Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC)

  The Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC) is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peace and development through the transfer of former military resources and assets to alternative, civilian purposes. Established in 1994 in Bonn, Germany, BICC provides specialized research and consultancy services in the fields of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration, as well as conflict prevention, conflict management and peace-building.

  BICC's international staff have been active in the region of the Western Balkans, specifically Albania and the former Yugoslavia, through the publication of research reports, organization of conferences, and providing consultancy services to national governments, the international community and local non-governmental organizations.

  Since the fall of Milosevic, the nations of the region have progressed towards stability and development. Across the region, the possibilities of inclusion in the European Union and NATO have acted as catalysts for positive steps in democratization, border reform, and security sector reform. Furthermore, the direct engagement of the international community in the region has prevented the re-emergence of conflict in the region.

  Despite progress towards regional stability, the region remains awash in military weapons as a result of the conflicts associated with the break-up of Yugoslavia. The small arms and light weapons (SALW) proliferation problem is exacerbated by the problems of corruption, organized crime, smuggling and potential political instability. While political stability has increased, Kosovo remains the most likely flashpoint for further conflict and therefore is the linchpin that will determine the continued stability of the region. BICC's research in the Western Balkans has focused on disarmament and demobilization in the region. This research in the region shows that the region's problem with SALW proliferation, both the supply and demand for SALW, are directly linked to potential political instability and influenced by the associated problems of corruption, organized crime, and smuggling.


  The supply of weapons in the region, including illegal weapons in the hands of civilians and official military stockpiles, is in surplus to the needs of the citizens and governments of the region. Recent surveys of small arms and light weapons in the region indicate that there is an over-supply of weaponry in the region[18]

    —  Macedonia: estimated 100,000 to 450,000 illegal firearms in the country[19]

    —  Bosnia-Herzegovina: estimated between 140,000 and 490,000 illegal SALW in country[20]

    —  Kosovo: estimated between 280,000 and 460,000 SALW remain in the hands of civilians, organized criminals and political factions[21]

    —  Montenegro: Civilians in Montenegro own an estimated 111,000 to 160,000 small arms and light weapons, of which 86,000 are legally owned and registered weapons[22]

  While a positive step towards political stability, demobilization and defence reform have also affected the supply of weaponry in the region. As armies downsize their forces, hundreds of thousands of weapons are earmarked as surplus to the needs of the reformed military forces. The example of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) presents one such case:

    —  In June of 2004 Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina announced a total number of 370,010 surplus small arms and light weapons under the control of the armed forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina that are in excess to the requirements of a future military with some 12,000 active soldiers and 60,000 reservists. The destruction of theses surpluses will be a major challenge to BiH authorities and the international community in the future. In addition to the weapons there are up to 65,000 tons of ammunition in storage, out of which at least 35,000 tons are surplus to requirements, which need to be destroyed soon given there unstable condition[23]

  More worrying are the remaining weapon stockpiles of non-state actors, such as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the National Liberation Army (NLA), which have been demobilized. In Kosovo, the KLA surrendered ca 10,000 weapons to NATO troops, a small number considering the 18,000 to 20,000 fighters the KLA fielded in their struggle[24] In Macedonia, the NLA surrendered ca 3,000 weapons to NATO troops although their arsenal has been estimated at 8,000 to 20,000 weapons[25] Weapons left in the hands of former insurgents are now either hidden in caches ready for the next conflict or have since entered the black market.

  In addition to the problem of surplus weapons as a result of downsized military forces, demobilization is also resulting in reduced need for full-time and reserve soldiers. Former soldiers will attempt to return to civilian life in societies facing depressed economies and already large unemployment rates[26] It is crucial for security to ensure that individuals with military experience are successfully re-integrated into society, in order to prevent their recruitment into criminal organizations, radical politics, or involvement in the black market as form of subsistence. Several of the reports mentioned in this document recommend reintegration programs for former combatants as a means of maintaining stability and conflict prevention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.


  The Western Balkans is a major trafficking route to Western Europe for illegal contraband such as drugs, guns and humans. Inside the region, networks of smuggling routes exist to carry items in demand. Smuggling in the region is rampant and the criminals smuggling contraband are often aided by corrupt officials. Demand for weapons in the region has always been driven by conflict. As peace and stability have taken root in the region, the demand for weapons has diminished resulting also in a lower price for weapons. This lower price has meant that smugglers now focus their efforts on goods that fetch more profits such as illegal cigarettes and drugs. The result is that while the demand for weapons has decreased leading to less trafficking in weapons, the routes and carriers capable of delivering such items still remain. If there were to be another outbreak of conflict in the region resulting in increased demand and higher prices for weapons, the smugglers would again be ready to provide the commodity in demand. In the meantime, while the demand for weapons inside the region remains low, the oversupply of weapons makes the low price of weapons attractive to international criminals and terrorists. Therefore, as long as the price remains low and surplus weapons remain, the region will likely remain an attractive source of weaponry for organized criminals or terrorists.


  The best way of addressing demand for small arms and light weapons in the region is through support for economic development and political stability in order to prevent the re-emergence of conflict. Today, the lynchpin to stability in the region is resolving the future status of Kosovo. Until then, Kosovo is the most likely flashpoint for further conflict in the region. Kosovar Albanians will continue to be motivated to keep weapons as long as they fear a return to Serbian rule from Belgrade. Likewise, the Serbian minority in Kosovo will continue to hold arms as long as they continue to feel threatened by their ethnic Albanian neighbours.

  Ultimately events in Kosovo may also impact events in Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Southern Serbia, the Muslim Sandjak of Serbia, as well as influencing the Republika Srpska in BiH. Depending on how final status is determined, events could either encourage or discourage ethnic minority communities in neighbouring regions to support attempts at succession or joining with ethnic kin across neighbouring borders. For example, if Kosovo is to become independent, whether the Serbian communities of Northern Mitrovica remain a part of a multi-ethnic Kosovo or part of Serbia, would influence the prospects of Bosnian Serbs in the Republika Srpska, who aspire to join Serbia. Any change to borders in the region is likely to open a Pandora's Box with the possibility of renewed fears for security and possible conflict in turn fuelling higher demand for SALW leading to an increase in weapons trafficking.


  In order to address the problem of SALW proliferation and the associated problems in the Western Balkans, it is important that the international community remain focused on the region. There are four areas where the international community's support and engagement will help.

    —  Democratization: The support for democratization in the region will increase political stability. Programs for good governance and transparency will also help fight corruption.

    —  Security Sector Reform: The completion of security sector reform is vital in the fight against smuggling. Border reform and anti-trafficking projects will result in tighter border controls making it tougher for criminals to transport contraband across borders. Demobilization and reintegration programs for former military personal are also important for crime prevention and conflict prevention.

    —  Disarmament: In order to address the over-supply of weapons in the region efforts should continue at weapons collection, control and destruction. Voluntary weapons collection programs throughout the region should continue in order to collect military weapons from civilian possession. The destruction of surplus military stockpiles of weapons and ammunitions should be encouraged, while attempts at the resale of surplus stocks should be discouraged. The states of the region face an enormous task to deal with surplus stocks and are in need of financial and technical support for destruction programs.

    —  Stability: Kosovo as the lynchpin. It is important that the demand for weapons in the region remains low. The best way to achieve this is by providing security and preventing future conflicts. Peacefully determining the final status of Kosovo will be central to maintaining stability and preventing the re-emergence of conflict.

  For further information on the Western Balkans, please see the following reports: (available online at

  Paes, et al. "Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey Bosnia and Herzegovina." BICC/UNDP, Sarajevo: July 2004.

  Grillot et al. "A Fragile Peace: Guns and Security in Post-conflict Macedonia." Small Arms Survey/BICC Special Report commissioned by the UNDP, Geneva: June 2004.

  Matveeva and Paes. "The Kosovo Serbs: an ethnic minority between collaboration and defiance." BICC/Saferworld/Friedrich Naumann joint publication, London: April 2003.

  Faltas and Paes. "You Have Removed the Devil from Our Door: an assessment of the UNDP SALW Control Project in Albania." BICC/SEESAC APD 20, Belgrade: October 2003.

  Matveeva, et al. "Macedonia: Guns, policing and ethnic division." Saferworld/BICC co-publication, London: October 2003

  Heinemann-Grder and Pietz. "Turning Soldiers into a Workforce: Demobilization and Reintegration in Post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina." BICC Brief 27, Bonn: September 2003.

  King, et al. "An Unprecedented Experiment: Security Sector Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina." Saferworld/BICC co-publication, London: September 2002.

  Heinemann-Grder and Paes. "Wag the Dog: The Mobilization and Demobilization of the Kosovo Liberation Army." BICC Brief 20, Bonn: 2001.

Hans Risser

Associate Researcher


October 2004

18   At the time of writing, a comprehensive survey of SALW issues in Serbia is not yet available although such a project is ongoing. Back

19   Grillot et al. "A Fragile Peace: Guns and Security in Post-conflict Macedonia." Small Arms Survey/BICC Special Report commissioned by the UNDP, Geneva: June, 2004. Back

20   Paes, et al. "Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey Bosnia and Herzegovina" BICC/UNDP, Sarajevo: July 2004. Back

21   Khakee and Florquin. "Kosovo and the Gun: a baseline assessment of small arms and light weapons in Kosovo." Small Arms Survey/UNDP, Geneva: April 2003. Back

22   The same report claims that "gun ownership is most likely to be about one gun per household; this places Montenegro as one of the most heavily armed territories in the region." Florquin and O'Neill-Stoneman. "Republic of Montenegro-SALW Survey" Small Arms Survey/SEESAC APD 23, Belgrade: 2003. Back

23   Paes, et al. "Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey Bosnia and Herzegovina" BICC/UNDP, Sarajevo: July 2004. Back

24   Heinemann-Gruder and Paes. "Wag the Dog: The Mobilization and Demobilization of the Kosovo Liberation Army." BICC Brief 20, Bonn: 2001. Back

25   Grillot et al. "A Fragile Peace: Guns and Security in Post-conflict Macedonia." Small Arms Survey/BICC Special Report commissioned by the UNDP, Geneva: June, 2004. Back

26   For a detailed look at one example of the demobilization and reintegration process in the Western Balkans see: Heinemann-Grder and Pietz. "Turning Soldiers into a Workforce: Demobilization and Reintegration in Post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina." BICC Brief 27, Bonn: September 2003. Back

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