Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) is a term used in arms control protocols to refer to two main classes of weapons:
- Small arms: hand-held small caliber firearms, usually consisting of handguns, rifles, shotguns, manual, semi-automatic, and full automatic weapons and man-portable machineguns.
- Light weapons: Includes a wide range of medium-caliber and explosive ordnance, including man-portable and vehicle-mounted antipersonnel, antitank and antiaircraft rockets, missiles, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, landmines, antiaircraft guns, mortars, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and so on.
The U.S. Army defines small arms/light weapons (SA/LW) as: "Handguns, shoulder-fired weapons, light automatic weapons up to and including 50 caliber machine guns, recoilless rifles up to and including 106mm, mortars up to and including 81mm, man-portable rocket launchers, rifle-/shoulder-fired grenade launchers, and individually operated weapons that are portable or can be fired without special mounts or firing devices and that have potential use in civil disturbances and are vulnerable to theft."
Definition by international legal conventions
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the international framework on firearms is composed of three main instruments: the Firearms Protocol, the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (Programme of Action, or PoA) and the International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (International Tracing Instrument, or ITI), where only the Firearms Protocol is legally binding.
The ITI, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 8 December 2005, defines small arms and light weapons as:
any man-portable lethal weapon that expels or launches, is designed to expel or launch, or may be readily converted to expel or launch a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive, excluding antique small arms and light weapons or their replicas. Antique small arms and light weapons and their replicas will be defined in accordance with domestic law. In no case will antique small arms and light weapons include those manufactured after 1899:
(a) “Small arms” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed for individual use. They include, inter alia, revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns;
(b) “Light weapons” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed for use by two or three persons serving as a crew, although some may be carried and used by a single person. They include, inter alia, general purpose or universal machine guns, medium machine guns, heavy machine guns, rifle grenades, under-barrel grenade launchers and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, man portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, man portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars of a calibre of less than 100 millimetres.
Such arms control policies and treaties are focused on international arms trafficking (importation and export), and in the standardization of laws, protocols and sharing of law enforcement information and best practices across nations to prevent illicit arms sales. They also focus on terrorism, arms proliferation as a humanitarian concern, disarmament in the face of extreme violence, and cases of ameliorating anarchy, civil war and international conflict. SALW provisions are generally not oriented towards imposing or enforcing domestic national or local legislation of legitimate gun ownership or sale.
UN SALW control efforts
Small arms and light weapons are used to cause many deaths in conflicts around the world. Small arms control was first broached by UN Resolution A/RES/46/36 (December 1991), which was expanded upon by A/RES/50/70 (January 1996). This latter resolution mandated a panel of experts to research the type of small arms and light weapons being used in the world's conflicts and to study which weapons might apply to fall under an arms control regime. The recommendations of expert reports returned to the General Assembly, A/52/298 (1997) and A/54/258 (1999) led to a July 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms, with a follow-up in July 2006. On 26 September 2013 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2117, which urged nations to remain committed to small arms embargoes and SALW control protocols.
Work on SALW via the United Nations is coordinated by the Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), though the UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) mechanism, which comprises 21 UN departments and agencies working on different aspects of small arms and light weapons control. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), carries out research in arms control affairs and has published many articles and books related to small arms and light weapons.
On 2 April 2013, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to govern the sale, stockpiling and trafficking of many types of weapons, from warships and aircraft to small arms and light weapons. The treaty opened for signature on 3 June 2013. By October 2013, over half the member states had signed the treaty (116 states), though only 11 member states had as yet ratified it.
Other SALW regimes and control organizations
Many other related governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also work on SALW control, major examples being IANSA, Saferworld and the Control Arms Campaign. Regional and sub-regional organizations working on SALW control include the African Union, ECCAS, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community, Andean Community, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, Organization of American States (OAS), European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, ASEAN, the League of Arab States, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
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- "PoA-ISS: Regional Organizations". United Nations. 2014. http://www.poa-iss.org/RegionalOrganizations/RegionalOrganizations.aspx. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS)
- Small Arms and Light Weapons at United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)
- Control Arms campaign
- Coordinating Action on Small Arms United Nations Programme of Action, Implementation Support System
- International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA)
- Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
- Project On Government Oversight (POGO) "small arms" search results
- Small Arms Survey
- SALW Knowledge Base at South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC)
- United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms
- United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Small Arms and Light Weapons
- The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies
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