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The Arms-Related Risk Analysis Toolkit: Practical Guidance for Integrating Conventional Arms-Related Risks into Conflict Analysis and Prevention

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Introduction

Since 2001, the number of conflicts worldwide has increased.
Conventional arms have been the weapons of choice in almost all these armed conflicts, and it is unsurprising that this increase in violence and armed actors has been matched by an increase in the availability of such weapons globally. There are over 1 billion firearms in the world, the majority of which are in civilian hands.
Without these and the millions of other conventional arms and ammunition, there is no such thing as an armed conflict. Their availability, low cost and ease of operation make it relatively easy for conflict parties to initiate and sustain armed conflict, complicating and undermining international efforts to prevent conflict, restore peace and deliver humanitarian assistance.
For the United Nations and other peace and security actors, better accounting for the impact of illicit arms and ammunition on facilitating and prolonging armed conflict brings enhanced understanding of how to leverage arms control to prevent, manage and resolve conflict. The need to do so was reaffirmed through Security Council resolution 2171 (2014), which stated: a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy should include, inter alia, early warning, preventive diplomacy, mediation, preventive deployment, peacekeeping, practical disarmament and other measures to contribute to combating the proliferation and illicit trade of arms, accountability measures as well as inclusive post-conflict peace-building.
The United Nations Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament noted that “there has been limited engagement within the [United Nations] system on how issues relating to arms, including arms trafficking, and how measures within the disarmament toolkit can be utilized for conflict prevention, management and resolution”.
Integrating arms control into conflict prevention is therefore not a new concept, but it remains an underexplored and underutilized one.
Against this backdrop, the United Nations has renewed its commitment to conflict prevention, placing a particular emphasis on preventing conflicts from occurring (upstream prevention), in addition to preventing the escalation of conflicts or resolving them.
It has also stepped up its conventional arms control activities, at both the global and national levels. For instance, efforts to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate combatants have become common activities since their introduction to peacekeeping in Central America in 1989, and the major multilateral conventional arms control instruments have all been introduced since 1991.
Despite these efforts, the sheer number of conventional arms has meant that global measures to control them have been met with limited success. Conflicts involving conventional weapons still occur, and there is a need to reorient arms control efforts to address this at regional, national and local levels. Practical measures to do so already exist, but they are rarely integrated into conflict prevention strategies. Instead, conflict prevention efforts largely focus on the underlying causes of conflict that drive people to take up arms.