August 11, 1998


U.S. policy and views on small arms issues are generally framed by the President's February 1995 Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. According to that policy, the United States is currently undertaking, leading, or otherwise supporting a wide range of national, international, and regional efforts to address many complex aspects of small arms proliferation and control. This fact sheet highlights the relevant elements of U.S. conventional arms transfer policy, and summarizes U.S. views and actions in four broad areas relating to small arms: national export controls, combating illegal arms trafficking, multilateral efforts, and regional arms control initiatives.

U.S. Arms Transfer Policy

U.S. arms transfer policy is designed to support transfers that meet legitimate defense requirements of friends and allies, in support of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and to restrain arms transfers that may be destabilizing or threatening to regional peace and security. Among the goals of the President's policy are to promote regional stability, peaceful resolution of conflict, arms control, human rights, and democratization. Major elements of the policy include promotion of national and multilateral responsibility, restraint, and transparency in the transfer of arms (including via the Wassenaar Arrangement); vigorous support for regional initiatives to enhance transparency, and for arms control and confidence-building measures to constrain the demand for destabilizing weapons and related technologies; unilateral restraint where such action is effective or necessitated by overriding national interests; and assistance to other countries in developing effective export control mechanisms to support responsible export policies.

National Export Controls

Decisions on arms transfers are made on a case-by-case basis, and are guided by the foregoing goals and a set of comprehensive criteria. These criteria include consistency with international agreements and arms control initiatives, and with U.S. regional stability interests. Other policy criteria include weighing the risk of adverse economic, political, or social impact within the recipient nation, as well as the human rights, terrorism, and proliferation records of the country in question.

One recent and significant change in U.S. law and regulations governing arms exports is the implementation of a requirement for any U.S. person, wherever located, and any foreign person located in the United States or otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, who engages in the business of brokering activities with respect to the manufacture, export, import, or transfer of any defense article or defense service subject to State Department export controls or any "foreign defense article or defense service," to register with the Department of State. Specified brokering activities now require prior written approval of the Department of State, and others are subject to a prior notification requirement.

Moreover, the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce and Treasury are in the final stages of amending their respective export control regulations to implement President Clinton's agreement at the Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, on April 18, 1998. In an effort to strengthen common hemispheric security and strengthen protections against new transnational threats facing the region, including the production, distribution, and abuse of narcotics, illegal arms trafficking and terrorism, the President and other hemispheric partners agreed to implement model regulations on commercial arms transfers.

To further these objectives, the U.S. Secretaries of State, Commerce and Treasury have been directed to implement the Model Regulations. In order to carry out this directive the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) is being amended. In addition to amending the ITAR, the U.S. Office of Defense Trade Controls is in the process of modifying its firearms licensing practices. As of June 30, 1998, all requests for approval for authorization to export firearms and/or ammunition to an OAS member country must have an import authorization that includes a number unique to the country of issuance; name of issuing country; date of issuance; identification of authorizing party; identification of importer, quantity, value, type, manufacturer, model and country of manufacture; and expiration date. Requests that do not include an authorization with this information will immediately be returned without action.

The United States continues to enforce strictly its export control laws. For instance, Operation Exodus, a Customs Service program in existence since 1981, has made almost 14,000 seizures totaling more than $1 billion in illicit exports. In 1996, Operation Overrun, a task force of Customs inspectors aimed at detecting, uncovering, and seizing illegal shipments of military surplus and scrap material, seized more than $10 million in illicitly arranged exports.

Combating Illegal Arms Trafficking

The United States is actively engaged in cooperative efforts at the international level to lessen the negative effects of excessive and destabilizing arms accumulations, and to promote adoption of standards that will assist in preventing illegal trafficking in arms. As called for in President Clinton's October 22, 1995, UNGA address, the United States supports the development of standards that will reinforce and strengthen national laws that prohibit illegal arms transactions beyond national borders. The United States has called on all UN member states to expand cooperation in the search for global standards that will help states avoid becoming unwitting parties to illegal arms trafficking; aid in verifying the accuracy of arms export applications both before and after export authorizations, to prevent misuse and diversion; and help identify and apprehend international criminals and ensure their prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. To further these objectives, the United States has supported measures that are consistent with U.S. law enforcement and policy objectives and which advance important U.S. Government interests.

Within the Western Hemisphere particularly, obstructing the illicit flow of weapons to criminals, terrorists, and drug traffickers has been a high priority. The United States has been engaged in several cooperative programs with regional partners to combat the illicit manufacture of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials. Since the early 1990s the Inter-American, Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) has conducted studies, held seminars, and established an Experts Group to address through Model Regulations the control of the illicit transnational movements of firearms and explosives and their linkages to drug trafficking. In November 1997 CICAD approved the Model Regulations developed by its Experts Group, and in June 1998 the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly adopted the Model Regulations, encouraged member states to apply them, and requested the Experts Group to work on further improvements.

The negotiation and successful conclusion of the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, signed by the United States and 28 other OAS member states in November 1997, was another major achievement of hemispheric cooperation. The Convention, inter alia, requires each state to establish a national firearms control system and a register of manufacturers, traders, importers, and exporters of these commodities; establishes a national body to interact with other regional states and a regional organization advisory committee; and calls for standardization of national laws and procedures among member states of regional organizations and for the effective control of borders and ports. It will enhance the U.S. ability to cooperate with, and receive assistance from, other countries in the hemisphere in connection with efforts to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the offenses covered by the convention. The President has submitted the Convention to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent. As the first instrument of its kind in the world, it offers a model for possible application in other regions or globally.

In April 1998, the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)'s Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, with the United States, Brazil, and Canada playing leading roles, recommended that ECOSOC adopt a resolution on measures to regulate firearms for the purpose of combating illicit trafficking. Among its operative provisions were recommendations that States "work toward the elaboration of an international instrument to combat the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms . . ." and "take into account, where relevant and appropriate, the Inter-American Convention. . . . " The Commission also decided that "the ad hoc committee on the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention against transnational organized crime, to be established by the General Assembly, should hold discussions on the elaboration" of this international instrument, including "effective methods of identifying and tracing firearms, as well as on the establishment or maintenance of an import and export and in-transit licensing or similar authorization regime for the international commercial transfer of firearms, their parts and components and ammunition, to prevent their diversion for criminal misuse."

On June 10, 1998, Secretary of State Albright publicly proposed that the international community broaden its efforts to crack down on illicit firearms trafficking by pursuing a global agreement based on the OAS Convention, with the aim of concluding it in 1999.

Other Multilateral and International Efforts

To promote transparency in arms at the global level, the United States was among the original sponsors of the UN resolution establishing the UN Register of Conventional Arms, and we have submitted relevant information annually to the Register since its creation. The United States supports universal participation in the Register, and actively promotes this objective through an annual diplomatic campaign in capitals, and in our bilateral relationships with many countries. More than 90 states are now participating regularly in the UN Register. Since only a few arms exporting states do not participate, and many of the non-participating states would have supplied "nil" reports, only a small fraction of the world's imports and exports of major arms are not captured by the Register. The United States also advocates expansion of the Register to include military holdings and procurement through national production, and recognizes the potential relevance of complementary regional registers, for example in Africa, where small arms are the primary weapons of war.

The United States continues to support and send delegates to the UN Experts Panels (on the UN Register; on Small Arms; and the Technical Panel on Ammunition and Explosives) because we agree with the UN Secretary General on the need to focus increased attention on the growing problems associated with the proliferation and use of small arms.

With specific regard to small arms, the United States supports the recommendations of the 1997 Report of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms. We encourage their implementation, and support further work at the UN to consider further actions to address these issues. This was recently reflected in the Group of Eight (G-8) statement at the May 1998 Birmingham summit.

Also to promote transparency in armaments, the United States, along with its Western partners, promoted transparency in armaments in the UN Conference on Disarmament during the 1992-93 CD session.

Other UN activities in which the U.S. participates include the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC), which agreed in 1996 on a set of guidelines for international arms transfers with an emphasis on illicit trafficking, and where discussions currently involve broader considerations of practical disarmament -- ways of dealing with post-conflict consolidation of peace, including issues of small arms, peacekeeping, and other disarmament-related approaches.

Within the 33-member Wassenaar Arrangement, the United States actively seeks to increase transparency in the transfer of conventional arms, to promote more effective international controls, and to foster restraint -- particularly regarding regions of tension and to states that may pose threats to international peace and security. The Wassenaar Arrangement is considering exploring possible ways in which it might complement, reinforce, but not duplicate current international efforts in the small arms area.

On June 10, 1998, citing the increasing threat to civil aviation posed by shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, Secretary Albright issued a public call for negotiation of an international agreement to place tighter controls on the export of such portable, easily concealed weapons.

Regional Arms Control Initiatives

In 1994, the United States passed the African Conflict Resolution Act, which requires various U.S. government agencies to report to Congress annually on their contributions to efforts to improve conflict resolution capabilities across the African continent, within the OAU, and subregional organizations.

The U.S. also supports regional or subregional initiatives to enhance transparency in conventional arms, including the proposed West African Moratorium on the import, export, and manufacture of small arms and light weapons. U.S. arms control experts have provided technical advice to the Government of Mali in designing the terms of the proposed moratorium, and U.S. officials have participated in a series of international conferences on the moratorium and have presented papers on it to various professional audiences. The United States has endorsed this unprecedented subregional arms control initiative, earmarked funds to support it upon its declaration, and is continuing to make concerted efforts to identify and provide other appropriate material, technical, and/or financial support for its effective implementation.

The United States remains deeply concerned about the continuing violence in Africa's Great Lakes region, to which small arms trafficking has been a contributing factor. At the Entebbe summit in March, President Clinton and six heads of state and government from the region pledged to undertake a concerted effort to prevent a resurgence of genocide in Rwanda. They endorsed the reactivation of the UN Arms Flow Commission as a means to identify and stop illegal arms trafficking to the former Rwanda army and militia forces. In April the UN Security Council approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution which re-established the International Commission of Inquiry into Arms Flows (Rwanda) to continue investigating reports of the sale, supply or shipment of arms and related material to former Rwandan government forces and militias in Central Africa, in violation of Security Council resolutions. It mandated the Commission to identify parties that are involved in arms trafficking to Rwandan militias and insurgents, to make recommendations relating to the illegal flow of arms in the region, and called for the submission of a report to the Secretary General and the Security Council. The United States has also contributed financially to the work of the Commission. There has also been a convergence of views toward exercising maximum restraint in considering arms transfers to the Central Africa/Great Lakes region within the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The United States has welcomed the UN Secretary General's April 1998 Report to the Security Council on The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa. The report contains several specific recommendations for stopping the proliferation of arms, including implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures in the military and security fields, harmonization of policies against illicit arms trafficking, universal African participation in the UN Register of Conventional Arms, and establishment of supplementary subregional registers.

In the Western Hemisphere, the United States has been working intensively with its neighbors through the OAS to pursue a wide range of global and regional arms control initiatives, focussing on the development and adoption of enhanced transparency and confidence-building measures. In 1995 the OAS General Assembly adopted a U.S.-authored resolution instructing the Permanent Council to establish a Committee on Hemispheric Security, the first permanent regional forum for the consideration of arms control, nonproliferation, and security issues. The OAS is now committed to examining the desirability of a convention on the notification of all arms acquisitions (imported and domestically produced) covered by the seven categories of UN Register of Conventional Arms.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has actively advocated and supported numerous initiatives within the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to enhance military transparency and confidence- and security-building measures. At the ARF Ministerial meeting in Manila, in July 1998, Ministers endorsed all the recommendations of the Inter-Sessional Support Group on Confidence Building Measures (ISG-CBM). These include a set of matrices and tables showing the degree of implementation of some 20 agreed CBMs, two lists of new CBMs for implementation in the near and longer terms; continued discussion of arms modernization in the region; commitment to global arms control and nonproliferation regimes; support for universal ARF member participation in the UN Register of Conventional Arms; annual circulation of members' Register reports among all ARF members; and continued discussion of Register issues and submissions. A number of ARF members have expressed interest in considering small arms issues as well.