3.1. Explosive Weapons: How to Curb their Proliferation?

Chair:  Amb. Stefano TOSCANO

Panellists: Ms Sarah PARKER; Mr Lance MALIN; Mr Bantan NUGROHO  

Rapporteur: Anna-Lena SCHLUCHTER, Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian

During and in the aftermath of conflict, the availability and diversion of conventional weapons are a widespread phenomenon, often made possible by inadequately managed and poorly secured weapons and ammunition depots. Looted weapons and ammunition can fuel conflict, undermine peacebuilding efforts and hinder socio-economic development. Unplanned explosions represent other severe humanitarian and developmental consequences of improperly managed stocks. This panel discussed the challenges stemming from the proliferation of explosive weapons and ammunition as well as the practical and normative responses thereto. The discussion was in particular framed by the Libyan context.

Security challenges stemming from proliferation of explosive weapons and ammunition

Inadequately managed and poorly secured stockpiles bear the risk of diversion of explosive weapons. This may occur on a small and local scale, but can also have national and regional dimensions. Libya, for instance, is currently facing one of the world’s largest uncontrolled weapons and ammunition stocks. Following the outbreak of civil war and NATO’s military intervention in 2011, diversion and looting of explosive weapons and ammunition were facilitated by lacking safety and security as well as inadequate management of storage sites. As a result, more than 70’000 tons of ammunition are estimated to have disappeared. It is documented that explosives are being proliferated inside Libya, but also to countries in the region and beyond. Symptomatically, for a population of 6.3 million people, Libya accounts for 20 million guns. Finally, the abundant supplies of diverted weapons and ammunition has increased the use and effectiveness of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have become the weapons of choice of many armed groups in the Sahel region.

Regulatory framework and practical measures to mitigate the risk of proliferation

Explosive weapons – broadly understood as “anything that goes bang” – are regulated from different perspectives such as law enforcement, human rights, safety, terrorism, and international humanitarian law. Further, several legally and politically binding arms control instruments entail prohibitions or restrictions on use, transfer, export, access and manufacture of explosive weapons. Entered into force in 2014, the Arms Trade Treaty is the broadest instrument in terms of scope of weapons it covers.

As a practical response to the threats posed by the proliferation of explosive weapons, Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) constitutes a means to help implement this regulatory framework and increase safety, security and management of storage sites. The International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG) thereby provide a reference frame and key provisions for States to achieve effective levels of safety and security through PSSM. Additionally, the International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS) guide practitioners and policymakers practically and comprehensively on fundamental aspects of small arms and light weapons control. It is crucial to adapt these guidelines and standards to the local context and to develop technical capacity at all levels in order for them to become implementable and impactful. Practical tools and advice may also be warranted in some contexts to help address the complexity of these standards.


The proliferation of explosive weapons and ammunition is a high-impact issue with extensive humanitarian, social and developmental consequences. Threats therefrom need to be addressed at different levels. First, several legally and politically binding instruments cover prohibitions or restrictions on use, transfer, export, access and manufacture of explosive weapons, thereby providing a regulatory framework to tackle proliferation issues. However, cooperation and coordination among these different instruments remain challenging, including at field level. Second, PSSM has become an important practical measure to support concrete implementation of these instruments on the ground. For this to happen, standards and guidelines and their adaptation to local specificities and capacities are essential. The international community should refrain from imposing these concepts in a top-down manner, but be responsive to local needs and circumstances. Finally, the demand factor must also be addressed.