Arms watching: Integrating small arms and light weapons into the early warning of violent conflict

Arms watching: Integrating small arms and light weapons into the early warning of violent conflict

Weapons-specific early warning discussed in this report could serve as the basis for practical work in those areas where early warning is critical. There are major obstacles to inducing NGOs and other personnel in the field to begin making better use of weapons-specific information. The authors of this report are involved with the global effort underway to deal with this issue.

By the mid 1990s it had become clear to the international community that the promise of a post-cold war world free of conflict was not going to be fulfilled. The intra-state violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, South Africa, Mali, El Salvador, Albania, Mexico and a host of other states meant that preventing, monitoring and resolving armed conflict was still a major challenge to the international community.

In response to the continuation and changing nature of conflict, particularly complex and violent humanitarian crises resulting from these armed conflicts, the issue of early warning and its role in conflict prevention grew in importance. Actors at all levels of the international community, including academics, began to develop indicators and warning systems in an effort to predict, prevent, prepare and, in the worst case, manage these humanitarian crises. The goal was clear: to improve the prediction of the massive flow of refugees fleeing from conflict in order to do a better job of humanitarian relief.

Parallel to this development a similar urgency evolved regarding the tools of violence used in these complex and violent humanitarian crises: small arms and light weapons such as assault rifles, hand grenades and anti-personnel landmines. Analysis of these same conflicts produced a body of knowledge and action which increasingly demonstrated that the proliferation, accumulation, availability and misuse of small arms and light weapons is directly linked to the outbreak, escalation, resurgence and lethality of these conflicts.

Written in three sections by three different authors, this report concludes with a brief discussion of why these weapons-specific indicators have not been better utilised and some specific recommendations as to how these important indicators can become a vital part of the early warning process, in theory and in practice.