Researchers in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ reveal the unethical behaviour of powerful countries, individuals and organisations that have profited from the arms trade.
Between 1990 and 2001, 16 of the world's poorest 20 countries were engaged in armed conflict, and many have become saturated with small arms. In 2001, small arms were killing more than 1,000 people every day, the majority women and children.
Huge differences in the death rates of mothers and children exist between rich arms producing countries and poor arms importing countries. Adjusting each country to have populations of the same size, the authors found that 47,000 mothers died each year and 2,000 children died each day in the poorest country (Sierra Leone) compared with 91 mothers each year and 15 children each day in the country supplying the most arms (USA).
The authors recommend that legal arms trading should be the responsibility of and regulated by a newly configured UN, more representative of poor countries and less dependent on rich and powerful arms exporting countries. Arms trading should also conform to "the international code of conduct" an innovative proposal produced by Nobel peace laureates and based on ethical criteria within international humanitarian law.
"Somehow the UN has to find a way of creating a system that ethically regulates legal arms trading, and the international community needs to establish a protection force to address illegal trading," they conclude.