UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its AspectsJohn R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Plenary Address to the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons
New York City
July 9, 2001
Excellencies and distinguished colleagues, it is my honor and privilege to present United States views at this United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects.
The abstract goals and objectives of this Conference are laudable. Attacking the global illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) is an important initiative which the international community should, indeed must, address because of its wide ranging effects. The illicit trade in SA/LW can be used to exacerbate conflict, threaten civilian populations in regions of conflict, endanger the work of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian aid workers, and greatly complicate the hard work of economically and politically rebuilding war-torn societies. Alleviating these problems is in all of our interest.
Small arms and light weapons, in our understanding, are the strictly military arms -- automatic rifles, machine guns, shoulder-fired missile and rocket systems, light mortars -- that are contributing to continued violence and suffering in regions of conflict around the world. We separate these military arms from firearms such as hunting rifles and pistols, which are commonly owned and used by citizens in many countries. As U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said, "just as the First and Fourth Amendments secure individual rights of speech and security respectively, the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms." The United States believes that the responsible use of firearms is a legitimate aspect of national life. Like many countries, the United States has a cultural tradition of hunting and sport shooting. We, therefore, do not begin with the presumption that all small arms and light weapons are the same or that they are all problematic. It is the illicit trade in military small arms and light weapons that we are gathered here to address and that should properly concern us.
The United States goes to great lengths to ensure that small arms and light weapons transferred under our jurisdiction are done so with the utmost responsibility. The transfer of all military articles of U.S. origin are subject to extremely rigorous procedures under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations. All U.S. exports of defense articles and services, including small arms and light weapons, must be approved by the Department of State. Assurances must be given by the importing country that arms will be used in a manner consistent with our criteria for arms exports: they must not contribute to regional instability, arms races, terrorism, proliferation, or violations of human rights. Arms of U.S. origin can not be retransferred without approval by the United States. To ensure that arms are delivered to legitimate end-users, our government rigorously monitors arms transfers, investigating suspicious activity and acting quickly to curtail exports to those recipients who do not meet our strict criteria for responsible use. In the past five years, the United States has conducted thousands of end-use checks, interdicted thousands of illicit arms shipments at U.S. ports of exit, and cut-off exports entirely to five countries due to their failure to properly manage U.S. origin defense articles.
All commercial exporters of arms in the United States must be registered as brokers and submit each transaction for government licensing approval. Our brokering law is comprehensive, extending over citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, and also U.S. citizens operating abroad.
Believing that it is in our interest to stem the illicit trade in military arms, the United States has avidly promoted and supported such international activities as the Wassenaar Arrangement and the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Bilaterally, we offer our financial and technical assistance all over the world to mitigate the illicit trade in SA/LW. We have worked with countries to develop national legislation to regulate exports and imports of arms, and to better enforce their laws. We have provided training, technical assistance, and funds to improve border security and curb arms smuggling in many areas of the world where this problem is rampant. And in the past year, we have instituted a program to assist countries in conflict-prone regions to secure or destroy excess and illicit stocks of small arms and light weapons.
We are proud of our record, and would hope that the Program of Action would encourage all nations to adopt similar practices. Our practical experience with these problems reflects our view of how best to prevent the illicit trade in SA/LW. Our focus is on addressing the problem where it is most acute and the risks are highest: regions of conflict and instability. We strongly support measures in the draft Program of Action calling for effective export and import controls, restraint in trade to regions of conflict, observance and enforcement of UNSC embargoes, strict regulation of arms brokers, transparency in exports, and improving security of arms stockpiles and destruction of excess. These measures, taken together, form the core of a regime that, if accepted by all countries, would greatly mitigate the problems we all have gathered here to address.
There are, however, aspects of the draft Program of Action that we cannot support. Some activities inscribed in the Program are beyond the scope of what is appropriate for international action and should remain issues for national lawmakers in member states. Other proposals divert our attention from practical, effective measures to attack the problem of the illicit trade in SA/LW where it is most needed. This diffusion of focus is, indeed, the Program's chief defect, mixing together as it does legitimate areas for international cooperation and action and areas that are properly left to decisions made through the exercise of popular sovereignty by participating governments:
Through its national practices, laws, and assistance programs, through its diplomatic engagement in all regions of the world, the United States has demonstrated its commitment to countering the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. During the next two weeks, we will work cooperatively with all member states to develop a final document which is legitimate, practical, effective, and which can be accepted by all nations. As we work toward this goal over the next two weeks, we must keep in mind those suffering in the regions of the world where help is most desperately needed and for whom the success of this Conference is most crucial.