European Union External Action

Arms trade: EU adopts comprehensive approach to scourge of illicit weapons

13/06/2018 - 11:05
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Illicit weapons are a threat to us all. They contribute to terrorism and organised crime within the EU. They also undermine the EU’s development and humanitarian efforts in parts of our neighbourhood and Africa. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and the European Commission today adopted a joint proposal for a comprehensive EU Strategy against illicit firearms, small arms and light weapons (SALW).

Arms trade, small arms and light weapons

Powerful, military-grade firearms in the hands of terrorists, criminals and other unauthorised actors pose a serious threat to our security. Illicit firearms have been used in several terrorist attacks in Europe. In the EU's neighbourhood many conflicts are fuelled by the proliferation of illicit weapons. These conflicts cause significant suffering for the populations concerned. A total of almost 800 million people are estimated to be deprived of sufficient food due to armed conflict.   

The proposal, or "Joint Communication", tabled today sets out clear objectives and concrete measures to tackle the problem. It recognises the many actors, issues and cross-border dimensions that play a role in the context of illicit arms trade and therefore recommends a full set of action points to tackle the issue from all sides in a comprehensive way. 

A multitude of different stakeholders need to be considered and involved such as police, customs, border guards, armed forces, export control bodies, manufacturers or judicial authorities. Addressing the trade of illicit arms effectively means that all of these need to exchange information and cooperate closely. Also, the issues do not just concern individual countries but all relevant countries as a group. Trade in illicit arms is indeed often transnational in nature with national, regional and global dimensions. It needs to be tackled at all of these levels. In addition, it is crucial that measures address all phases in the life cycle of firearms: manufacture, trade, export, stockpiling and disposal.

Against this background, the Joint Communication constitutes an important step forward. It proposes a set of objectives and actions for an EU Strategy against illicit firearms, small arms, light weapons and their ammunition. Once adopted by the EU Member States, the new strategy will replace an earlier but in many aspects by now outdated EU Strategy of 2005. The EU Strategy will be closely connected with the United Nations Programme of Action against the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons that will be discussed in New York in the last two weeks of June 2018.

The initiative to counter illicit arms is one element in the EU’s toolbox to tackle today’s complex security challenges. High Representative Mogherini presented in 2016 an overarching EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy that foresees an integrated and joined-up approach across internal and external policy dimensions, between Member States and EU Institutions as well as with regional and international institutions. Since then, a multitude of different initiatives in the areas of security and defence have been launched, including enhanced cooperation with NATO and the beefing-up of EU autonomous security and defence capabilities.

Photo: Conflict armament research