On April 8, a panel of speakers engaged in the timely topic of "Weapons in a Global Age." The Global Affairs Program sponsored this panel to engage students in a conversation about how to use weapons as a powerful lens through which to gain new perspectives and understandings of the most complex processes of globalization.
Joe Dougherty, a retired Special Agent with the ATF focused his remarks on domestic weapons trafficking. Using his years of experience as an undercover agent buying weapons on the street from Virginia, to Maryland, to New York, Dougherty discussed the difficulties of enforcing and adjudicating weapons trafficking crimes. He also pointed toward one particular problem facing laws regarding the control of weapons trafficking—that laws come after the fact when it comes to new technologies and human ingenuity in how to make weapons, buy and sell them, and move them across borders.
In places where armed conflict has long been a way of life, prospects for sustained peace often involves a commitment to disarmament. This is the case in Colombia, as discussed by panelist Adam Isacson. Isacson, who is an expert on defense and security policy with the Washington Office on Latin America, has twenty years of experience working on conflict resolution, civil-military relations, and U.S. security assistance to the Americas. In his remarks, Isacson noted that in the previous round of disarmament in Colombia, 18,000 weapons were handed over by para-militaries and melted down. For the current peace agreement to be successful, the weapons decommissioning process will need international monitoring and support—and it may take a long time.
Jerry Guilbert, the Deputy Director for Programs in the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement spoke about his office's work with more than forty countries around the world in the work of preventing illicit small arms trafficking, rendering-safe vulnerable munitions stockpiles, and clearing landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Mr. Guilbert gave several vivid examples of how people around the world in former conflict zones live with the constant, unpredictable danger of landmines right outside their doorstep in or in their rice fields. Guilbert's office works in the removal of ordinance from as far back as WWI and WWII and helps countries make everyday life a lot safer for civilians.
The final speaker, who also served as the panel's moderator, was Assistant Director of Global Affairs Niklas Hultin. Professor Hultin is a cultural anthropologist who has carried out extensive fieldwork in West Africa. Recently, he completed two years of research on small arms control in the Gambia. In his research, he addressed how different Gambian groups perceived current initiatives by the Gambian government to control the proliferation and abuse of small arms. He found that these initiatives were largely supported, except for among young unemployed or underemployed men, but he also noted that the quality of information such as crime statistics is very poor in the Gambia, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions correlating attitudes towards guns and gun control with specific experiences or demographics. This shortcoming, he further suggested, is illustrative of the relative weaknesses of the state institutions that, in contemporary small arms control, are tasked with preventing the proliferation of weapons in the first place.
April 13, 2015