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The Best Practice Guidelines for Exports of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) were adopted in 2002 under the auspices of the 1995 Wassenaar Arrangement. They specify criteria to be used when assessing a possible sale of small arms and light weapons, as well as situations in which exports should be refused.
Small arms and light weapons were included from the onset in the Munitions List that defines the scope of the 1995 Wassenaar Arrangement. They were not, however, included in the list of categories targeted by the mechanism of specific information exchange on arms (1996 Initial Elements, Appendix 3), given that this list had been modelled on the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which did not originally cover them. Small arms and light weapons were added to the UN Register of Conventional Arms as a category of voluntary reporting in 2006. This meant that Wassenaar participating states did not have to exchange information on their exports of small arms and light weapons.
Proposals to include small arms and light weapons as a category to be reported on were discussed in the Wassenaar Arrangement at least since 1999, often at the initiative of the USA, but failed to gain consensus due to the opposition by one or two states. Arms Control Association, ‘Wassenaar members remain divided over Arrangement's scope’, Arms Control Today, December 1999; W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar Arrangement agrees on MANPADS export criteria’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2001; W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar members amend founding document’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2002. Some progress was registered in 2002, when the 33 members of the Wassenaar Arrangement, at a UK initiative, adopted a set of Best Practice Guidelines specifying criteria to be used when assessing a possible sale and export of small arms and light weapons. W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar members adopt small arms initiative’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2003. However, states failed to include a proposal for annual information exchange on exports of small arms and light weapons due to opposition by Russia.
A year later, in December 2003, states finally agreed to also report on exports of small arms and light weapons, including revolvers, rifles, and machine guns. W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar endorses steps to deny terrorists arms’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2004. The minimum threshold criterion for reports on exports of artillery systems was also lowered from 100 millimetres to 75 millimetres to capture some types of mortars.
The Guidelines were amended in 2007 to include a reference to the 2005 International Tracing Instrument.
The Best Practice Guidelines make it clear that small arms and light weapons enter into the scope of the 1995 Wassenaar Arrangement. In reviewing export licence applications, participating states will therefore have to consider:
The Guidelines state a number of risks in the presence of which participating states will avoid issuing export licences. They also encourage participating states to be notified when weapons they have originally exported are re-exported or re-transferred, and state that unlicensed manufacture of foreign-origin small arms and light weapons is inconsistent with these Guidelines. They do not prevent transfers to non-state actors, but state that participating states will take ‘especial care’ when considering exports other than to governments and their authorised agents.
The Guidelines insist on stockpile management and security in the recipient country, and highlight the commitments taken under the 2005 International Tracing Instrument.
Participating states are invited to incorporate these elements into their national legislation and policy documents. These will also strictly regulate brokering activities. Assistance to other participating states is encouraged.
Last updated on: 08 August 2017