What the global flow of guns tell us about how states fail

Source: This post is based on the article “What the global flow of guns tell us about how states fail” published in Indian Express on 2nd  September 2021.

Relevance: Understand the role of arms in society.

Synopsis: The supply of weapons matters. If not controlled, then the weapons guide the nation in a different direction. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is the latest example.


The global flow of guns serves as a very useful indicator of the flow of power and money. This can be understood from numerous historical examples.

What are the historical examples of weapons flow and gun control?

Colonial countries: In Asia, colonial empires used guns for their own self-protection. But, the British controlled colonies by disarming citizens.

The British Empire in India not just dispossessed Indians of weapons, it also disarmed them of indigenous knowledge in weapon-making that had begun to emerge in the 17th century.

For instance, the Arms Act 1878 tightly controlled arms ownership in India. It was an exercise of colonial and racial subordination that even Gandhi wanted to overturn.

The example of America: It has ensured that places it intervenes, are flooded with weapons. The US has a historical tradition of gun ownership to assert racial privilege. It also has a history of an armed militia winning a war of independence and becoming a modern state.

How do guns inflict violence in society?

Developed countries vs conflict zones: Afghanistan has a death rate of 59.8/1,00,000 resulting from violence and weapons use. Even in Pakistan, it is 5.9 but in countries like the USA and Japan, it is less than 1. This reflects that gun culture breeds violence and tends to persist in society.

India: India has followed the British policy of arms control, fearing rebellion by people. In 1959, India enacted restrictive arms laws to control lower-class rebellion.

What is the Small Arms Treaty?

It is the Treaty adopted by UN General Assembly in 2013. The Treaty aimed to establish the highest possible common standards for regulating conventional arms, and prevent their diversion and illicit trade.

US: has withdrawn from the Treaty because of an ideological commitment to exporting weapons.

India: India is not a member, as it thinks that the Treaty protects arms exporters more than importers.

This shows that major powerful countries are not keen on controlling the flow of weapons as it gives them economic benefits along with the power to influence other countries. Overall, the Treaty is not strong enough on arms transfers to non-state actors, which is where a significant part of the problem lies.

What do we learn from the history of weapons flow?

It is true that weapons are needed to control violence. But peaceful societies cannot be built by the indiscriminate proliferation of weapons.

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