Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Michael Barkin
Senior Policy Advisor
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 5, 2020


Congratulations on your assumption of the Presidency, and I would also extend congratulations to Vietnam for a very successful Presidency last month. Thank you, High Representative Nakamitsu and Mr. Spleeters for your briefings. In 2001, the General Assembly adopted by consensus the UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. In this landmark achievement of the international community, we committed to concrete actions to reduce illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons.

The United States remains fully committed to implementing this Program of Action, as well as the 2005 International Tracing Instrument. We have worked – and continue to work – side-by-side with other countries and international and regional organizations to combat the illicit small arms trade. For example, our Conventional Weapons Destruction program has provided more than $3.6 billion in assistance to more than 100 countries since 1993. These programs include assistance to countries to destroy their excess weapons and munitions and enhance their stockpile security through the provision of technical expertise and physical security upgrades.

The Secretary-General’s report rightly indicates the cross-cutting nature of issues associated with illicit small arms, which span numerous lines of effort including conflict prevention, crime, and human rights. We agree with the conclusion that the international community must focus on the root causes of illicit arms flows, including poor stockpile management of state-owned stockpiles and cross-border trafficking. Additionally, we must remember that, in many of these cross-cutting areas, work is already being done, including by the Secretary-General and the Security Council. We must ensure that there is coordination between these efforts rather than redundancy. This includes items on the Security Council’s agenda such as women, peace, and security, and protection of civilians.

The Secretary-General’s report gives some cause of optimism regarding this important issue. Notably in 2018, for the first time, states explicitly acknowledged the relationship between the implementation of the Program of Action and combating gender-based violence. In addition, we commend the report’s focus on regional and sub-regional efforts to enhance coordination in small arms and light weapons control, making particular note of the focus on Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020, and on the Roadmap 2024 initiative in the Western Balkans region. We would like to see future reports address regions more comprehensively, such as ongoing efforts in the Western Hemisphere.

The report also rightly indicates that the international community is struggling to fulfill existing commitments on small arms. For example, the report notes that the success rate for tracing seized weapons between 2016 and 2017 was less than 13 percent. Full implementation of UN sanctions regimes, in particular arms embargos, would help to implement, to improve record-keeping of government stockpiles, which have long been a source of weapons for armed groups operating in fragile states, particularly in Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Simply keeping records of weapons is not enough, however. We called for greater efforts to implement existing commitments at the last briefing on this matter in 2017, and we reiterate that call today.

Unfortunately, we do have several concerns about the Secretary-General’s report, including regarding civilian ownership of firearms. We urge the Secretary-General to carefully differentiate between lawful ownership of small arms and the illegal use of small arms in non-conflict settings, and the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons which fuels conflict and instability. Despite these concerns, the United States welcomes today’s discussion and will continue to lead efforts to reduce the threat that illicit small arms and light weapons pose. We will continue to take concrete steps at the national, regional, and global levels to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and we urge all countries to join us in strengthening implementation of our existing commitments and obligations to combat the illicit transfer, accumulation, and misuse of these weapons.

Thank You.