Small Arms and Light Weapons: From a New Challenge to a New Field of Research Conference Summary

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Small Arms and Light Weapons:

From a New Challenge to a New Field of Research
Conference Summary

On July 9-10, 2005 Temple University's Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy (CENFAD), with support from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, sponsored a conference held at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs titled "Small Arms and Light Weapons: From a New Challenge to a New Field of Research." This conference was the first formal meeting of scholars and researchers to be held as part of the Research Initiative on Small Arms (RISA), launched in the fall of 2004. CENFAD Assistant Director Regina Gramer of Temple University's History Department, Edward Laurance of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and Joel Wallman of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation organized this international forum for scholars and policy researchers who focus on small arms issues from a wide range of disciplines. The conference attracted experts from North and South America, Europe, and South Africa, including historians, anthropologists, public health researchers, political scientists, sociologists, and criminologists. Based on the premise that small arms and light weapons constitute one of the key challenges to human security in the twenty-first century, on both national and global levels, the conference participants explored the potential and viability of creating a new interdisciplinary academic field of "Small Arms Studies."
In the first session, titled "Small Arms, the History of the Research Initiative on Small Arms (RISA) and the Way to Small Arms Studies," Edward Laurance of the Monterey Institute noted that the United Nations' resolution to address formally small arms violence with its 2001 Programme of Action has led to a prolific growth of policy research but has been less effective in stimulating academic research on small arms. He emphasized the need to move small arms research from the traditional focus on arms trade to the new emphasis on the effects of small arms violence and demand for small arms. The Spring 2005 edition of Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation's HFG Review, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Call for Research," serves as a primer on small arms issues and seeks to stimulate academic research; it is available at Laurance further stressed the need to "mainstream" small arms issues into related disciplines, i.e. to link small arms problems to larger discipline-specific research questions. Regina Gramer of Temple University explained CENFAD's institutional interest in small arms issues and emphasized the importance of a collective agreement on the main research questions for the projected field of Small Arms Studies. One of the key goals for this series of conferences is to identify the most promising interdisciplinary collaborations on small arms issues. Gramer gave examples of how small arms issues could be "mainstreamed" in her home discipline of international history: reconceptualizing major Cold War conflicts, such as the Korean or Vietnam Wars, as small arms conflicts may help to break the impasse, the traditional dichotomies of "international" versus "civil" wars, or of "national" security versus "human" security. Gramer further emphasized the importance of approaching the current proliferation of small arms as a legacy of the Cold War as well as a legacy of the end of the Cold War. Given that international historians have significantly broadened their own conceptual approaches to the study of international affairs in recent years, Gramer suggested, they are in a prime position to help facilitate the transition from traditional state-centered to new society-centered small arms studies. William Godnick of the University of Bradford underlined how little data was available on small arms proliferation and use in the developing world and pointed to the link between the introduction of small arms to a community and increase in the lethality of violence. Robert Muggah of the Small Arms Survey discussed how current United Nations' small arms policy is informed by a supply-driven agenda and explained the demand-oriented perspective of the Small Arms Survey. Muggah cautioned that researchers need to distinguish carefully between why individuals want weapons and why they use weapons. He also stressed how the demand-focused approach of the Small Arms Survey has already yielded interesting results, such as the realization that there exists a willingness to trade guns for development aid. Keith Krause of the Small Arms Survey emphasized that we still know too little about the different ways and reasons guns are used in various national settings, especially as the lines between pre-conflict, conflict, and post-conflict violence have become blurred. Challenging conventional assumptions, he highlighted recent findings that show most armed conflict starts by theft or leakage of internal arms stockpiles and not by international arms traders--hence the increasing emphasis on stockpile security. Krause listed three key challenges: 1) develop data on availability and impact of weapons; 2) scrutinize the link between availability and misuse of weapons (which is well documented for the United States but not internationally); and 3) gather more data on the costs of gun violence. Krause emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between the work of the international relations/security community and the public health community.
In the second session, titled "Small Arms Conflict and Governance: From National Security to Human Security," Fred Pearson and Kofi Nsia-Pepra of Wayne State University discussed how small arms affect different phases of violent conflict, presenting their work on the networks of arms transfer in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. They confirmed that many feuds begin with the use of indigenous arms, but as conflicts last combatants must acquire arms from the outside, as in the case of Kosovo. Pearson and Nsia-Pepra emphasized the great need for more open sources and field reports on arms flows. John Sislin of the National Research Council addressed the qualitative differences in small arms casualty data and emphasized the fragility of small arms data collection. He supported the standardization and institutionalization of interdisciplinary small arms data collection. Denise Garcia of Harvard University analyzed the emerging international norms on small arms and found that weapons destruction was the strongest norm developed, as compared to other norms such as weapons marking and tracing, limits on civilian weapons possession, and control of illicit arms brokering--with the ban of sale of weapons to non-state actors being the weakest norm developed. Garcia concluded that the emerging set of small arms norms is stronger in its constitutive character than its regulatory attributes. Andrew Grant of Dalhousie University drew parallels between the problems of conflict diamonds and small arms. He argued that key lessons of the international effort to regulate conflict diamonds by the Kimberley Process and Ottawa Convention can also be applied to control small arms. Grant noted a preference for increased multilateralism among the three main actors of the Kimberley Process: NGOs, government/international organizations, and the corporate sector. In his presentation on armed conflict in Papua New Guinea, James Pile of Princeton University stressed the importance of anthropological field research to determine why readily available guns are used in some conflict situations but not in others. Reuben Brigety of George Mason University discussed the emergence of the controversial human security paradigm in the 1990s and concluded that the new emphasis on human security has not only served as a constraint on current warfare but has also turned into a source of strategic opportunity for governments. Molly Hanna presented the research she conducted with Suzette Grillot of the University of Oklahoma on the small arms movement. They found that the small arms network is good at sharing information and raising awareness but requires more centralization and more North-South collaboration. Natalie Goldring of Georgetown University argued that transparency of small arms trade does not necessarily equal its actual control. Goldring warned of drawing an artificial separation between small arms and major weapons: she examined 30 contemporary conflicts, 25 of which used major weapons and small arms, and found that even if a majority of the killing is done with small arms, it is being backed by major weapons.
In the third session, titled "Small Arms Effects, Demand, and Disarmament," Stephen Hill of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire discussed the United Nations disarmament processes in the 1990s. While neorealist approaches overestimated the role of third-party enforcers in the disarmament process, he concluded, neoliberal approaches underestimated their role. Instead, Hill supported a constructivist approach that focused on the democratic socialization of the main actors in the conflict. Pablo Dreyfus of Viva Rio presented the findings of his 2005 report, "Brazil: The Arms and the Victims." Intensive field research revealed that Brazil with its 17 million guns is a large firearms producer, second only to the United States in the Western Hemisphere. Dreyfus emphasized the growing support for the Brazilian referendum to prohibit the carrying of arms and sale of arms to civilians as awareness grew that most weapons are held by civilians. He also stressed the success of the arms buy-back programs that collected 350,000 weapons in eleven months. Christopher Kovats-Bernat of Muhlenberg College discussed his ethnographic research on small arms violence in Haiti and its impact on children and social stability in general. He found that the United Nations has struggled to disarm Haitian rebels because the proliferation of weapons is rather diffuse. Kovats-Bernat argued that effective demilitarization needs to take the reasons for the decline of rural life and exodus to the cities into account. Focusing on the gendered effects of disarmament on the pastoral community of Uganda, Christina Yeung of the University of Wales explained that disarmament does not necessarily create a more secure environment. The standard literature does not deal with the monetarization of the economy, Yeung argued, which led to an increase in gun violence as it created a demand for goods, including guns. And while guns are used mainly by young men, women have been the sellers of ammunition even though they were the strongest proponents of disarmament. Presenting her case study of disarmament in Senegal, Patty Chang of the University of Oxford, St. Antony's College, confirmed the difficulty of attempts to control arms flows. Myriam Denov of the University of Ottawa argued that the dramatic increase of child soldiers in the developing world presents a major consequence of small arms proliferation. Using an ethnographic approach, Denov discussed the making and unmaking of child soldiers in Sierra Leone and suggested that the culture of violence blurred the lines between victimization and perpetration: while most children were abducted, some came to value the power and money that war gave them.
In the fourth session, entitled "Small Arms and Public Health: A Bridge from National to International Research," Randy Roth of Ohio State University suggested that historical research on small arms violence can help us better understand racial and familial norms. Homicide rates fell in Great Britain starting in the 1830s or 1840s while homicide rates rose dramatically in the United States. The United States is more homicidal than other developed countries. From the 1840s to the present, gun use in homicides has remained common, even in periods when the homicide rate declined. African-Americans were not homicidal until the late 19th century. Roth emphasized the need for multiple sources to build a stronger database. In the case of child murder, for instance, it is important to look at the fossil record as well as statistical data. Matt Miller of Harvard School of Public Health discussed evidence supporting the availability thesis: the level of household gun ownership in the United States is correlated not only to the level of homicide, but also to the level of suicide, in particular youth suicide. There are far more suicides than homicides in the United States. Long-gun use and hand-gun use are split evenly in suicides. This new discovery points to the poverty of data with respect to gun ownership data in the United States. Deanna Wilkinson of Temple University presented her research on gun violence and youth culture in New York City. Based on qualitative interviews of over 400 young men, Wilkinson showed how gun use is linked to identity issues, sexual competition, as well as drug and alcohol use. Wendy Cukier of Ryerson University discussed the gendered aspects of small arms violence: While men are the majority of victims in small arms violence worldwide, women are five times more likely to be killed when there is a firearm in the home. In Canada, the firearms death rate has gone down due to recent legislation. This case shows the importance of including civilian firearms regulation in the Programme of Action. Americans are unique, she argued, in believing that arming is good for self-defense. Pointing to the inconsistencies in the case of the reporting of the World Health Organization, Cukier made the case for much more rigorous analysis of data in cross-cultural studies. Richard Garfield of Columbia University presented statistical evidence challenging many conventional assumptions on conflict casualties: Even though the average annual number of military deaths has increased dramatically in the twentieth century, the number of deaths in current conflicts is the lowest it has been in 100 years. In part this is due to the fact that international wars cause higher civilian mortality rates than internal wars. Since the end of the Cold War, most conflicts occurred in the poorest countries and the mortality rates in poorer countries are far higher than in richer countries. Garfield also suggested that we need more effective definitions of violence as the relative risk of death due to collective violence since World War II has been far greater in the case of genocide than in the case of internal or international war. Garfield concluded with the observation that the primary cause of excess mortality in Iraq is not from small arms, but from air raids of Coalition Forces.
In the fifth session, entitled "SALW Research Center, Methodologies, and Interdisciplinary Collaborations," Owen Greene of Bradford University summarized the policy and academic research at the Centre for International Security and Cooperation and emphasized that now there is far greater graduate student demand for small-arms related work than resources at Bradford. Greene argued that the real challenge for drawing in more academics is to demonstrate that small arms issues are already central to their own specific disciplines, rather than to expect them to switch fields. Keith Krause emphasized the applied nature of the research conducted at the Small Arms Survey. Some of the key challenges for the field consist in assembling better data on small arms proliferation and use, to put in place surveillance systems, and to increase North-South collaborations. Krause also advocated to move the research agenda further in the direction of demand issues and the role of arms in violent exchanges at all levels. Derek Miller of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research stated that his organization's largest current project seeks to conceptualize the framework for the European Commission to move forward on small arms issues within the European Union. 25 graduate interns support the work of their think tank each year. Pablo Dreyfus introduced the work of Viva Rio, which aims at introducing new policies in Rio de Janeiro and at the federal government level in Brazil. Viva Rio tests and adapts methodologies developed by Small Arms Survey, among others, and is interested in the effectiveness of buyback programs and the harmonization of gun control laws in Brazil. Wendy Cukier surveyed the work of the Canadian Small Arms Firearms Education and Research Network (SAFER-Net), focusing on the collecting of data on firearm deaths, injuries and crimes, and on providing national profiles on firearm use in regions across the globe. To eliminate erroneous data, Cukier suggested that all organizations involved in data collection should get together to create an annual review of all data and compare/contrast data from different sources. Nicholas Marsh of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) introduced their five-year project on small arms data collection. PRIO now has a database that contains about 300,000 records; it has almost completed work on a data set on authorized trade and also tracks black market trafficking. Marsh emphasized the need for more reliable data, for more conceptual work in the area of conflict research, and for balancing the "why" questions that academics bring to small arms with the "how" questions that practitioners bring to the field. Noel Stott of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) explained how ISS has evolved from a South-African institute to an African institute with most of their work based in sub-Saharan Africa. As one of the oldest institutes engaged in small-arms-policy research, ISS addresses all critical areas of gun control, domestic violence, and conflict violence.

Stott emphasized that NGOs still face considerable hurdles working with governments on small arms issues. Khulani Qoma, also of ISS, introduced SmallArmsNet, one of the most-visited websites in Africa on small arms; it gets 45,000 hits a month. Qoma announced that the RISA website is connected to SmallArmsNet, and is now up and running. Then, Molly Hanna announced that Suzette Grillot of Oklahoma University is co-ordinating a funding proposal for the National Science Foundation.
In the final round of discussion various conference participants emphasized some of the key challenges for RISA: 1) build a consortium of North-American universities and research centers engaged in small arms research; 2) set common standards on data collection and create reliable data sets; 3) hold summer institutes and build a small arms curriculum; and 4) mainstream small arms issues in all relevant disciplines.
Directory: cenfad -> smallarms

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