Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Small Arms

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 18, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Madam High Representative, for your briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on small arms and light weapons.

Sixteen years ago, 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. The United States remains fully committed to implementing this Program of Action, as well as the 2005 International Tracing Instrument. We have worked – and will continue to work – side-by-side with other countries and international and regional organizations to combat the illicit small arms trade. Indeed, we continue to be a leading donor in this field, including through our Conventional Weapons Destruction program that has provided over $2.9 billion dollars in assistance to more than 100 countries since 1993.

Yet the international community as a whole continues to struggle with challenges in implementing existing commitments on small arms, and we see the consequences on a range of issues before this Council. Whether it’s arms smuggling in central Africa or small arms falling into the hands of terrorists and criminal groups, more needs to be done. It is tempting to hold yet more meetings, where we negotiate yet more international commitments. But this approach misunderstands the problem. Instead of trying to identify every perceived gap in the international normative framework, we just need more countries to implement those basic commitments we adopted back in 2001. And progress will be incremental: many countries are only now taking first steps, such as implementing arms tracing.

The Secretary-General’s report gives some cause for optimism. As noted in the report, the Security Council has adjusted the mandates of UN missions to tackle the problem of small arms. Cote d’Ivoire, for example, is a success story in which the government, with UN support, is better securing its stockpiles and has successfully traced a weapon recovered from an illicit trafficker. We can learn from these experiences and can, as appropriate, mandate UN missions to build capacity on stockpile security and small arms management.

Unfortunately, we have some concerns about the Secretary-General’s report. In discussing issues related to domestic misuse of small arms in non-conflict settings, the report goes beyond its remit.

Additionally, we are disappointed by the Secretary-General’s continued advocacy for the use of the International Small Arms Control Standards, or ISACS. Despite the name, these guidelines are generally not standards. Unlike the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines, which were drafted by government experts, ISACS was created by a small group of self-selected experts. In some cases, the authors cherry-picked from existing instruments and developed these new so-called “standards” in an arbitrary and opaque manner without reference to existing best practices.

Promotion of the ISACS guidelines has resulted in some unusual situations. In Somalia, we understand that a UN representative advised local officials not to use regional marking standards developed by states parties to the Nairobi Protocol – although these standards met the requirements of countries in the region, the UN said they were not “ISACS-compliant.” Given the diversity of views, we hope that future reports will more aptly characterize ISACS as voluntary guidelines and not as “practical standards.”

We also note with concern references to tracing of small arms ammunition. Yes, it is possible to assess the original manufacturer of a given round of ammunition from lot markings and other identifiers. But this is not the same thing as tracing, which is the systematic tracking from the point of manufacture or importation to the point at which an item became illicit. Just noting that a rifle round was produced in a given country – often legally – does not explain how that round ended up illegally in the hands of a criminal or terrorist. The United States takes the illicit trafficking of ammunition very seriously. But measures to combat illicit trafficking of ammunition differ from those needed to prevent the illicit trade in the weapons themselves. This is why the United States supported a General Assembly resolution establishing in 2020 a Group of Governmental Experts to discuss problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus.

Mr. President, Madam High Representative, the United States will continue to take concrete, effective steps at the national, regional, and global level to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. We welcome today’s discussion and urge all countries to join us in strengthening implementation of our existing commitments and obligations in the field.

Thank you.