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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2012

Chapter 1 - Larger but Less Known: Authorized Light Weapons Transfers



While the Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifle has become the symbol of contemporary warfare, light weapons play just as significant a role. Anti-tank missiles can destroy even the most heavily armoured vehicles. Modern man-portable air defence systems can shoot down aircraft from distances of up to eight kilometres. In heavily populated areas, indiscriminate mortar attacks can kill or injure hundreds of civilians. Despite these potential dangers, the international trade in light weapons is significantly less transparent than the trade in small arms. This chapter sheds new light on international transfers of light weapons through an analysis of available data and the strengths and shortcomings of the sources from which this data is drawn.

This study is the third instalment of the Small Arms Survey's multi-year assessment of authorized international transfers of small arms and light weapons, their parts, accessories, and ammunition, previously valued at USD 4 billion per year (Small Arms Survey, 2006, pp. 66–67). This chapter estimates the annual total value of international authorized transfers of light weapons at USD 1.1 billion. Combining this value with the revised estimate for authorized transfers of firearms (USD 1.68 billion) and ammunition for small arms and light weapons (USD 4.3 billion) yields a running (incomplete) total of nearly USD 7.1 billion per year. The Small Arms Survey 2012 will assess international transfers in parts and accessories for small arms and light weapons. It will also provide an estimate for the entire annual international trade in small arms and light weapons, their parts, accessories, and ammunition.