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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Small Arms Control: Old Weapons, New Issues
Jayantha Dhanapala, Mitsuro Donowaki, Swadesh Rana, & Lora Lumpe

Aldershot: Ashgate, In association with UNIDIR, 1999
322pp. Hb.: £45.00; ISBN 0-7546-2076-X


Light, cheap and deadly weapons like the AK-47 have been around for a long time. They are the weapons of choice in civil wars, the most prevalent form of mass violence, in which many of the victims and combatants are civilians. None of this is new. So why the recent fuss about small arms and light weapons? There are several reasons. Today diplomacy and public opinion pay greater attention to civil wars because they are less preoccupied by tensions between the great powers. More importantly, the passing of superpower rivalry has flooded the market with second-hand weapons. Under these conditions, communal and political conflicts are more likely to turn violent, and violence is more likely to spread and escalate. The easy availability of deadly weapons has a similarly undesirable effect on crime. So the proliferation of small arms is a problem to be taken seriously.

Such issues are discussed in this recent book that contains the proceedings of UN workshops for practitioners and scholars held in 1996/1997. This is not the best source of up-to-date information on efforts to tackle the proliferation of small arms. Instead, see the web site of the UN http://www.un.org/Depts/dda/CAB/index.htm and the International Action Network on Small Arms http://www.iansa.org. However, for a wider view and a deeper understanding of the issues, buy and read this book.

The book looks first at the causes of small arms proliferation and how policy-makers try to deal with them. This section ends with an essay packed with detail, in which Chris Smith takes us on a tour of the world's largest storehouses and markets of guns. The three parts that follow focus on small arms problems in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. Inevitably, they are a mixed bag.

One of the many intriguing subjects discussed in this book is the nexus between contraband and guns. Daniel Garcia-Peña Jaramillo describes the use of guns in Colombia to protect and support the narcotics trade, especially the smuggling of drugs to the consumer countries. At the same time, guerilla groups tax the narcotraficantes to raise money for guns. M. Shahedul Anam Khan describes the same phenomenon in South Asia and the Golden Triangle. Similar connections also exist between guns and the illegal trade in diamonds (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola), timber and rare species (Southeast Asia) and oil (Angola), but these are not discussed in much detail here. They suggest that efforts to curb the spread and misuse of small arms in areas where armed violence is endemic will come to little unless they are part of a broader effort to change the economy of war.

Sami Faltas, Surplus Weapons Program Leader, Bonn

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