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HELSINKI PROCESS: More Development and Security in Exchange For Small Arms

Julio Godoy

DAR ES SALAAM, Nov 27 2007 (IPS) - Increasing international co-operation in exchange for guns and improving the sense of domestic security are promising strategies for reducing the number of small weapons in the hands of civilians in developing countries, a leading expert on the matter says.

Keith Krause, programme director of the Small Arms Survey, told IPS that taking weapons from civilians in developing countries is the toughest part of cutting down on the number of small arms around the world.

"While other strategies, such as reducing and controlling arms exports from producing countries, especially from former Soviet bloc countries, and improving the controls of government stocks are working, taking the small weapons from the hands of civilians is very difficult, and only works very slowly."

Krause is in Tanzania&#39s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, this week to participate in the third conference on globalisation and democracy organised by the Helsinki Process – where two of the main issues to be discussed are peace and security, and their relation to successful development policies.

The specific theme of the Nov. 27-29 meeting is &#39Inclusive Governance – Bridging Global Divides&#39. The Helsinki Process was initiated in 2002 by the governments of Finland and Tanzania to address developing countries&#39 fears that increasing global interdependence is creating greater inequality in an already unequal world.

"We at the Small Arms Survey have made an inventory of the small weapons around the world," Krause said. "We have counted some 875 million small arms and weapons, from revolvers and rifles and machine guns to portable rocket launchers."

The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, in Geneva, Switzerland. It was established in 1999 to carry out field research and information-gathering campaigns in states and regions affected by armed conflicts.

Civilians own approximately 650 million of the weapons around the world. Almost half of those weapons, some 270 million items, are concentrated in the hands of civilians in the United States – almost one gun per head. The rest of the arms, less than a quarter of the total weapons accounted for in the world, are controlled by official law enforcement agencies, such as police, and the military.

Krause explained that certain strategies for collecting weapons from civilians, such as programmes run by international organisations and governments buying arms from individuals, have not worked: "People would buy a gun across the border for, let&#39s say, 60 dollars, and then sell it at home for 80 and make a profit."

Or, they would sell broken, older weapons, but keep those in good condition.

"A more thoughtful strategy is providing people with an increased sense of security, and offering…development projects in exchange for the weapons," Krause noted. "For instance, international co-operation projects can offer to build schools and hospitals in exchange for the weapons held in the communities to be benefited from those projects."

This approach can be complicated, however, by the unequal distribution of weapons among civilians. For one thing, women tend not to hold weapons. Secondly, because a weapon is not a productive asset, apart from criminals, poor people are most likely unarmed. That is, most weapons may be concentrated among the wealthy elites in urban areas.

"In those cases, governments must increase the sense of security in order to reduce the people&#39s motivations for keeping weapons at home," Krause said.

The proliferation of small arms and weapons after the end of the Cold War was related to an uncontrolled flood of firepower from military production facilities, especially in Eastern European countries.

In addition, in failed states such as Albania, lack of control over government weapons stocks allowed for a massive leakage of small arms across borders, especially towards conflict-torn regions, such as parts of West Africa, Asia and Latin America.

But both these sources of small weapons are being controlled now, Krause said.

In general, according to the Small Arms Survey, large-scale and uncontrolled urbanisation is often accompanied by increased rates of armed violence. The drug trade, availability of weapons, opportunities for criminal gain, and the social dislocation and anonymity of large cities contribute to this trend.

These are some of the findings of the 2007 edition of the &#39Small Arms Survey&#39 – a publication put out annually by the research group.

"Cities are now the home to the majority of the world&#39s population, and present particular challenges for tackling armed violence," Krause said. "Whereas urbanisation used to be associated with industrialisation and economic growth and development opportunities, this link has been broken."

"Today&#39s urban sprawl sees 25 million people each year join the one billion people who are living in slums around large cities – often sites of violence, of crime and coercion – while the wealthy retreat to gated communities."

He noted that these phenomena, of social injustice and exclusion, are reflected in the levels of violence in countries – Brazil being an example. According to the Small Arms Survey, the Brazilian firearm homicide rate surpasses that of certain countries that are at war.

"In Brazil, the firearm death rate grew threefold from seven to 21 deaths per 100,000 in the period of 1982 to 2002," Krause said.

In countries emerging from conflict such as Burundi, "urban insecurity is also a problem," he added. "Since the 2003 ceasefire in Burundi, the general security situation in the country has improved markedly; but this progress has been weak in the capital, Bujumbura, where many people are acquiring small arms such as handguns for self-protection."

Krause said that the international community must put pressure on governments in developing countries to improve controls of their stocks of weapons in order to prevent these arms from being obtained by members of the public.

He recalled that in certain countries, such as Uganda, Brazil, and Guatemala, there is evidence that security forces&#39 ammunition is falling into the hands of criminal gangs.

"Governments have these weapons, they are their responsibility," Krause said.

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