Dr. Peter Lock
European Association for Research on Transformation e.V.

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Dr. Peter Lock
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letzte Änderung:03.01.2011
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Small Arms Survey 2001
Profiling the Problem

Oxford (Oxford University Press) 2001, 294 pp.

Small arms did not attract much research interest until the middle of the nineties. SIPRI, IISS and ACDA focused on military expenditures, exports, manpower, and major weapons systems. Startled by the obdurate stability of internal wars scholars like Rufin, Jean, Keen, Ellis, Stewart, Duffield and de Waal pioneered empirical studies of the underlying <economies of war>. Small arms were identified as the military currency of what Kaldor later came to label "new wars". Reacting to the appalling human suffering of predominantly civilians in these wars a global campaign eventually forced governments to take action on the issue of anti-personnel mines. But it was only too obvious that small arms would be next on the international agenda. The coalition of governments which brought about the Ottawa convention on landmines in 1997 soon after began to lobby the UN to take action on small arms control. In order to back up this initiative the governments of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom upon the initiative of Switzerland pooled resources to establish the Small Arms Survey as a research project for a minimum period of five years. The project is based at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, though the research staff is mostly Anglo-Saxon.
The survey is planned as an annual publication which aspires to serve as "the principle source of information on all aspects of small arms" for "policy makers, researchers and activists". The first edition was presented at the Special Session of the General Assembly in July 2001 in New York. The impressive wealth of information contained in this first issue is organised in seven chapters: Products and Producers; Global Firearms Stockpiles; Brokers and Transport Agents in the Illicit Arms Trade; Global Legal Small Arms Transfers; Global Illicit Small Arms transfers; Assessing the Effects of Small Arms Availability; Multilateral Measures and Initiatives. The existing body of information on small arms has been aptly collected and integrated into a highly readable standard source. It will serve as an invaluable tool helping to improve the research on <economies of war> and the design of humanitarian aid. It will inform governments struggling with policy issues related to war-torn societies. It will also deliver invaluable background information for conflict prevention initiatives at all levels.
Five of the chapters replicate categories employed by SIPRI and complement the data on major weapon systems with extensive information on the hitherto neglected category of small arms. The chapters on brokers and the effects of small arms availability break new ground. They have the potential to orient future data collection away from pointless comprehensiveness towards thematic priorities. Such an evolution is highly desirable, because the compilation of global stockpiles looks impressive, but it is basically a reflexive exercise in the tradition of yearbooks. Analytically this figure has no explanatory value, it only invites to construct analytically flawed ratios and comparisons. The international media were only too eager to quote that the Small Arms Survey has globally counted 500 million small arms. However the social functions of small arms ownership are of such diversity embedded in different social contexts that their global summation is not supported by a single meaningful quest. Just as nobody is interested in the total number of houses on earth, little can be learnt from estimating the global stockpile. The inquiry into the shady sphere of brokering will certainly produce concrete policy recommendations what categories of weapons to look at, in order to facilitate better control the illicit trade.
Sometimes the survey accepts the mainstream narrative without testing the economic plausibility of the argument. It often suffices to simulate the underlying economic transactions to discard generally accepted notions. For the second edition one would also wish that the data on production advertised in standard catalogues like the Jane's Yearbook will be more critically assessed by checking the economic feasibility of the asserted production. As a result the scenario of a rapidly shrinking marginal industrial sector suffering from overcapacities, but contrasted by apparently thriving black market activities would emerge more clearly.
These observations do not diminish the extraordinary achievement of the research team in Geneva which provides us with a set of comprehensive information on a topical issue To the contrary any reader will be eagerly awaiting the second survey.

Peter Lock (Hamburg FRG)