Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade: Measures to address the diversion of small arms
Small Arms Survey Online Forum Inventory 2
By: Emilia Dungel and Paul Holtom
Conventional arms and ammunition are at risk of diversion throughout their life cycle. Identifying and putting in place effective measures to prevent, detect, and respond to diversion is a priority for the small arms community. The second panel of the Small Arms Survey 2020 online forum ‘Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade’ focused on the issue of diversion, a key theme for this year’s sixth conference of states parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT CSP6) and next year’s seventh biennial meeting of the UN Programme of Action on small arms (PoA BMS7). This blog post summarizes responses to three key questions addressed by the panel.
What are we talking about?
Eighty per cent of respondents to a poll taken during the session think that there is no universally accepted definition nor shared common understanding of diversion. This critical issue will be tackled by a new research project being undertaken by the four organizations represented during the session —Conflict Armament Research, the Small Arms Survey, Stimson Center, and UNIDIR — in the lead up to next year’s seventh conference of states parties to the ATT (CSP7).
When does diversion happen?
Over half of participants in another poll conducted during the session think that conventional arms are at most risk of being diverted ‘from the storage site in a national stockpile.’ Panelists provided diversion cases to show that weapons and ammunition are at risk of diversion at any point in their life cycle — from production to transfer, from storage to destruction. For example, Type 56–2 assault rifles documented in Nigeria had been diverted from a neighboring national stockpile, likely from a shipment originally imported to Cote d’Ivoire prior to 2004. Another example revealed that it can take a mere two months between the export of an anti-tank guided weapon to one state and its seizure from an armed group in a different state.
Where do we go from here?
Awareness of the different points of possible diversion in the life cycle of arms and ammunition helps inform measures to prevent and mitigate the risk of diversion. Comprehensive risk assessments that link pre-authorization risk export assessment to the physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) of the recipient is one such measure.
Sharing information to inform such risk assessments is also important. The ATT could provide a platform for this. ATT initial reports and reports on PoA implementation can provide some information on measures to tackle diversion, but despite increased transparency in some areas—as reflected in the Survey’s Transparency Barometer—there remains much to be done to share useful information to combat diversion.
States and organizations that investigate diversion cases and have effective measures to prevent and detect diversion should be encouraged to talk openly about both such cases and measures. Transparency in this vein only reveals that the national systems are working. One panelist drew a comparison to Covid-19 testing: is diversion increasing if we hear more about it being detected, or are systems dealing with the diversion epidemic showing their resilience and ability to identify and combat the diversion of conventional arms and ammunition?
The speakers in this panel were:
Learn more about diversion:
- The ATT Baseline Assessment Project
- Nigeria’s Herder-Farmer Conflict (Conflict Armament Research Dispatch)
- Diversion Digest 1 (Conflict Armament Research Dispatch)
- Diversion Digest 2 (Conflict Armament Research Dispatch)
- Measures to address and prevent diversion (Small Arms Survey infographic — also in French and Spanish)
- Preventing Diversion: Comparing ATT and African measures for importing states (Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper)
- Strengthening End Use/r Control Systems to Prevent Arms Diversion: Examining Common Regional Understandings (UNIDIR)
- Preventing Diversion in Conventional Arms Transfers: Exploring Contributions of Industry and Private Sector Actors (UNIDIR Key Issues Brief)
- Enhancing the Understanding of Roles and Responsibilities of Industry and States to Prevent Diversion (UNIDIR)