by Natalie Goldring
As we reach the end of the Review Conference, it’s important to focus once again on the fact that the real measure of the Programme of Action is whether it is saving lives.
And we can certainly measure the costs of failing to change our current course. On average, in a single eight-hour work day, nearly 500 lives are lost. Some 5000 lives will have been lost during the time scheduled for this review conference.
Just in the last day, Australia, Burundi, France, and Switzerland called the final document to include more mechanisms for enhancing efforts to measure the outcomes of our efforts. Right now, the only resources available to governments and civil society are the country reports. It would help if more countries submitted those reports in a timely fashion, but those reports alone are insufficient.
Proposals to better monitor the human costs of use of SALW may help provide the data necessary for determine whether the PoA and associated programs are saving lives. But even if it were possible to count every death from armed violence and track the reduction in deaths over time, we are not likely to be able to determine directly what caused the change. In attempting to resolve armed violence and rebuild the affected societies, many different programs are often implemented; measuring their individual effects is difficult, if not impossible. That does not mean we should abandon the effort – simply that we need to concede its difficulty.
The results of some provisions—such as those that involve setting up national mechanisms—are easier to measure, at least at a basic level. For example, the 5 September draft outcome document calls on states:
To put in place, where they do not exist, adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to exercise effective control over the production of small arms and light weapons within their areas of jurisdiction, and over the export, import, transit or retransfer of such weapons, including by strengthening the national system of export and import licensing and authorization, in order to prevent illegal manufacture of and illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons, including their diversion to unauthorized recipients.
We can measure the implementation of that type of provision in several ways. At a basic level, we can check to see whether countries have created the relevant laws, regulations, and administrative procedures. We can also total the number of countries that have established such mechanisms.
Determining whether particular mechanisms have been implemented effectively is a much more difficult and complex task, however. It’s challenging to obtain data on what countries are manufacturing and transferring legally; getting data on illicit manufacture and trafficking is even more difficult.
Civil society has documented illegal trafficking in SALW. Civil society can work with both affected states and those states that can offer assistance. Together, these partners can help countries better exercise control over the small arms under their jurisdiction. They can also document captured weapons. If effective border controls are also put into place, the quantities of weapons captured should decrease over time, as it should be more difficult for smugglers to operate within that state.
More accurately measuring the effectiveness of the PoA will not be easy. But as this conference ends, we need to rededicate ourselves to making a difference “on the ground” by focusing on reducing the human costs of armed violence. We can start by doing a thorough assessment of the accomplishments and failures of our efforts thus far. The Review Conference should have accomplished this task, but it did not do so. Now it’s up to states and civil society to fill the gap.
Natalie Goldring is a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. She also represents the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.