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Study Finds Small Arms Have Serious Impact on Fragile States

  • Lisa Schlein

Assortment of firearms

Assortment of firearms

A new study finds the global authorized trade in small arms, light weapons, and their ammunition is worth nearly $7.1 billion a year. In its annual report, the independent think tank, the Geneva Forum, also examines the serious impact small arms proliferation is having upon three so-called fragile states-Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Haiti.

Arms exporters

The survey finds in 2008, the United States, Italy and Germany topped the list of 14 top exporters of small arms and light weapons. These countries had annual exports of at least $100 million. In the same year, the top importers of small arms and light weapons included the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France and Pakistan.

The survey also finds the private security industry has expanded throughout the world and private guards now vastly outnumber police officers. However, it notes private security forces remain outgunned. Data for 70 countries reveals private security firms hold four million firearms compared to some 26 million held by law enforcement and 200 million held by armed forces.


The report highlights the impact small arms and light-weapons have on three fragile societies.

It focuses on the situation in Madagascar since the 2009 coup, which toppled the elected President.

Research Director of the Small Arms Survey, Robert Muggah, tells VOA, a large number of illegitimate weapons are circulating in the country. In fact, he notes authorities have registered fewer than 3,000 weapons. To add to the problems, he says the armed forces and the police have become part of Madagascar’s security liabilities.

“There are concerns that Madagascar is becoming a hub, potentially a hub of narco-trafficking-much like what we are seeing in West Africa owing to these fragilities that we are seeing in the State security sector," said Muggah. "One of the major concerns that we are seeing is essentially rapid and illegal extraction of resources from Madagascar ranging from Rosewood through to minerals, as well as what appears to be a lively trade in Zebu cattle markets with sort of industrial scale rustling going on, which is a major source of livelihood in the country.”


The survey also traces the evolution of small arms in Ivory Coast between 2002 and 2010. During this period the country was divided into two autonomous zones-the North, which was run by rebel forces loyal to the now President Allasane Outtara and the South, which was run by the former president, Laurent Gbagbo.

An arms embargo was imposed in 2003 and 2004. Despite this, the study says countries including Russia and Bulgaria continued to transfer arms adding to the instability of the country.


The last case study looks at the security situation in Haiti both before and after last year’s devastating earthquake. Muggah notes some of the results are surprising. He says there was a general lack of confidence in the police’s ability to ensure security. So, after the earthquake, the United States and European Union made a major push to enhance security in the country.

He says these states were afraid gang violence was going to take over the capital, Port-au-Prince as well as outlying areas.

“Actually, the confidence in the police, the national police has improved since 2007," he noted. "We see that the majority of the population surveyed between 2007 and 2010 would go to the police first in the event of a security incident. And, this counters much of the conventional wisdom and, I think, some of the rhetoric that was associated with the post-earthquake intervention.”

Muggah says the survey shows homicide rates throughout Haiti also have gone down since 2007. Significantly, he says it has declined in the notoriously violent slum areas - another finding that goes against conventional wisdom.