Small arms and light weapons (SALW) and mine action (MA)
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) affects security while anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war kill and maim both people and livestock long after the end of hostilities. Both can have destabilising effects on social, societal and economic development and can represent major challenges to regional and national security.
- Landmines and explosive remnants of war are a major barrier to post-conflict recovery and development.
- So far, NATO has helped to clear 4,120 hectares of land and destroy 5.2 million anti-personnel landmines and 2 million hand grenades.
- NATO also supports the international community's efforts to eradicate the illicit trade of conventional weapons.
- NATO has been contributing to the safety of civilian populations by focusing on weapon surplus clearance since the late 1990s.
More background information
The illicit proliferation of SALW can fuel and prolong armed violence and support illegal activities and the emergence of violent groups. Access to illicit SALW contributes to the development of terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking, gender violence and piracy; and the diversion of weapons is closely linked to corruption and poor management practices. Small arms are weapons intended for use by an individual. They include pistols, rifles, submachine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns; light weapons are designed for use by two or more persons serving as a crew and include heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns, all less than 100 mm in calibre.
Anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war kill and maim both people and livestock long after the cessation of hostilities and are a major barrier to post-conflict recovery and development. Beyond the human tragedy they can cause, they also overload local and national health services, reduce the available workforce and disrupt the social and societal structures. In many countries, stockpiles of weapons and ammunition are not always properly managed, allowing illicit access or accidents that may affect security personnel and nearby populations.
NATO is helping to address these issues by encouraging dialogue and cooperation among Allies and partners to seek effective solutions. It has two very effective mechanisms: the Ad Hoc Working Group on SALW and Mine Action (AHWG SALW/MA) and the NATO/Partnership Trust Fund mechanism. NATO also supports initiatives led by other international bodies, such as the United Nations (UN) Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in SALW in All Its Aspects (commonly known as the PoA) as well as the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). In the area of anti-personnel mines, the Alliance and its partners also assist signatories of the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction” (Ottawa Convention). Allies who are not party to this Convention facilitate efforts in the general realm of what is commonly called mine action, which includes: clearance of mine fields, providing victim assistance, raising mine risk awareness through education, and assistance in destroying mine stockpiles.
In 1999, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), which groups Allies and partner countries, established the AHWG on SALW. Originally, this Working Group focused only on issues related to the impact of the proliferation of SALW on Alliance’s peacekeeping operations.
In April 2004, the Working Group’s mandate was broadened to include mine action issues (therefore becoming the AHWG SALW/MA). It is one of the few forums in the world that meets on a regular basis (quarterly) to address these specific issues. The objective of the Working Group is to contribute to international efforts to reduce the impact of anti-personnel landmines, as well as the threats caused by the illicit trade of SALW.
An annual work programme
The Working Group organises itself around an annual work programme. In practice, it uses a four-pronged approach to accomplish its work by:
- providing a forum in which EAPC members and certain implementing organisations can share information on SALW and ammunition projects they are conducting. These organisations include but are not limited to the European Union (EU), the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC) and the United Nations (UN). This exchange of information helps to improve coordination with donor countries and implementing organisations, with the aim of increasing effectiveness and avoiding duplication of work. The information is consolidated into the Project Information Matrix, a web-based information-sharing platform, which is regularly updated by the members of the AHWG SALW/MA;
- inviting speakers from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), regional and international organisations, and research institutes to share their views and recent research with delegations;
- facilitating the management and creation of the Trust Fund projects. This includes updating delegations on the status of Trust Fund projects and highlighting where more effort or volunteer donations are needed;
- organising regular international workshops, seminars and conferences on topics particularly pertinent to SALW and mine action.
NATO's International Staff (IS) functions as the Working Group’s executive agent and implements the annual work programmes of the AHWG SALW/MA and organises its quarterly meetings.
NATO conducts a course related to SALW and/or mine action that is usually held at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany. The “SALW and Mine Action Course”, aimed at mid-level management personnel, provides students with an overview of the most significant political, practical and regulatory issues needed to deal with SALW, conventional ammunition and mine action from a national, regional or global perspective. It includes cross-cutting issues, such as gender mainstreaming that will affect the various facets of issues related to SALW and mine action. The course also covers practical and technical aspects relevant for conducting site assessment visits, such as the development of appropriate standard operating procedures. The course is open to military and civilian personnel from EAPC countries.
NATO support to UN global efforts
The UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (known as the PoA) was adopted in July 2001 by nearly 150 countries, including all NATO member countries. It consists of measures at the national, regional and global levels, in the areas of legislation, destruction of weapons that were confiscated, seized or collected, as well as international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the ability of states in identifying and tracing illicit arms and light weapons. Every two years, the UN holds the “Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the PoA”. The NATO Ad Hoc Working Group supports the implementation of the PoA through its activities and will continue to support major global events of this nature.
On 1 August 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) entered into force and became a legally binding instrument. The CCM prohibits, for its signatories, all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. Separate articles in the Convention concern assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and the destruction of stockpiles. The NATO Working Group provides an additional forum for the discussion and facilitation of its implementation.
The landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships, entered into force on 24 December 2014. The treaty aims to foster peace and security by interrupting the destabilising flow of arms to conflict regions. NATO supports the implementation of the ATT in particular through the activities of the Working Group on SALW and Mine Action and constitutes an additional forum for discussion and information-sharing on the issue.