Strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of light weapons

Strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of light weapons

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of light weapons


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

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Strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of light weapons

Document or Iniciative

EU strategy (pdf ) to combat the illicit accumulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and their ammunition. Brussels, 13 January 2006 [not published in the Official Journal].


The consequences of the excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW) are central to four of the five challenges (terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure and organised crime) identified in the European Security Strategy (ESS) adopted on 13 December 2003.

Since 1990 SALW have cost the lives of almost four million people. To tackle this threat, Europe must put forward a coherent combination of means, non-military included.

A growing threat

According to the United Nations, 600 million light weapons are in circulation in the world and, of the 49 major conflicts in the 1990s, 47 were fought using SALW as the main weapons. Contemporary conflicts are shaped by the abundance of stocks of easily obtainable small arms and light weapons left over primarily from the Cold War, and they are increasingly being fought not by armies but by armed factions that have no military discipline and are often responsible for serious violations of human rights.

Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, remains the area in the world which is most affected by the destabilising impact of SALW. Up to now, the European Union (EU) has operated on the disarmament front mainly on a reactive basis, by means for example of programmes for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of combatants. This approach has to be supplemented by preventive action to deal with illicit supply — in eastern and south-eastern Europe, the stocks of SALW are enormous — and illicit demand as well as control over exports of conventional weapons.

The challenge for the EU in its SALW strategy is to respond to these threats and to ensure that its security policy and its development policy are consistent, while fully exploiting the means available to it at multilateral and regional levels, within the European Union and in its bilateral relations.


The European Union has launched specific actions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Balkans on the basis of the Joint Action (pdf ) which was adopted in 2002 and remains central to EU policy. It identifies three overarching objectives:

  • to combat the accumulation and spread of small arms;
  • to contribute to the reduction of stocks to levels consistent with countries’ legitimate security needs;
  • to help solve the problems caused by excessive accumulation.

This action must be supplemented in order to establish a comprehensive and coherent approach and develop new facets of EU action while setting geographical priorities. Each year a report details the efforts made by Member States to implement the Joint Action.


The European Union has unique assets for providing a comprehensive response to the SALW threat. Its capacity to use the full spectrum of Member States’ civilian capabilities (educational, advisory, assistance and training missions) and military capabilities (border control, peacekeeping forces, stabilisation forces or disarmament actions) for managing crises and post-conflict situations and for reconstruction places it at the forefront in this struggle.

Outside its borders, the Union can also act in cooperation with its main partners (the USA, Russia, China, etc.) under the partnership and cooperation agreements that it has established with the major regions of the world and the development and assistance programmes for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

To act within the territory of the Union, it possesses substantial means of action, thanks in particular to cooperation mechanisms such as Europol and Eurojust and to mechanisms for controlling sensitive exports (code of conduct).

Action plan

The action plan must remain flexible and must be regularly reviewed and updated every six months with the aid of the President’s progress report, applying the decisions taken in the Council Joint Action of 12 July 2002 (pdf ) and supplementing them where necessary.

The strategy stresses the need for effective multilateralism in order to develop universal, regional and national mechanisms. At international level, priority is given to implementing the United Nations programme of action, tracing and marking SALW and ratifying the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms. The European Union will pursue these goals and will seek to persuade exporting countries to comply with restrictive criteria for the supply of SALW.

The machinery for international sanctions and sanctions monitoring must be strengthened, as must export controls. With respect to the latter, border control is regarded as essential and the Union will contribute with assistance programmes (equipment for checking purposes and the training of institutions) in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and with training programmes in the customs sector, particularly in eastern Europe.

At regional level, preference is given to supporting initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa by means of financial and technical support for regional and national organisations (ECOWAS moratorium, Nairobi Convention and SADC Protocol). The African Union and other regional organisations must be provided with means and support must be given to action by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to combat SALW.

In the context of EU agreements/structured dialogues, the issues of the brokering and illicit transfer of SALW will be put on the agenda, in particular with exporting countries and countries holding stocks left over from the Cold War.

Within Europe, attention will be given to implementing the Joint Action (pdf ) and the 2003 Joint Position on brokerage. An active policy to combat networks for illicit trafficking of SALW will be initiated through Europol, Eurocustoms and Eurojust.

In order to respond effectively to the accumulation of existing stocks, a number of initiatives are possible: they include the creation of national inventories, regional registers and the regular exchange of information about SALW, the financing by the EU of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration operations and education and public awareness programmes.

Within the European Union, the capabilities of the Council Secretariat will be strengthened to ensure that the strategy is applied coherently. There needs to be consistency and complementarity between Council decisions adopted in the context of the CFSP and Commission actions in the area of development aid.


The European Council meeting at Thessaloniki adopted a strategy in December 2003 against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The aim of the current strategy, adopted by the European Council on 16 December 2005, is to devise a facet specific to SALW so as to develop, in similar manner, an integrated approach and a comprehensive plan of action to combat the illicit trade in SALW and their ammunition.

Related Acts

Sixth annual report on the implementation of the Council Joint Action 2002/589/CFSP of 12 July 2002 on the European Union’s contribution to combating the destabilising accumulation and spread of SALW [Official Journal C 299, 11.12.2007].

Since 1999 around EUR 14.5 million of CFSP funds has been committed through decisions implementing Joint Action 2002/589/CFSP in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Balkans and Ukraine. The review of action taken under the strategy was prepared by the Council Secretariat and focuses on efforts made by the Member States in 2006 to address the overall problem of small arms and light weapons. The report also covers international implementation efforts and participation in the work of international and regional organisations.

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

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