Mr. Kim Won-Soo, the High Representative of Disarmament Affairs opened the morning session of the first day of MGE2 by stressing the human and societal cost of armed conflicts and the proliferation of illicit SALW. He noted the progress the UN has made on combating and eradicating the illicit manufacture and trade of SALW through the adoption of UN Programme of Action (PoA) and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI). Security Council Resolution 2020, passed just this month, also offered concrete measures for operatizing the work of the UN. He also highlighted the contribution of the civil society in helping raise awareness of SALW-related issues. However, Mr. Kim also mentioned that, as per the Secretary General’s Report on recent developments of SALW manufacturing technology, there are challenges that nations face to fully implement the PoA and ITI. He emphasized that progress should be made on international cooperation, assistance, transfer of technology in the MGE2 discussions.
The Chair- Ambassador Vlad Lupan of the Republic of Moldova- noted that PoA and ITI are effective tools to combating the problem of illicit trade and manufacture of small arms, and called upon the council to consider how to fully implement the PoA and to reflect on the new technological advancements in the production of SALW and the implementation of technology transfers.
Mr. Daniel Prins of the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) also took to the floor to introduce the issue, noting that key trends in the manufacturing and design of SALW makes it increasingly difficult for states to mark, identify or trace small arms. How to mark modular weapons and polymer guns to ensure durability and consistency is an important aspect that needs to be discussed. Mr. Prins highlighted the development of 3-D printing and the difficulty in controlling these weapons and also explained that technological developments have the ability to provide opportunities for controlling and tracing arms, and managing stockpiles. PIN codes and fingerprint technology would ensure that only authorized personnel have access to stockpiles, while microstamping can prove to be a valuable tool for marking weapons. Concerning the uptake of these new technologies, Mr. Prins stressed the importance international cooperation and transfer, as well as wider plans for training, compatibility and maintenance.
Experts where then invited to take to the floor to present the technological challenges and opportunities related to the production, marking, and tracing of SALW. Mr. Gary Fleetwood from the National Crime Commission in Australia explained that there are two types of diversion methods, historical and contemporary. Historical method of diversion is through legal loopholes, where gun owners deliberately fail to register their long arms after registration became mandatory, and through technical loopholes for handguns, such as false reports export or loss of handguns. Contemporary diversion methods include theft, illegal importation and illegal assembly and manufacture. He noted that most of the illegal weapons in circulation are diverted through historical methods, which illustrates the longevity of weapons. Mr. Glen McDonald from Small Arms Survey discussed the impact of the development of polymer frames, modular weapons, and 3D printing on nations’ abilities to control SALW and combat the illicit manufacture and trade of illicit weapons. He explained that it is difficult to ensure consistency, cost-effectiveness, and durability when it comes to marking weapons produced by the new technologies. Record-keeping is also problematic, particularly concerning modular weapons. He clarified that new technologies could also bring new opportunities for marking weapons, such as 2D matrix codes, as well as for stockpile management, such as through biometric safes. He emphasized that the main barrier to utilizing these new technologies is cost, especially establishing databases.
Following the panel presentations, Colombia, Costa Rica, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Mali, New Zealand, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Sudan, United States (US) and Venezuela voiced their opinions and concerns. Most of the nations recognized the risks posed by the technological development of SALW production, and called for more integrated international cooperation and assistance, as well as expressed their willingness to cooperate. Japan and Iraq called on information exchange on bilateral and regional levels, as well as sharing the results of tracing and marking. Costa Rica, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Mali, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Venezuela illustrated the lack of capacity for developing nations to fully implement the PoA and the ITI, which is further compounded by the technological developments of producing SALW. The countries called on the international community to provide assistance- be it technical, personnel, financial or material- to build the capacity of developing nations to comprehensively implement the PoA. Specifically, Sierra Leone raised concerns about the sustainability of marking technologies and the negative effects of the deterioration of hardware, such as marking machines.
Nations also brought forward national examples. Colombia presented its wide national framework for controlling SALW, as well as the marking machines that can mark diverse materials. Kenya stated its efforts in destroying illicit firearms to prevent diversion, as well as its current progress in marking civilian firearms. Iraq noted that it works closely with the UN to keep its active legislation concerning SALW updated, as well as its effective surveillance system. Kuwait raised the example of its more stringent laws concerning illegally holding or trading SALW, and its facilitation of procedures to license weapons. Sierra Leone noted its participation in regional and international SALW-related conventions, the setup of national database, and the update of SALW-related laws and the passage of firearms regulations, while the Republic of Korea stated that it had recently passed a law criminalizing uploading and disseminating 3D-printing blueprints of weapons online.
A Q&A session with the two experts followed the statements. Firstly, the Chair took the opportunity to raise the following questions:
Ø Is barrel marking enough to prevent the removal of markings? Should there be multiple markings on the frames of weapons composed of non-metal materials, and what are the best ways to implement that? What roles do import markings play and how best to ensure their implementation?
Ø What are less expensive solutions to marking the frames of weapons composed of non-metal materials, such as stamping both receivers and more markings, and if so how to reflect multiple markings in the records? Would standardization and micro-chipping weapons be effective measures in controlling SALW?
Ø How should the sustainability of technology be ensured, and would national assessment be helpful? How do the internet, 3D printing and the availability of materials for both 3D printing and assembly affect nations’ abilities to combat, control and eradicate illicit manufacture and trade of SALW?
Mr. Fleetwood emphasized that the most important basis for controlling SALW and eradicating illicit manufacture and production of arms are education and resource. Without these two bases, it would be difficult to make progress on issues concerning SALW. Multiple markings also need intensive resources both human and financial. Furthermore, multiple markings may cause misidentification of weapons. It is also difficult to record-keep with multiple markings, as it would require expansive databases and IT systems, both of which are resource-intensive. Import markings don’t always reflect the true nature of exports and imports. He recommends that guns should contain covert markings, as well as a rewrite of the ITI to keep it updated and able to contain the technological development of SALW production.
Mr. McDonald, in contrast, expressed that the ITI is still applicable and effective 95% of the time. However, he also noted that modular weapons are not covered by the ITI, and that to mark modular weapons, it has to be determined first which part of the weapon would remain consistent. He also noted that micro percussion is a cost-effective method to mark polymer weapons. Import marking work most of the time, with the problem being that metal plates tagged in polymer weapons are sometimes too small to contain import markings and thus Mr. McDonald suggested that it might be prudent to create metal plates that contain essential markings, though what are essential markings have yet to be determined. Concerning the sustainability of technology, Mr. McDonald emphasized that it is important to consider what technologies are most suitable to a country’s context, rather than what technologies are more advanced. As for the proliferation of SALW online, he suggested that United States’ practice of criminalizing the spread of 3D blueprints of weapons could be considered.
Pakistan continued the session by questioning the UN’s role in addressing the different capacities of countries to track, mark and record-keep SALWs. Mr. Fleetwood noted that marking arms is a very resource-intensive project, should states choose to undertake it. Mr. McDonald added that it is possible to ask the manufacturer to mark the weapons directly under certain circumstances. He also placed importance on marking all government weapons and stockpiles, and to extend the system so that it covers all areas of a nation’s jurisdiction. States should also take advantage of the international information exchange institutions that are currently in place. US wrapped up the morning session by recognizing the technological divide in marking and tracing capabilities of nations. However, the United States emphasized that basic fundamental elements in combating and eradicating illicit manufacture and trade of SALW should remain the same, and that states should be careful not to overstate the significance of weapons produced by recent technologically developed methods, as those weapons comprise of a small percentage of the weapons in circulation.
Monday’s afternoon session saw a presentation by technical expert Thierry Jacobs, strategic analysis & relations executive of FN Herstal, on recent developments in SALW manufacturing, technology and design. He addressed two main evolutions for military weapons and materials, and architecture/concepts & design. He recommended that it should be the original manufacturer to indicate which part of the split receiver is the core component. To indicate the modular nature of the weapon, the original manufacturers should have additional marks with a sign on the core component and this mark must be used for tracing. Sierra Leone expressed concerns with some points made by Mr. Jacobs during the technical presentation. Its delegation worried that if various components could be produced by a variety of different manufacturers, then would all of these weapons be identified in the same manner or would there be variations.
CARICOM indicated that the ITI left many gaps given recent developments, while Belgium indicated that there should be a modification addendum to the ITI or a new resolution to preserve the effectiveness of the ITI. Belgium suggested that the ITI needed more specification on which part of the weapon should be marked. It addressed its worry for the future problems and appealed for national governments to decide the content of the marking, create international tracing measures and take responsibility for the creation of new agreements for global standards on marking.
Regarding the potential demand growth for modular weapons in the future, Argentina posed the question of whether the application of regulations and measures for ensuring effectiveness in the marking and tracing of weapons would be altered. It also highlighted the challenges developing countries would have with the advancement of technology and the changes in regulations. Similarly to Argentina, Spain expressed the concern that science and technology went much faster than agreement regulations, and therefore, member states had a responsibility for making effective international measures so that regulations and measures would not get obsolete in the future.