Small arms and light weapons


The terminology “Small arms and light weapons” (SALWs) includes two weapon categories:

Small arms are individual weapons such as revolvers, self-loading pistols, rifles and machine guns.

Light weapons are collective weapons, conceived to be used by two or three persons, even if some of them can be operated by a single person. 

A number of international instruments and initiatives aim at regulating the trade in these weapons:

Every year, millions of small arms are manufactured and traded. Large numbers of weapons fall into the wrong hands as a result of illegal arms dealing. In some regions, especially the Middle East and parts of Africa and Latin America, the uncontrolled spread and excessive accumulation of weapons exacerbate instability, crime and human rights violations. The management of stockpiles and the destruction of surplus weapons are other important elements of the issue. Conflicts and terrorism are in this way fueled and economic development hampered leading consequently to greater poverty. Precisely because they are light, as well as easy to use and maintain, warring factions use them, among other things, to arm child soldiers. So, small arms cause big problems.

The International Community has therefore adopted different dispositions aiming at limiting illicit weapon’s dealings and at better regulating the legal arms trade.

Despite being a conventional weapons exporter, Belgium plays a pioneering role in the development of measures, in accordance with the objectives enounced in the Arms Trade Treaty: to strengthen and improve the control on weapons. According to the 2018 rapport of Small Arms Trade Transparency Barometer, Belgium ranks among the top 10 most transparent exporters of small arms.

In Belgium, the Regions hold the competence of granting import, export, transit and transfer licenses for weapons. Consequently, the policies on arms trade are elaborated through consultation with all relevant actors.

The FPS Foreign Affairs is represented at the Interfederal Consultation Committee to Combat the Production and Trade of illegal weapons. This committee was created end 2015 in order to allow all the relevant authorities to exchange information, coordinate and take appropriate measures to combat illegal arms trade. 

Belgium is committed at the European Union level as well as at the United Nations level in several initiatives to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light arms such as the “UN Programme of Action to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade of weapons” and the “International Tracing Instrument” allowing states to identify and trace promptly and efficiently small arms and light weapons.

In the framework of the UN Programme of action, Belgium has recently supported several initiatives:

  • the tracing of illicit arms in conflict zones, including through mandating UN missions to observe the respect of arms embargos;
  • the creation of databases for the exchange of information on illicit arms;
  • the better use and exchange of information on illicit arms trade in order to allow a better diversion risk analysis.

These initiatives contribute to a strengthened export control and the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty.

In order to fight the illicit trade, our country defends the need for marking and registering weapons in order to increase their traceability. At the technical level, our country joined the debate on the marking of firearms in the context of the recent evolutions regarding weapons manufacture. Belgium also responds systematically to the tracing requests emanating from the UN expert panels verifying the arms embargoes imposed by the Security Council.

Belgium supports initiatives aimed at supporting countries affected by illicit arms trade through a better control of arms flows, the securing of stockpiles, a better border control and the strengthening of administrative and regulatory competences.  

Finally, Belgium defends the adoption of strict international rules on ammunition in order to counter its illicit trade.