Small arms and light weapons (SALW) are recognized as causing a majority of deaths and injuries in both combat and non-combat situations. Many of the low-level, low-intensity conflicts which have characterised the years since the end of the cold war are fought largely with SALW. Often used indiscriminately, these weapons can be responsible for just as many fatalities among civilians as among combatants.
Unlike heavy conventional weapons, such as tanks or artillery, SALW are widely available. According to some estimates there are over 875 million SALW in circulation around the world, but the real number may be considerably higher. These weapons are cheap and easy to conceal, which means they are both portable and can be relatively easily smuggled across borders.
Due to their destabilizing effect, the excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread of SALW can slow down post conflict rehabilitation and impede economic growth. The OSCE area includes many major SALW producers; therefore the Organization takes the issue of proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons seriously.
The Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, adopted in 2000, contains a wide range of norms, principles and measures relating to the production, transfer, storage, collection or seizure, and destruction of weapons. The Document obliges participating States to disclose their annual imports and exports of SALW, as well as the numbers of small arms seized and destroyed. The Document is supplemented by FSC decisions that regulate related matters, such as SALW export controls. Most recently, the FSC adopted a Plan of Action on SALW that fosters the full implementation of SALW-related commitments as well as encouraging further development of norms, measures and principles to prevent the proliferation of illicit SALW.
Conventional ammunition poses a threat to security not only because it can end up on the illicit market, but also because of its highly explosive nature. In order to tackle these challenges, the Forum works to ensure that stockpiles of conventional ammunition and explosives are maintained safely and securely. The OSCE Document on Stockpiles of Conventional Ammunition, adopted in 2003, outlines criteria for identifying surplus stockpiles of conventional ammunition, explosive material or detonating devices. It also recognizes the States’ responsibility over stockpile safety and security.