It has been widely recognised that uncontrolled arms flows to certain types of non-state actors (NSA) contribute to conflict, armed violence and insecurity around the world. Much of the attention on this issue has focused upon preventing flows of small arms and light weapons (SALW) to armed groups, terrorists and criminals. While it is understandable that the focus has been on preventing NSA from acquiring SALW such an approach is too narrow for dealing with the issue of preventing NSA from acquiring conventional weapons. Furthermore, recent studies have highlighted that armed groups involved in armed conflict rely heavily on sources located within the states in which they operate for arms, in particular poorly secured government stocks.

Nevertheless, black market smuggling, ‘ant trade’, and covert government shipments also continue. Therefore, while attention should be paid to state stockpile security etc. one should not neglect the international dimension of arming armed groups, criminal and terrorists.

In recognition of the concerns that many states have regarding the threat to peace, security and stability posed by armed NSA, several states have proposed or supported the inclusion in the ATT of language calling for prohibition on arms transfers to NSA. However, discussions on this issue in the PrepComm failed to address a number of challenges raised by the issue of prohibiting arms transfers to NSA, in particular the fact that there is ‘no internationally accepted definition of a non-State actor’.

This paper seeks to provide input for consideration of the issue of including a prohibition on arms transfers to NSA in an ATT by: 

  1. Providing a summary of calls for the inclusion of a prohibition on arms transfers to NSA in the ATT 
  2. Exploring the failure of efforts to secure a global agreement on a prohibition of unauthorized SALW transfers to NSA 
  3. Highlighting the main challenges of including a prohibition on transfers to NSA in an ATT - defining NSA and opposition to a blanket prohibition on moral grounds - as well as outlining approaches in existing international instruments that prohibit the transfer of arms to NSA
  4. Considering options for tackling the issue of preventing transfers of arms to NSA that are liable to misuse these arms for violations of human rights or limiting international peace, security and stability.

Citation: Paul Holtom (2012). "Prohibiting Arms Transfers to Non-State Actors and the Arms Trade Treaty", UNIDIR, Geneva.