. Conflicts around the world and increase of organized crimes within and beyond state boundaries is rapidly expanding the choice and demand for Small arms and ammunition dramatically.
In this connection, a survey was carried out by The European Union in its 28 member countries back in 2013 and the survey report published on 21 October 2013 stated that illegal arms worth around 236 million Euros were being traded in the world per year.
This report also claimed that 10 to 20 percent of weapons produced globally are illegally bought, sold, exchanged, transported or transferred. Another publication of the market research institute “Fortune Business Insight” of Pune, India, highlighted that, the market value of small arms produced in the world in 2021 was 8.53 billion dollars, which is predicted to be 8.75 billion in 2022 and 11.16 billion in 2029.
Assuming 20% of this money is being spent on illegal weapons, around 1.71 billion dollars are exchanged in black market on this account. Based on such researches, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) marked the illegal arms trade as one of the most organized crimes in the world. According to the United Nations’ “Office for Disarmament”, the most profitable sector in the world for the last few decades is the production and sale of illegal weapons. As conflicts and security challenges continue to increase around the world, the demand for small arms is likely to remain strong. Now it is a worldwide concern that clandestine production and marketing of illegal arms and ammunition is constantly inciting the suffering of the people of the world, political instability, crime and terrorism. The entry of illegal weapons into a region firstly destabilizes the regional harmony and increases the number and gravity of almost all kinds of crime. And in the long term, illegal weapons undermine human rights, create obstacles to national growth and development and hinders domestic and foreign investment. Therefore, illegal weapons are said to be one of the accomplices and facilitators of all types of crimes.
NEXUS BETWEEN DRUG AND ILLEGAL ARMS
The trade in small arms provides economic benefits to countries that produce and export these weapons, as well as to businesses community and individuals involved in the industry but contributes to a range of negative consequences, including armed violence, human rights abuses, and instability. Multi-dimensional linkages and interdependencies prominently dominate illegal arms trade and drug-related crime.
A research paper published by The Department of Justice of Canada on “Relationship Between Illegal Drugs and Firearms” found that the drug trade is mainly based on terrorism and the lifeline of a terror is an illegal weapon in most of the cases. Addict’s dependency on drug gradually increases and at some point, this increased drug dependency demands excessive amount of money. In reality, it is not possible for any drug addict and otherwise psychologically challenged person to acquire this money through legal means.
Consequentially the addict person either willingly or in a trap turns to crime mainly to raise money for more and more drugs and get entangled with the black world with the criminal gang.
And one of the driving forces behind this crime cycle is illegal weapons. Vicious circle at various levels of society want to influence or extort those who produce, transport, store or trade drugs at different strata. They are forced to keep illegal weapons to protect themselves or keep them at a safe distance from the black paws of their counter forces. The widespread availability of small arms also contributes to the increase of gender-based violence, as women and girls are often particularly vulnerable to armed attacks.
SMALL ARMS AND POLITICS
Practice and Development of sustainable democracy of any country directly depends on political stability. And only illegal weapons are enough for dislodging political stability of the country and civil society.
The misuse of illegal weapons under government patronage, covert government hints, patronisation of intelligence agencies and foreign powers to suppress dissent is an integral part of world history.
Reversely anti-government movements and anarchy are often characterized by the use of illegal small arms. As a result, political and social stability is threatened and the practice of democracy faces challenge whenever illegal weapons are in the hands of the government’s gluttonous forces or violent opposition forces.
Insurgent groups, criminal organizations and terrorist clans always hunt for small arms as they are relatively easy to obtain, conceal and transport.
LEGITIMATE USE AND MARKET TREND
Small arms are also essential for legitimate purposes that can contribute to peace and security. For example, law enforcement agencies always use small arms to maintain order and protect communities from violence. Similarly, individuals may use small arms for self-defence in areas where there is a high risk of criminal activity. Private Security Companies and commercial ventures like financial institutions legally possess arms to safeguard life and property. Other contributing factors to the growth of small arms market are weak regulation and enforcement, globalization and ease of transportation, increased demand for self-defence and law enforcement, quick profit motive etc. Such international market for small arms is dominated by a handful of countries, including the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China.
These countries are major producers of small arms and export in large quantities to other countries. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of small arms, followed by Russia and China. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an US based independent resource on global security, published a report on 13 March 2023 with the title “Surge in arms imports to Europe, while US dominance of the global arms trade increases”. Findings of the report shows that imports of major arms by European states increased by 47 percent between 2013–17 and 2018–22, while the global level of international arms transfers decreased by 5.1 percent. Arms imports fell overall in Africa (–40 percent), the Americas (–21 percent), Asia and Oceania (–7.5 percent) and the Middle East (–8.8 percent). On contrary, imports to East Asia and certain states in other regions of high geopolitical tension rose sharply.
The United States’ share of global arms exports increased from 33 to 40 percent while Russia’s fell from 22 to 16 percent, according to new research on the backdrop of Russia-Ukraine War. Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI claimed ‘Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European states want to import more arms, faster. Strategic competition also continues elsewhere: arms imports to East Asia have increased and those to the Middle East remain at a high level.’
USA and Russia were consistently the largest and second largest arms exporters for the past three decades across the world. France had been the third largest supplier. The USA accounted for 40 percent of global arms exports in 2018–22. Russia’s arms exports fell by 31 percent between 2013– 17 and 2018–22, and its share of global arms exports decreased from 22 percent to 16 percent, while France’s share increased from 7.1 percent to 11 percent. India is the largest recipient of Russian arms but India’s defence import from Russia fell by 37 percent in recent days. But Russia’s arms exports increased to China (+39 percent) and Egypt (+44 percent), and they became Russia’s second and third largest recipients which symbolizes new polarization.
Experts opines that invasion of Ukraine will further limit Russia’s arms exports as Russia is likely to prioritise supplying its armed forces and demand from other states will remain low due to trade sanctions on Russia. France’s arms exports increased by 44 percent between 2013–17 and 2018–22. Most of these exports were to the countries in Asia and Oceania and the Middle East. India received 30 percent of France’s arms exports in 2018–22 displacing the USA as the second largest supplier of arms to India after Russia. ‘France is gaining a bigger share of the global arms market as Russian arms exports decline, as seen in India, for example,’ said Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. This trend is likely to continue as France had far more outstanding orders for arms exports than Russia.
Impact of war on arms trade is being well depicted in Russia-Ukraine war as Ukraine becomes world’s third largest arms importer in 2022. With the military aid from the USA and many European states following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine became the 3rd biggest importer of major arms during 2022 following Qatar and India.
In response to a perceived threat from Russia, NATO states within Europe increased their arms imports by 65 percent aiming at strengthening national and regional security. Asia and Oceania received 41 percent of major arms transfers in 2018–22. Despite the overall decline in transfers to the region, there were marked increases in some states, and remarkable decreases in others.
Six states in the region were among the 10 largest importers globally in 2018–22: India, Australia, China, South Korea, Pakistan and Japan.
Arms imports by East Asian states increased by 21 percent between 2013–17 and 2018–22. Arms imports by China rose by 4.1 percent, with most coming from Russia. However, the biggest increases in East Asia were by US treaty allies South Korea (+61 percent) and Japan (+171 percent). Australia, the largest arms importer in Oceania, increased its imports by 23 percent. Arms imports by Japan, South Korea, and Australia were mostly fuelled by growing perceptions of threats from China and North Korea. India remains the world’s top arms importer, but its arms imports declined by 11 percent between 2013–17 and 2018–22.
This decline was linked to a complex procurement process, efforts to diversify arms suppliers and attempts to replace imports with local designs.
Imports by Pakistan, the world’s eighth largest arms importer in 2018–22, increased by 14 percent, with China as its main supplier.
Three of the top 10 importers in 2018–22 were in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. The majority of arms imports to the Middle East came from the USA (54 percent), followed by France (12 percent), Russia (8.6 percent) and Italy (8.4 percent). They included more than 260 advanced combat aircraft, 516 new tanks and 13 frigates. Arab states in the Gulf region alone have placed orders for another more than 180 combat aircraft, while 24 have been ordered from Russia by Iran. Among the top seven arms exporters after the USA, Russia and France, five countries saw falling arms exports—China (–23 per cent), Germany (–35 per cent), the United Kingdom (–35 per cent), Spain (–4.4 percent) and Israel (–15 percent)—while two saw large increases—Italy (+45 per cent) and South Korea (+74 percent).
SMALL ARMS AND WORLD PEACE
The relationship between the arms business and world peace is complex and can be viewed from different perspectives. On one hand, the small arms trade can contribute to armed conflict and violence, which can undermine peace and stability around the world. It is not unlikely that an isolated population or a particular tribe or sect could feel deprived of their rights or dues. Vested corner within the country and abroad provokes such population towards separatist movement and arrange illegal weapons for them. A 2017 survey by the global organization “Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime” shows that there are 857 million weapons in the hands of civilians in the world. Yet only 12 percent of this vast arsenal is properly registered or legalized. According to this global organization’s 2021 index, illegal arms trade is the third largest transaction in the world of crime. Human trafficking, smuggling, drug proliferation, terrorism, militancy, separatist movements, extortion, robbery and extortion are on the rise due to illegal weapons. At the end of the international education seminar in 2019 in Doha, the capital of Qatar, United Nations agency called “Office on Drugs and Crime” adopted The Doha Declaration.
This declaration marked various reasons for the increasing demand and use of illegal weapons like rise of crime and terrorism, the deterioration of internal peace and order, conflicts at home and abroad, failure of government forces to ensure public safety, lack of confidence in the rule of law and fair justice system, human rights violations by own government or others etc. History also reveals that use of illegal weapons increases if the opportunity for people’s participation in the governance of the country decreases.
Dr. Aparajita Biswas, a professor at the University of Mumbai in India, has shown in a study that the number of illegal weapons and the risk of committing crimes using illegal weapons are highest in South and Southeast Asia. According to her study, the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is believed to have the highest number of illegal weapons in the world. And due to the strong presence of militants and extremists in these two countries such abundance of large quantities of illegal weapons is a serious concern in any judgment.
Any kind of arms in the wrong hands, including criminal organizations, terrorist groups and other non-state actors can destabilize a region. The widespread availability of small arms can make it easier for the militant groups to take up weapons and carry out acts of violence, which can contribute to conflict and instability. In this sense, the small arms trade in South and South East Asia can be seen as a potential threat to world peace.
Two other countries in the South Asian region, Myanmar and Afghanistan, are among the world’s leading producers of poppy and other narcotics or drug raw materials.
The whole of South Asia is at risk today as drugs and weapons go hand in hand. The notorious drug and illegal arms routes known as the “Golden Triangle” and “Golden Crescent” are also located in this South Asia. Therefore, it can be assumed that the entire South Asia and SAARC countries are at extreme risk of illegal weapons and drug abuse.
QUEST FOR A SOLUTION
Efforts to promote world peace demand a balanced approach to the small arms trade, recognizing both the potential risks and benefits associated with this industry.
This may involve multidimensional measures to regulate and control the production, sale, and transfer of small arms, as well as to promote peacebuilding, conflict resolution and the rule of law.
By taking a holistic approach that addresses the underlying causes of conflict and violence, it may be possible to reduce the demand for small arms and promote a more peaceful and secure world. Arresting the small arms business competition had been and still a complex challenge, as there are a number of factors that contribute to the increased demand for these weapons and the growth of the industry. Few of the universally accepted measures for addressing this critical issue are strengthening regulation and control, enhancement of internal, regional and international cooperation, supporting disarmament and demobilization efforts from all corners, promoting sustainable development, raising public awareness etc.
It is reality that small arms are widely used for national security, self-defence, law enforcement and other legitimate purposes that can contribute to peace and security. Small arms production provides jobs and in – come for those employed in the industry, as well as stimulates economic growth through the production and sale of arms. Continuous research and development of small arms lead to innovations and effectiveness and safety measures. As such holistic approach by the world leaders and international organizations can turn the tide and present a world for peaceful living.