Enhancing export control on small arms; the International Arms Trade Treaty and other initiatives, kansainvälinen workshop, Helsinki, 3.6.2004

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to welcome you to Finland and to this workshop that deals with an issue about which Finland, and I personally, care a great deal. I know that you have already begun your deliberations, and I´m told that you´re off to a good start. Let me now try to speed you on your way with a few brief comments of my own. Please feel free to respond afterward if I manage to stir – or even disturb – your thoughts sufficiently.

During the past decades, globalization has changed tremendously our international environment. When speaking about globalization, we usually think of its largely positive economic consequences. However, its impact has been significant in other fields too, and not always positive.

Excessive and destabilizing proliferation of small arms and light weapons is clearly one of the negative consequences of globalization. The easy availability of these arms fuels conflicts around the world. These are the weapons that are actually used to kill people in the hundreds of thousands in mostly internal conflicts. Ninety percent of the casualties are civilians. Eighty percent of them are women and children. These weapons matter, particularly to the poor and the weak.

On the other hand, there is another reality that must be acknowledged in order to make real progress toward curbing the negative consequences of small arms globalization. Arms exports and imports are legitimate trade, and they fulfil legitimate defense needs, including those of my own country. We cannot and should not try to ban small arms trade, but we can and we must control it, nationally, regionally and globally. The arms trade is trade but it is not just any trade.

Many of the small arms and light weapons in use in today´s conflicts have been supplied from abroad earlier or are locally produced, often through licensed production. But there continues to be fresh supply in significant quantities, whether licit or illicit. And let us not forget that most of the small arms now in illicit circulation began their life as licit. Therefore, responsible arms export policies based on transparent criteria, or factors for consideration, are a vital tool in curbing illicit supply. They are also a vital means to inspire confidence among exporting nations that the arms they export stay with the intended recipients, and are used for the intended purposes. Export controls do not hinder exports; in the case of responsible exporting nations, only export controls make international transfers of these lethal weapons of war possible in the first place.

Terrorism has rightly come to be seen as a global threat, particularly if terrorists are able to lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction. One of the ways to combat this truly frightening possibility is to enhance export controls on relevant technology and materials, and that is being done. While the focus in rightly on weapons of mass destruction, controls on conventional arms transfers, including transfers of small arms and light weapons, cannot and should not be ignored in this context. Terrorists may want to get hold of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons as their doomsday goal but they are also after conventional weapons here and now. Stronger export control on small arms and other conventional weapons are therefore a necessary tool in fighting terrorism as well.

It is the responsibility of all states to prevent small arms ending up in the hands of those who use them to violate human rights or to perpetrate terrorist acts. It is in our common interest that this threat to peace, human security and post-conflict recovery is dealt with in a comprehensive manner, addressing both supply and demand.

On the supply side, export controls provide a key tool in combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

It is the responsibility of states to ensure that the arms that are exported stay with the intended recipients, for intended purposes. States are accountable for the transfers of military equipment. Arms exporting states have a particular responsiblity to ensure that the small arms and light weapons they export do not end up in the hands of those, whether governments or other actors who violate human rights and international humanitarian law.

The adoption of comprehensive national arms export controls are necessary but national controls are not in themselves sufficient even if they were strictly enforced by all states. And we know that they are not always strictly enforced by all. To be truly effective, international cooperation and a certain degree of international harmonization of national rules and practices appear to be necessary. The soon-to-begin work on identification and tracing of small arms and light weapons to prevent them from falling into wrong hands and to recover them if they do, points toward a growing realization of this common necessity.

The UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects in 2001 recognized the essential role of export controls in its Programme of Action. Under paragraph 11, states undertake to assess applications for export authorizations according to strict national regulations and procedures that are consistent with the existing responsibilities of States under relevant international law. This is not much more than a beginning but it is a beginning on which to build further progress . And even a long journey starts with the first step, as age-old Chinese wisdom tells us.

Factors that states should take into account in authorizing transfers of small arms and light weapons have already been developed regionally, in Europe and elsewhere.

The arms trade policy followed by European Union member states is based on the common rules agreed in 1998, the so-called code of conduct on conventional arms exports. With the enlargement of the European Union last month, ten new states came formally within the orbit of these rules. In practice, they had aligned themselves with the EU code of conduct much earlier, as many other countries continue to do. The code of conduct sets common political criteria that are applied nationally by EU member states when they issue, or deny, licences for arms exports to non-EU countries; criteria such as observance of human rights in the recipient country, the risk of aggravating conflicts, and the extent of compliance with international non-proliferation commitments.

The EU code of conduct is an evolving instrument. Presently, the code is undergoing a review process in order to further enhance its functioning and to ensure that it is applied in a coherent way by all member states. In addition, the issue of the overall scope of the code needs to be revisited. In Finland’s view, specific references to arms brokering, transit, transhipment, licensed production overseas and intangible transfers need to be added to the code in order to make clear that it applies to all kinds of transfers of arms.

More could also be done in order to increase transparency of the arms export policies of EU member states. Member states already publish annually a common report divulging some information on their arms exports in an aggregate form. In the future, the code could also oblige member states to publish annually separate national reports detailing, for example, their exports by weapons category and the values of the actual arms exported. More information regarding decisions by EU member states to deny export authorizations could also be published. Finland already publishes such a detailed national report. Moreover, all our decisions regarding license applications are publicly available upon request.

The idea of transforming the code into a legally binding instrument has also been raised during the ongoing review process. Finland is strongly in favour of enhancing the binding status of the code. Furthermore, we feel that it would be useful to include a commitment to regularly review the functioning of the code, with a view to making adjustments, as necessary. Self-evidently, any future modifications of the code must strengthen and not weaken the code.

Similar criteria for arms exports have been agreed within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). There have also been important initiatives in this regard in Latin America and Africa in particular. I am sure we will hear more about them during this workshop.

However, despite national controls and some regional harmonization, trade in small arms and light weapons remains largely unregulated internationally. Active inputs by governments and non-governmental organisations are needed to push the issue. There must also be willingness by all governments to seriously explore all relevant ideas and initiatives that are being put forward.

Finland supports efforts to seek agreement on international principles for responsible arms trade policy. Human rights and humanitarian considerations must be taken into account in all arms trade. Obligations can be derived from many existing agreements within the ambit of human rights law and humanitarian law. It’s time to move forward, toward creating common international rules for responsible trade in small arms and light weapons.

We consider that efforts toward gaining the broadest possible support for the principles laid down in the draft Framework Convention on International Arms Trade Transfers are worthwhile and important. The principles in the draft convention are not criteria that have been adopted only by states belonging to a specific region or a specific group of countries. The aim of the draft convention, as we see it, is to codify and determine the obligations binding all nations in the world. Finland, for her part, is ready to support initiating a process that would aim at concluding an international arms trade agreement along these general lines.

There are also a number of other important initiatives on the table aiming at strengthening international export controls, such as the Transfer Controls Initiative propounded by the United Kingdom. Finland participated actively in both Lancaster House conferences and is prepared to work constructively with our British friends on their proposal.

One initiative does not necessarily exclude the other. The different efforts can complement each other by generating more support for stronger export controls worldwide. We should ensure that all the useful work on enhancing export controls on small arms which currently takes place in parallel at different regional and international fora at some point is brought together within one general framework. For us, the appropriate framework is the UN process on small arms and light weapons initiated by the 2001 conference. The common task is to find new ways of strengthening and developing the rather modest export control commitments agreed upon within the framework of the programme of action.

The first biennial meeting of states to consider the implementation of the programme of action which was held last year under the able guidance of Ambassador Inoguchi of Japan made a valuable contribution by reviewing progress, or lack thereof, and keeping the momentum for more.

The second biennial meeting will take place in July 2005. Finland is honoured that the chairman of this workshop, Ambassador Patokallio, has been nominated as the EU candidate to chair the second biennial meeting. The meeting will pick up from where the first biennial meeting left off, reviewing further progress and preparing the substantive ground for the main event, the review conference of 2006. Discussions of one important substantive item which we hope will be ready by the second biennial meeting are about to get under way. I refer, of course, to the open-ended working group on an international instrument for the identification and tracing of illicit small arms and light weapons. Finland strongly supports an early and concrete result from the working group and will work actively toward that end in the course of its deliberations.

On a broader note, we hope and expect that, by the review conference in 2006, the process toward general acceptance of the need for stronger set of international rules and principles on transfers of small arms and light weapons, such as the draft framework convention, will have gained sufficient momentum among states so that a decision to initiate negotiations could be taken at the conference and the negotiations themselves could start soon thereafter. This workshop is part of the process that hopefully in not too distant future will lead us to those goals.

Before concluding, I wish to draw your attention to an interesting initiative on an international tax on arms transfers recently put forward by the Presidents of Brazil and France. The idea, as I understand it, is to use the funds collected through this kind of taxation to finance the global fight against poverty. While you may not have the time or inclination to discuss it at this workshop, I wanted to remind you of this initiative because of its relevance to small arms, and because I think that it is a proposal that merits serious consideration. I know perfectly well that the idea of any such tax raises a whole host of legitimate questions as to definitions, scope, levying and disbursement but none of these questions should lead to its dismissal out of hand.

Thank you.