Global Policy Forum

Small Arms Control: No Magic Spell


Speech by the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr Jozias van Aartsen

UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms
July 9, 2001


Ambition. That should be the hallmark of our multilateral action programme to counter the uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons. An ambitious Action Programme should involve more than their destruction. It should target the mechanisms and incentives behind their uncontrolled spread.

Key Elements of Action Programme

Our policy is to fight the illicit arms trade. We must track down and stop all illegal arms flows. My government strongly supports the elements of the Action Programme as recommended by the EU. It is my firm conviction that the illicit trade cannot be tackled without involving the legal arms trade: we must further regulate the legal trade in arms, small weapons included, in order to prevent `spill over' into the illegal arms trade.

We can enhance transparency in legal trade by improving the labelling and registration of weapons, by implementing stricter export rules and by regulating arms brokers. This should also involve a prohibition of small arms supply to `nonstate-actors'. Both within the OSCE, the EU and elsewhere instruments have been developed that should allow us to prevent the illegal arms trade from benefiting from the legal trade in arms and small weapons. I strongly support these instruments such as the labelling and registration of weapons, implementing strict export rules and regulating arms brokers. They must find a place in our joint

Programme of Action

We must reduce the number of small arms and light weapons. That should involve not only a responsible management of stockpiles and the destruction of surpluses, but also the collection of illegally held small arms. In this respect my country strongly favors that collection schemes be an integral part of post conflict programs. Cambodia may serve as an example of how efforts to collect and destroy small arms can be linked to a country's reconstruction and development. The European Union has started a project whereby civilians hand in their arms to the government, in exchange for which schools and hospitals are being built.

Typical human security aspects should enter our Action Programme as well, such as Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration, Economic Development, Good Governance and Security Sector Reform. The fight against the uncontrolled spread of small arms should be an integral part of development frameworks. The Netherlands has already made peacebuilding and human security key elements of its development policy. The extent to which developing countries implement measures of conflict management and peacebuilding is crucial in determining our bilateral assistance efforts.

Bilateral and multilateral policies must be complementary. The UN, the EU, the OSCE and other regional organisations play a vital role in tackling the uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons.

Raise Public Awareness

In parallel to setting up an ambitious Action Programme, we must also raise public awareness of the problem and possible solutions. People must know of the destructive effect of an uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons. That means that we will have to repeat our message over and over again: small arms and light weapons can be a threat to a country's development. In countries that are struggling with weak political and economic systems, often enhanced by instability and conflict, the abundance of small arms and light weapons can be a serious threat. They hamper the political, social and economic development of those countries that are most in need of progress, stability and prosperity.

Today, we have made one step further in raising public awareness. Today is Small Arms Destruction Day. Our call for action in this UN forum is being amplified by the actual destruction of small arms and light weapons in countries like Brazil, Mali, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Cambodia. The fact that small arms are being voluntarily destroyed in various countries on different continents proves that our message is being brought home; that our efforts are starting to bear fruit.

Follow-Up Crucial

This two-week conference must be a success. It should conclude the preparatory phase and give the go-ahead for our Action Programme. But we cannot leave it at that. An energetic follow-up will be crucial. We must monitor the effective implementation of the measures to which we have agreed. The Netherlands therefore wishes to express its strong support for the proposal made by the Belgian government on behalf of the EU, to organise a follow-up conference every two years. We must not wait until 2006. We have to look also how best to involve NGOs and civil society in this implementation, such as by organising regional and maybe worldwide informal gatherings with all stakeholders. Between now and then, something must be done. We cannot afford to lose the momentum created by our bilateral and multilateral efforts.

This conference must lead to a substantive step forward both in engaging into activities and in raising awareness at national and at regional levels. The end of this conference is in fact a beginning. The beginning of renewed efforts by all parties involved in one way or another in the problem of the spread of small arms, ideally in the form of legally binding instruments.

Coordination Between All Parties

We are making progress. Small arms are being set ablaze as we speak, and we are starting to coordinate our efforts in international fora. Coordination between all parties is a precondition for success because the uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons is not a national or a regional problem; it is a global one. Our coordination should involve developing countries as well as their donors; intergovernmental organisations as well as NGOs. In fact, NGOs are crucial if our policies are to become a success. They have excellent local expertise and awareness of problems.


We are dealing with a serious and highly destructive matter. Our discussions and debates should not distract us from the suffering and instability caused by small arms and light weapons. The ice-cold statistics still bring that message home unequivocally: half a billion small arms still exist throughout the world. Their use causes the deaths of some 1,300 people a day. Often, a child is behind the trigger: more than 300,000 children are involved in the world's armed conflicts.

If for every word we spoke one weapon were to be destroyed, the world would be a safer place already. But there is no magic spell. We must therefore all work hard to adopt a firm action programme at the end of this conference. It must give us the tools we need in our fight against the uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons. We owe that to all those who suffer because of them.

More Information on Small Arms and Light Weapons


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