- Small Arms and Regional Security in the Western Mediterranean:Reflections on European Views
The issue of small arms has surfaced on the international agenda as a major security concern. The damage inflicted on civilians in conflicts both by states and armed groups (for example, in Bosnia, Zaire, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Lebanon) has motivated the international community to initiate substantive policy controls to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.1 The existence of radical social groups in the western Mediterranean and so-called rogue states in the south has prompted the European Union and its security agencies to be even more concerned and begin addressing small arms as an immediate threat.2 This concern, however, has sometimes been [End Page 55] overstated or rather generalized in the European security literature on the southwestern Mediterranean; it is widely stated that the situation in the south could "explode" with further proliferation of small arms and conventional weapons.3
How do European security analysts justify their claims about small-arms proliferation in the region? In this essay I examine the strength of the claim that small arms generate regional insecurity in the western Mediterranean. I analyze southwestern European worries about small arms and rising insecurity in North Africa and contextualize European security debates on small arms and potential threats within the broader theme of regional security.
I argue two interrelated points. First, the link between small arms and regional insecurity is difficult to make clear-cut conclusions or generalizations about. Second, bearing in mind the geopolitical and military particulars in the western Mediterranean, the causal relations between arms and regional insecurity do not look as clear and threateningly immediate as they are often claimed to be. Thus, claims about a "small arms explosion" or an "imminence of threat" in the western Mediterranean remain interesting but need further substantiation.
I discuss small arms in relation to two themes: what I label conceptual hurdles and empirical problems. The former refer to the fact that the elusive nature of small arms presents security analysts with particular conceptual problems, particularly when trying to link small arms to security scenarios in the western Mediterranean. Empirical problems refer to the geopolitical specificities surrounding small arms in North Africa, namely, conflicts, the arms culture, and the conditions surrounding legal and illegal small-arms transfers. I discuss criteria conducive to the escalating number of small arms and to regional armament and relate these to European security claims. What I seek to draw implicitly from this analysis is that claims about small arms and regional insecurity have to be tested and contextualized rather than generalized. In the western Mediterranean, discussing how small arms [End Page 56] and armament are perceived by EU security actors is a realistic reflection on Euro-Mediterranean relations and the outlook for the future of these relations. Also, assessing the strength of European security views is an attempt to redress the perverse effect of security perceptions on regional security cooperation.
The essay is organized as follows: First, before I analyze small arms in the region, I provide background on the links between small arms and regional security and discuss the European security outlook on the western Mediterranean. In the analysis, I unpack a few conceptual problems related to European claims about small arms in the region. Then I discuss the sociopolitical characteristics of the western Mediterranean in relation to small arms and potential insecurity. In this part, I analyze a set of empirical problems related to the claims about small arms and overall armament in the region. In the conclusion, I put forward a few recommendations in relation to the research on small arms and threat assessment in the western Mediterranean.
Small Arms and Regional Security
Internationally, it is only recently that the small-arms issue has emerged as an independent security threat on the global disarmament agenda, edging out a long-standing preoccupation with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and conventional weapons.4 Postconflict microdisarmament efforts in southern Africa and Kosovo have put small arms on the global agenda of peace and security. Keith Krause reminds us that the regional threats posed by small arms relate to "the increasing intensity of contemporary...