The EU's role in restraining the unrestrained trade in conventional weapons

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The excessive availability of conventional weapons, small arms and light weapons (SALW) in particular, and the unrestricted trade which make them available raise serious security, humanitarian and social-economic concerns of international nature. These weapons are the major tools of contemporary armed conflicts, abuses of human rights and humanitarian norms, violence, terrorism and criminality. This has led many, including the former United Nations (UN) Chief, Kofi Annan, to believe that these arms are the real weapons of mass destruction of our time, causing half a million deaths annually. This is not to suggest that conventional weapons are not also useful for good causes. They are necessary for maintaining law and order and self-defence purposes. However, their proliferation and unrestricted transfer across borders, especially from the industrialized world to developing (and conflict-torn) countries, have not yet been addressed. In other words, their availability and supply have not been subjected to proper (legal and enforceable) restrictions.

The European Union (EU), together with the United States (US), supplies approximately 85% of the world arms trade, 53% of which is supplied by the latter and the rest by the former. According to a study conducted in 2006, ”more than four hundred EU companies in twenty-three out of twenty-five EU countries” are engaged in manufacturing and supplying SALW, among which Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the UK are the top arms exporters worldwide. These figures do not offer a complete picture of the issue. Since the late 1990s, EU Member States have been taking positive steps in the form of a joint action, a code of conduct, arms embargoes and council common position as regional responses to the excessive proliferation of weapons and their negative impacts. These include reporting and consultating mechanisms as well as the adoption of legal and political national measures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-303
Number of pages23
JournalGerman Law Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2009


  • EU's role in international affairs
  • arms control
  • arms trade


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