Jun 28, 2010 | Publications

The recently published Occasional Paper, “Transparency Counts: Assessing State Reporting on Small Arms Transfers, 2001–08” by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey assesses various countries’ transparency in their reporting of small arms and light weapons (SALW) transfers through a measure they call the Transparency Barometer. The measurement is made by reviewing states’ reporting to the UN Comtrade, the UN Register, as well as national arms export reports, and the EU Report. The information provided to these sources is then evaluated according to seven parameters: timeliness, access and consistency, clarity, comprehensiveness, deliveries, licences granted, and licences refused. Through this evaluation, the Transparency Barometer identifies the states which are most and least transparent in their transfers of small arms and light weapons.

Why then is it important to not only assess the transparency of small arms transfers, but also to try to increase transparency? As the paper’s author, Jasna Lazarevic explains, there are several benefits to greater transparency. The most relevant benefits pertaining to SSR include:

  • “reduc[ing] the transfer of arms into regions afflicted by armed conflict and violations of human rights, allowing civil society, the media, and parliament to lobby against such exports;”
  • “decreas[ing] the diversion of state exports to the black market;”
  • “lower[ing] corruption and increase[ing] accountability”

The positive nature of these benefits is rather obvious. However, as we look through the paper’s findings, it becomes clear that as beneficial as greater transparency would be, there is still a long way to go before such levels of transparency exist.

After assessing the transparency of 48 countries on their small arms exports between 2001 and 2008, this paper comes to some interesting conclusions. Even amongst the most transparent countries—Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States to name a few—none are fully transparent in their reporting of small arms and light weapons exports. Alternatively, those countries which are the least transparent have much work to do in order to improve their reporting. Among the least transparent are countries which are top exporters of small arms and light weapons, such as China, the Russian Federation, Iran, and Israel. If the most transparent countries have room for improvement, one can imagine the challenge of increasing the worst offenders’ reporting transparency.