Measuring Illicit Arms Flows: SDG Target 16.4 (Research Note 57)

Glenn McDonald and Luigi De Martino
Research Note

In September 2015 UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000–15) with a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. While reaffirming core MDG aims, such as poverty reduction and the promotion of health care and education, these SDGs and targets tackle a much broader range of factors driving underdevelopment, and clearly connect development with peace, security, and arms control.

SDG 16 explicitly links development to peace and security, with Target 16.4 making the weapons component of this relationship clear: ‘By 2030, significantly reduce illicit … arms flows’. Indeed, weapons play a pivotal role in violence and insecurity worldwide: around 44 per cent of all violent deaths involve the use of firearms. In particular, the illicit proliferation of arms and ammunition is a driver of modern armed conflicts, often prolonging their effects. Flows of illicit arms also affect countries supposedly ‘at peace’, contributing to high levels of violence.

Yet if the aim of reducing illicit arms flows in order to promote sustainable development is clear, translating it into concrete reality is another matter given, in particular, the multifaceted nature of the problem. Reductions in illicit arms flows will, in fact, depend on the effective implementation of existing arms control instruments; cross-sectoral partnerships between actors and structures from government, international organizations, and civil society; and progress made in achieving other Goal 16 targets.

The Small Arms Survey released two Research Notes on these issues:

Measuring Illicit Arms Flows: SDG Target 16.4 examines some of the challenges and opportunities involved in implementing Target 16.4, focusing on the arms flow indicator agreed by the UN Statistical Commission in March 2016.

A New Development Agenda: Bridging the Development–Security Divide unpacks the concept of illicit arms flows in order to better operationalize the 2030 Agenda, exploring this important opportunity to bridge the security–development divide.

See also the podcast Indicators for Achieving Sustainable Development: Measuring Violent Deaths and SDG Goal 16

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Keywords: SDGs Development Illicit trafficking