While the U.S. government condemns the weapons programs of impoverished nations such as Iraq and North Korea, it remains a world leader in the production and sale of small arms and light weapons-and a rogue state in its opposition to measures limiting their proliferation. Of the 49 conflicts during the 1990s, 46 were fought primarily with small arms, resulting in four million deaths-90 percent of which were civilians; and of those, 80 percent were women and children. The light weight and easy availability of small arms also facilitates the use of child soldiers.
This magnitude of suffering has led U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to dub the 500 million small arms circulating globally "weapons of mass destruction." At the recent U.N. conference on small arms, the World Council of Churches' Salpy Eskidjian pressed for "programs to reverse cultures of violence and to create cultures of peace." Outside the conference, protesters challenged U.S. obstructionism on the issue. "Unless the U.S. changes its position on the production and sale of firearms," said activist Lora Lumpe, "there will be no progress locally and globally."