U.S. Small Arms and Global Transfer Principles

Tasneem Jamal

Rachel Stohl

Working Paper 06-1

The United States is the world’s largest arms exporter and leads all countries in both arms transfer agreements with and arms deliveries to developing nations. In 2004, the U.S. concluded $6.9 billion in transfer agreements and $9.6 billion in arms deliveries, and those are only the recorded sales. The U.S. also transfers arms through covert means and it is nearly impossible to come by data on the quantity and value of these sales.

In discussions on efforts to control the proliferation and misuse of small arms, the US government often declares that transfers of weapons originating in the United States do not contribute to the global spread of small arms on the illicit market and that, as former Assistant Secretary of State Lincoln Bloomfield said in 2001, “lawful manufacture, trade and possession are not the problem.” Despite this insistence, U.S weapons have been found in conflict zones and have been used in violent crimes around the world. Such findings clearly link licit and illicit transfers and suggest that stronger legal controls could prevent leakage into illicit markets.

This paper is the result of research commissioned by Project Ploughshares for a project to engage civil society and governments in the Americas region in advancing international support for improved transfer controls in the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. A central project objective was to provide research to inform and advance commitment to global principles, based on state responsibilities under international law, to govern national decisions on the export of small arms and light weapons.

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