Shining a Light on Small Arms Exports: The Record of State Transparency

Report - External Series

Marsh, Nicholas;Lumpe, Lora;Langvandslien, Martin; & Haug, Maria (2002) Shining a Light on Small Arms Exports: The Record of State Transparency, NISAT/Small Arms Survey, : .


The proliferation of small arms and light weapons directly enables a horrifying number of deaths and injuries around the world each year, and it poses a grave threat to the stability and development of many countries, as well as to the success of UN-mandated peace operations. One of the most meaningful and straightforward initiatives concerned governments could undertake is to provide full unilateral transparency around the small arms shipments they are authorizing for import or export.

While several states began to provide some information about their weapons imports and exports during the 1990s, none provide full, accurate, comprehensible, and timely reports on their small arms shipments abroad and on the transfers they licensed for export in the preceding year. Only two countries provide some limited public and parliamentary awareness before the weapons are shipped.

This report assesses the case for, and arguments against, transparency by states in their small arms exports. It examines regional and global export transparency mechanisms and evaluates their implementation and impact in mitigating dangerous aspects of small arms proliferation. The study analyses customs data and national export reports being produced, to determine strengths and weaknesses of each model. It looks at export decision-making criteria and policies, and the final section draws overall conclusions about the merit of a transparency agenda by states concerned with the humanitarian impact of the proliferation of guns and grenades. It makes recommendations for better provision of information via customs data, parliamentary committees, and annual arms export reports – and provides a model for a transparent export report.


  • List of tables
  • About the authors
  • Acknowledgements
  • Summary
  • I. Introduction: A Transparent Agenda for Small Arms?
  • II. The Case for Transparency
  • III. Overview of Regional and Global Transparency Mechanisms
  • IV. Analysis of National Export Reports
  • V. Transparent Decision-making
  • VI. Conclusions and Recommendations
  • VII. Appendix A: Summary of National Export Reports
  • VIII. Appendix B: Model National Arms Export Report
  • Bibliography

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Martin Langvandslien

Martin Langvandslien

Research Assistant

Lora Lumpe

Lora Lumpe


Nicholas Marsh

Nicholas Marsh

Researcher, NISAT