Enhancing the Small Arms Demand Reduction Agenda

Tasneem Jamal

Arghavan Gerami

The Ploughshares Monitor June 2001 Volume 22 Issue 2

Emerging Policy/Action Recommendations from the 2001 International Workshop on Demand Reduction

Building on demand-side discussions in Durban (1999) and Nairobi (2000)1 the International Workshop on Demand Reduction in Toronto (March 2001, sponsored by Project Ploughshares and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs) furthered efforts to develop and advance a well focused small arms demand reduction agenda. NGOs from various geographic regions and affected communities were joined by policy analysts, government officials, and other experts to explore concrete policy options and make action recommendations to reduce demand for small arms and light weapons (SALW) and address the conditions which generate and maintain this demand.

The framework

Setting the policy and political context, Alejandro Bendaña (2001) (Centros de Estudios Internacionales) suggested that, to create effective policy on the demand dimension of small arms abuse, a comprehensive framework is essential. Resources must be directed at improving the underlying conditions which result in violence by, for example, strengthening the structures for democratic development and addressing the specific problems arising from economic marginalization. Bendaña argued, “We need to respond to small arms abuse in a more coherent and co-ordinated manner with a view to long-term sustainability and capacity building” (p. 3). However, he cautioned, “Approaches should be situation-specific, as weapons proliferations affect different sectors in different ways in different regions, within and among countries”(p. 4).

Building on this approach, Don Hubert (2001) (Consultant, Canada and Bangladesh) argued that the small arms debate must be reframed in terms of human security. Human security differs from traditional state security because its main focus is the security of people and communities and it deals with a broader range of threats (such as health, economic security, the environment, etc.). The debate must move from ‘state’ security and a crime/arms control agenda to considerations of human cost (e.g., the impact on public health, public safety, and human development) in order to examine security as it is actually experienced by individuals, and understand the incentives and disincentives behind the demand for weapons.

The interconnection between demand and supply

While the workshop’s main focus was the demand side of SALW, conference participants agreed that the supply and production dimensions of the small arms problem must also be closely examined, especially since the actors in question (e.g., suppliers, non-state groups, the military, etc.) are involved in both demand and supply. In their summary statement, Working Group 1 noted, “The demand and supply of small arms are interconnected; demand seeks supply and supply seeks demand in a co-dependent way, one being more dominant in different contexts, times, and places.”

Researcher Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha’s presentation (2001) illustrated this complex relationship in her discussion of the state/non-state demand for small arms in Pakistan. She argued that effective control mechanisms must take into account the layers of conflict within a country or region and the ways that these conflicts impact on the supply and demand dynamic (e.g., the role of external forces, gun cultures, the proliferation of war fronts, and developments in neighbouring countries). As well, she noted, the specific sources of demand and supply within a region must be examined before appropriate “strategic” and “tactical” control measures can be put in place. For instance, in Pakistan, the trend of recruiting and training young men, many of whom are disillusioned with socio-economic conditions, for religious wars must be reversed; and illegal production and weapons proliferation by state, non-state, and external sources must be halted.

Security sector reform

One specific area that the workshop linked to demand reduction was security sector reform (SSR). Dominick Donald (Donald and Olonisakin 2001) (OSRSG /CAC, UN) explained that SSR entails “reordering state security structures – military, police, and intelligence – to better fit the threat they face and the society they serve” (p. 1). When the capacity, competence, and performance of the entire security network are reassessed and enhanced, the result is greater accountability, transparency, and professionalism, and, as a further consequence, greater public confidence. Working Group 3 noted that, through proper recruitment, training, budgetary support, and financial remuneration, security personnel can be reoriented (for instance, to exercise more discretion in the use of force, concentrate on relevant roles, and engage in legitimate conduct rooted in international humanitarian law) to reduce their level of political involvement and focus on their security functions.

Specific attention must also be paid to reforming the courts and penal system, improving community-based policing, and ensuring that an unbalanced ethnic composition does not result in additional tension. “Accountability thus extends to the way justice is perceived to be delivered. Perceptions of ‘impunity’ for certain groups or classes increase alienation and disaffection” (Working Group 3).

However, reforms must go beyond reordering public structures and transforming security institutions to ensure that the gap between the citizens’ perception of threat and the state’s perception is narrowed and eventually eliminated. Otherwise, individuals will try to provide their own security by obtaining firearms, thus fueling the demand for SALW. SSR is more likely to succeed if it is part of a “wider process of reform” and political participation (Donald and Olonisakin 2001), in which people feel that the system works for them and allows them to affect outcomes, that there is a strong commitment to good governance and the rule of law and an environment of mutual trust; and, most importantly, that the community’s essential security needs are fulfilled.

Civil society must develop a strategy on how to work with the security sector to bring about more transparency, better governance of security installations, and a more effective criminal justice system.

Weapons collection and destruction

Closely linked to demand reduction are weapons collection and destruction programs, particularly those set in the context of sustainable development projects. Sami Faltas (2001) (Bonn International Conversion Center, Germany) argued that, first and foremost, an effective weapons collection process entails research and an analysis of why people want to be armed (e.g., to avert threat and achieve security, to gain or benefit from an opportunity, or to achieve justice) and how they can be persuaded to give up their weapons. Appropriate strategies to counter the wish, means, and access to arms must focus on addressing these underlying motives and creating a greater level of confidence and empowerment in the community. Government reform (transparency, accountability, and effectiveness), weapons reform (arms control and regulation), social and cultural reform (e.g., cultures of peace), and economic reform (e.g., education and development programs) are examples of these strategies.

Faltas noted that collection must include awareness raising, which emphasizes the problematic aspects of weapons and the benefits of disarmament, and some broader development projects geared toward the provision of security and better access to health and education. People must be encouraged to see the personal benefits in disarming through a safe and easy process, and the community benefits from stability, peace, and development. Thus, development projects can support the efforts to remove weapons and, in turn, weapons collection and disposal can support development efforts. In this manner, “the principles and lessons learned from community development (local ownership, sustainability, capacity building)” can be “applied to programs dealing with small arms” (Working Group 3).

Once weapons have been collected they must be destroyed. Weapons destruction will be effective and serve as a powerful political symbol if it is mandatory, definitive, rapid, transparent, and public, clearly illustrating for all parties why destruction is necessary and beneficial. By maintaining and refining the idea of destruction, authorities will encourage the voluntary surrendering of guns.

The stages of post-conflict reconstruction and reintegration

Demand reduction can be undertaken in the contexts of both an immediate post-war environment and longer-term development. The immediate post-war environment can itself be divided into two stages: a bridging phase of about six months and a longer follow-up phase of several years. The following analysis is mainly based on the submissions of the Second Working Group.

1. Bridging Phase

The first phase is a bridging stage to stabilize the situation, with a focus on security, the strengthening of civil society, and DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration):

a. External forces can provide security for as long as necessary to ensure legitimacy and respect for human rights.

b. Civil society must organize and strengthen its policies and programs, undertake community consultation, become involved in the provision of training and jobs, and devise creative ways to address cultures of violence and integrate ex-combatants into the community.

c. DDR must be integrated into the peace process. Weapon collection and destruction must be undertaken quickly, transparently, and with verification. External implementation will likely be needed.

During this phase, NGOs must undertake community-based dispute resolution and mediation, including ex-combatants as facilitators. As well, while supporting these processes and introducing projects, NGOs must avoid instilling dependency on international institutions/donors. For their part, international donors and institutions must facilitate interactions with local civil society and provide the necessary resources and assistance to support stabilization, with an emphasis on self-help.

2. Follow-up phase

The follow-up phase should focus on reintegration, social and economic programs, and a justice package:

a. Reintegration must include the positive engagement of ex-combatants; organization of demobilized personnel; provision of training/jobs, land credit, technical assistance, and human skills development; and the involvement of all elements of society, including ex-combatants and their dependents.

b. Long-term support and funding must be provided for programs to engage youth (e.g., provide jobs), improve education and health for children (e.g., trauma healing), and build economic and media capacity.

c. A justice package would require SSR, the strengthening of judicial structures, and police training.

During this phase, international institutions and donors and NGOs must stay positively engaged to ensure the retraining of police (SSR), revision of destabilizing policies (i.e., debt repayment), provision of necessary support and resources, and the implementation of “quick impact projects” that emphasize job creation, education, health, and income generation.


With the process fully underway for the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects and the 3rd Preparatory Committee completed, it has been realized that a more focused strategy is essential to ensure that demand-side concerns already acknowledged in other regional declarations (e.g., the Nairobi Declaration) are incorporated into the final Program of Action. In their presentations and participation in three Working Group Sessions, workshop participants proposed a range of measures based on their regional experiences, and focused on developing specific language and content for the Program of Action. These measures could contribute positively to the outcome of the UN Conference and to post-conference follow-up and implementation. In the meantime, strategists must continue to work to shift the framework from the state security to the human security agenda, and to ensure that demand reduction gets more attention from policy makers.

1. In 1999 the Quaker UN offices held a seminar in Durban, South Africa, in which 12 groups from various regions identified a number of lessons related to different aspects of the demand for small arms (community engagement, transparency, economic dimensions, attitude, and identity). Building on this initiative, in December 2000, another demand-side session was held in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by 35 organizations actively involved in various community programs. The participants identified a number of new lessons, including the link between demand and issues of sustainable development and human security, the importance of community empowerment and involvement in the policy formulation process, the value of indigenous approaches to conflict resolution, the need for a comprehensive approach to the small arms problem, and the importance of building trust and confidence in the community (Gerami, 2001).



Bandana, Alejandro 2001, “Addressing the demand dimensions of small arms abuse: problems and opportunities,” Project Ploughshares Briefing 01-6.

Donald, Dominick and Olonisakin, ’Funmi 2001, “Security sector reform and the demand for small arms and light weapons,” Project Ploughshares Briefing 01-7.

Faltas, Sami 2001, Post-Conflict Peace-Building: The Challenge of Weapons Collection and Disposal, paper presented at the International Workshop on Demand Reduction, Toronto, March 2001.

Gerami, Arghavan 2001, “Addressing the demand side of the small arms complex: ensuring balance at the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons,” The Ploughshares Monitor, March, p. 21.

Hubert, Don 2001, “Small arms demand reduction and human security: towards a people-centred approach to small arms,” Project Ploughshares Briefing 01-5.

Siddiqa-Agha, Ayesha 2001, The demand and supply dynamics of small arms and light weapons in Pakistan, Project Ploughshares Working Paper, forthcoming.

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