February 2, 2001
The Honorable Colin Powell
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell:
As participants in the Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) - an alliance of arms control, human rights, and peace groups working to promote responsible U.S. policy on small arms exports - we would like to congratulate you on your appointment and express our keen desire to work closely with you and your staff on countering the proliferation and misuse of small arms.
SAWG is aware of your interests in Africa, and we believe that arms trafficking is one of the biggest problems that continent faces. The U.S. government has begun to tackle the scourge of small arms that tragically impacts so many countries and people around the world. As you develop your policies on conventional arms transfers, we hope you will assure continuity in these sound policy adjustments and intelligent political obligations undertaken by your predecessor.
The U.S. government has recognized the relationship between small arms proliferation and violent conflict, and has urged restraint on small arms sales to regions of conflict. At the UN Security Council Ministerial on Small Arms in 1999, Secretary Albright pledged, "The U.S. will refrain from selling arms to regions of conflict not already covered by arms embargoes." The U.S. Fact Sheet on Small Arms, issued in February 2000, states that it is U.S. policy not to authorize weapons transfers "to conflict areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Angola," and encourages other governments "to announce and observe such voluntary moratoria." We urge the Bush administration to continue this moratorium on arms sales to all regions of conflict - especially, but not limited to, the areas of terrible devastation in Africa - and to work with other states to adopt similar moratoria.
The State Department also pledged to honor strict criteria when licensing small arms exports and is pushing adoption of the Congressionally-mandated "International Code of Conduct." In December 1999, the U.S.-EU Statement of Common Principles on Small Arms and Light Weapons noted the U.S. government's endorsement of the principles in the European Union (EU) Code of Conduct "with respect to policies on small arms and light weapons." In November 2000, the United States agreed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Document on Small Arms, which includes a list of common criteria for authorizing and licensing small arms exports and related technology. Both the EU and OSCE criteria emphasize the exporting state's duty to prevent arms sales that would contribute to human rights violations and other acts of repression; exacerbate regional tensions; provoke or prolong conflicts; be at high risk of diversion into the illicit market, or otherwise threaten international peace and security. We look forward to seeing the criteria outlined in the EU Code of Conduct and the OSCE Document on Small Arms rigorously applied to U.S. small arms exports and the "International Code of Conduct" promoted in ongoing multi-lateral negotiations.
Preventing excessive or destabilizing accumulations of small arms is another important element of current U.S. small arms policy that we hope will be continued. U.S. policy to "audit, and if necessary, cut off" exports to a state if arms export license applications "exceed the normal, reasonable, domestic needs of a given importing country or show other abnormalities" should be continued. We urge the Bush administration to adopt a policy of export restraint designed to prevent diversion and dangerous weapons buildups.
In addition, State Department initiatives are helping governments in Eastern Europe and Africa destroy surplus weapons that would otherwise cascade to regions of conflict. We encourage you to ask for continued and increased funding for the small arms destruction program in Eastern Europe and continued cooperation with the South African Development Community on weapons destruction and stockpile management.
The U.S. government has called for strict adherence to UN arms embargoes and increased cooperation in the international community on enforcing compliance. Secretary Albright suggested in 1998 that the UN should develop a "clearinghouse for technical information and for rapid exchange of data on possible violations of arms embargoes." The State Department should develop an information-sharing mechanism on UN embargoes, either within the UN or in regional fora.
Efforts to implement UN arms embargoes are tied closely to a broader capacity to monitor and regulate the trade in small arms, and prosecute violators of national and international control laws. The 1996 amendment to the Arms Export Control Act imposing controls over arms brokers was a critical and welcome step toward gaining greater control over small arms transfers from the U.S. or by American agents. The U.S. should improve implementation and enforcement of the arms brokering law and encourage other countries to enact similar restrictions.
The U.S. has undertaken various efforts to combat illicit trafficking of small arms, including signature of the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials in November 1997. The convention and accompanying model regulations are designed to increase controls and traceability of small arms as they move across borders. Although the U.S. has implemented most of these measures, the State Department should advocate immediate Senate ratification of the OAS Convention and continue its firm support for an early conclusion to the OAS Convention's counterpart at the global level, the Firearms Protocol to the UN Convention on Transnational Crime.
In July 2001 the United Nations is hosting a conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. We urge the Bush administration to play a constructive role in developing a final document that aims to eliminate the illicit trade and better regulate the legal trade in small arms.
We were honored to have the opportunity in the past to meet regularly and share our ideas with State Department officials working on these policies. We look forward to continuing this fruitful relationship. We will shortly be contacting the staff responsible for these issues to exchange information and recommendations.
Michael K. Beard
President, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Advocacy Director, Arms and Conflict Program, The Fund for Peace
Director, Arms Sales Monitoring Project, Federation of American Scientists
Joost R. Hiltermann
Executive Director, Arms Division, Human Rights Watch
President, Council for a Livable World
President and Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Co-Director, Project on Light Weapons, Committee on International Security Studies,
American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Program Associate, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Senior Analyst, Center for Defense Information
Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation