Issue 8 - Article 7

Towards an EU code of conduct on arms control

May 1, 1997
Humanitarian Practice Network

In recent years, European NGOs have been advocating and mobilising support for an EU Code of Conduct on Arms Control.

The focus is very much on controlling small arms, which are not included in the UN Register of Conventional Arms, but proliferate in conflicts around the world and which contribute to the use of child soldiers. The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty (1990) set in motion the demobilisation and restructuring of the European defence machinery. The surplus weapons which have resulted from such demobilisation, together with those of the former Communist bloc, have now created a buyer’s market with weapons available at low prices from multiple suppliers. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, in which European soldiers were fired at by weapons supplied to Iraq by their own governments, eight common EU criteria on the export of conventional weapons were drawn up.

The problem is that these criteria are not binding and that they allow the member states very different perceptions and interpretations of the same situation, thus leading to contrasting positions and decisions on arms exports. The 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, signed by a large number of other non-EU countries, also lacks stringent and binding controls. Further, it gives light weapons a continued ‘low priority’ status.

The main advocacy points around an EU Code of Conduct are the following:

  • a common and restrictive interpretation of the eight criteria, greater convergence of EU member states’ guidelines and procedures, stricter imple-mentation of already existing national controls
  • greater transparency and accountability of EU member state governments on arms sales
  • a compulsory rule of prior consultation between EU member states to avoid bypassing another country’s restrictions for own commercial benefit
  • a closing down of the ‘grey market’ by requiring all individuals and companies involved in arms sales to register
  • tagging and registration of all weapons and ammunition to increase their traceability;
  • harmonisation of ‘end-use’ and ‘re-export’ certification procedures
  • closer monitoring of adherence and support for the efforts of recipient countries limiting and controlling light weapons stocks and transfers.

In the UK, the Pergau ‘aid for arms’ deal with Malaysia, the sale of dual-use machine tools to Iraq by Matrix Churchill and the previous UK government’s reluctance to support a total ban on anti-personnel mines made arms exports a controversial political issue. It is interesting to note that the ‘Mission Statement’ of the new UK Labour Foreign and Commonwealth Office of May 1997 put security and international stability as a top priority of its foreign policy; international security here including the active promotion of arms control through multilateral regulation and support for a European Code of Conduct.

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