Dit artikel hoort bij: De Veiligheidsdiplomaat mei 2021

The Small Arms Survey: what is it about?

Armed actors

Tekst Loes van Bergen

De Veiligheidsdiplomaat sprak met de Small Arms Survey en vroeg hen de uitkomsten van hun jaarlijks gepubliceerde Transparency Barometer. Hierin worden nationale rapporten over de export van handvuurwapens met elkaar vergeleken om op deze manier een inzage te krijgen in de export van deze wapens. Dit artikel gaat in op de hoofdbevindingen van de 2020 Transparency Barometer en op hoe transparant Nederland is wanneer het aankomt op de export van handvuurwapens.

Leestijd: 4 minuten

Can you give a short introduction to the Small Arms Survey?

The Small Arms Survey is an organization that generates and provides expertise on all aspects of small arms and armed violence. It is an associated programme of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The Survey offers different types of activities: the generation of policy-relevant knowledge; the development of authoritative resources and tools; and the provision of expertise through training and other services. And has developed five global databases: Global Firearms Holdings, Global Violent Deaths, Peace Operations Data Set, Small Arms Transparency Barometer, and Unplanned Explosions at Munition Sites. 

The organisation’s findings are made available through a variety of outputs, including publications, blog posts, podcast episodes, presentations, and webinars, to name a few. In addition, the Survey has a strong portfolio focused on policy and capacity support, through which we provide tailored solutions for partners to tackle issues surrounding small arms, based on the frameworks established through international small arms instruments and measures. For instance, the Netherlands funds our Strengthening Implementation and Enforcement of the Arms Embargo on North Korea (SAENK) project, which provides support to UN member states to implement and enforce UN sanctions.

Logo Small arms and weapons

We are avid readers of the annual SAS transparency barometer and trade update. What is the aim of the barometer and trade update?

The Small Arms Trade Transparency Barometer (Barometer) aims to provide insight on the openness of the global authorized small arms trade by assessing the reporting practices of top and major exporters—countries that have exported at least USD 10 million worth of small arms and light weapons during any calendar year from 2001 to 2017 (for the 2020 edition of the Transparency Barometer).

The Barometer uses seven parameters to assess transparency and for scoring purposes: timeliness, access and consistency, clarity, comprehensiveness; deliveries, licences granted, and licences refused, for a total of 42 criteria and a maximum score achievable of 25 points.

While the Barometer identifies changes that states can make to improve their reporting practices, it can also be utilized as a tool to spot countries with low transparency scores whose trade is therefore unlikely to be fully captured in databases such as UN Comtrade, and for which alternative data sources are needed.

What is the main outcome of the 2020 barometer and trade update?

The 2020 edition of the Barometer assessed the world’s top and major small arms exporters’ reporting practices, based on their reporting of their arms trade activities in 2017. It reviewed a total of 50 countries and their average score was 12.36 out of a possible 25 points for the 2020 Barometer. For the second year in a row, the Barometer identifies Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Serbia, and the United Kingdom as the five most transparent exporters. The five least transparent exporters, also for the second year in a row, are North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE.

The Barometer shows that, overall, the most transparent countries continue to improve their scores. States whose scores decreased were often penalized for lack of timeliness. No progress is visible among the bottom five least transparent states. Therefore we think it would be great to see more states with low scores make regular gains in their scoring.

SAS Transparency Barometer 2020
SAS Transparency Barometer 2020

How does the Netherlands do?

The Netherlands has been among the ten most transparent countries since the first edition of the Barometer in 2003. It has consistently increased its score over the years, starting at 13 points (out of a possible 25) in 2003 and reaching 20 points today. The Netherlands has traditionally provided the most comprehensive information on small arms transfers according to Barometer scoring, but fell behind Switzerland in this category in the 2020 Barometer. The Netherlands is also among the states that have contacted the Survey to better understand how they could improve their reporting practices, which is something we encourage all countries to do.

Read the full Small Arms and Trade Transparency Barometer 2020 report here.

Security Assessment in North Africa

The Netherlands supports the Security Assessment in North Africa (SANA) project that the Survey started in 2012. What is the aim of this project?

The Security Assessment in North Africa (SANA) is a multi-year project of the Small Arms Survey that began in 2012 following the uprisings and armed conflicts in North Africa. It aims to support actors engaged in building a more secure environment in North Africa and interlinked neighboring regions, with particular focus on the Sahel-Sahara region. The project produces timely, evidence-based research and analysis on the availability and circulation of small arms, the dynamics of armed groups, the trajectories of conflicts, and related insecurity.

How has the project evolved over the past years?

The first three phases of the project, from July 2012 to June 2021, successfully established SANA as a primary source of reliable information, analysis, and training on small arms issues. The project’s research agenda progressed over the years to match the evolving dynamics in the region and to address the research needs for policymakers, practitioners, and the research community.  The project tackles four main thematic issues including illicit arms flows, armed actors, small arms misuse and armed violence, and measures and programmes undertaken to mitigate related threats and insecurity.

What results of this project stand out the most for you?

One highlight of the project is the training programme we offer for the region’s journalists on small arms and light weapons identification and reporting. Journalists play a crucial role in reporting on conflicts in the region and a solid understanding of weapons-related issues is crucial and relevant as the experience of Libya can testify. The success of our training sessions, as testified by the participants and the external evaluation assessment, highlights the need to continue and expand this training programme and offer it to a wider group of journalists reporting on the region.