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Many people believe that the world would be a more peaceful place if there were fewer weapons. For this reason, an important component of even the earliest peace movements was to advocate for disarmament -- convincing nations to keep only the weapons they need for an adequate police force.

Of course weapons are only a tool for the expression of violence in our world -- there have always been conflicts and wars. But in the past, most of the victims of wars were the soldiers that nations sent to fight each other. Today, most victims of weapons are innocent civilians, and modern weapons have the potential to kill massive numbers of people at one time.

"Peace through Disarmament" is a major focus for the United Nations. This excerpt from the Department for Disarmament Affairs' vision statement sums up this avenue of the UN's work: "We acknowledge that disarmament alone will not produce world peace. Yet we also maintain that the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, illicit arms trafficking, and burgeoning weapons stockpiles would advance both peace and development goals. It would accomplish this by reducing the effects of wars, eliminating some key incentives to new conflicts, and liberating resources to improve the lives of all the peoples of the United Nations and the natural environment in which they live."

The United Nations has made some progress towards disarmament, with treaties and conventions that create guidelines and international laws about weapons production and exportation to other countries. But the UN can only do what nations allow it to do, and unfortunately, the profits many nations make from exporting weapons has slowed progress in disarmament over the years.

Disarmament efforts focus on two basic types of weapons -- weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and small arms. Much attention has naturally been spent on working to halt the nuclear arms race because of the devastating amount of damage that these weapons can do. Progress has been made, but there are still more than 30,000-50,000 nuclear warheads - enough to destroy the entire planet many times over. In addition, after the end of the Cold War in which people feared the superpowers could destroy each other, new fears about the use of these weapons by terrorists or rogue nations has, in some minds, given us even more reason to fear these weapons.

WMDs may get much of the public attention, but small arms disarmament is also an important, although controversial issue, for many as well. There are more than 600 million guns in the world! 1 million people are injured by guns each year, and 300,000 people are killed using guns. 200,000 are homicides; 60,000 to 90,000 are killed in conflict areas (with the majority being civilians) and 50,000 people kill themselves with guns each year. Most of the major countries export arms around the world. Although some countries have strict laws regarding exporting small arms, the global trade in arms is not well regulated, so that many legally exported guns end up on the black market, and end up in the wrong hands.

Gun control is a very controversial issue in the US, with strong advocates on both sides of the debate. Advocates of gun control argue that American communities and the world at large would be safer if there were strict laws regulating the sale and use of guns, while those arguing for gun rights believe that it is a fundamental right for citizens to be able to protect themselves. Because the United States is one of the biggest exporters of small arms, it is in many ways the battlefield over the question of small arms disarmament.

Disarmament Week (which begins on October 24 -- the anniversary of the UN's founding) is an important occasion to raise awareness in the public and among governments, about the crucial need to recognize disarmament as a key element in creating a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.


BetterWorld Issue - Disarmament

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