The global spread and misuse of small arms is one of the most alarming and growing security issues of the post-Cold War era. For many reasons, however, controlling the spread of small arms is extremely difficult. Nonetheless, given the serious nature of the small arms issue, numerous states, nongovernmental organizations, and individual activists have sought to address various small arms problems. One of the earliest suggestions that analysts and advocates offered was to develop international norms and standards of behavior that outline the parameters of acceptable small arms activities. Despite the numerous actions that states and NGOs have taken over the past ten years in an effort to combat these problems, corresponding norms are relatively weak or nonexistent. This article seeks to answer why this is the case. It examines why global small arms control norms are largely weak or nonexistent and explains why the prospects for stronger norms are few. Although research on norms in international relations is swelling with studies showing whether, how, and why norms emerge and affect state behavior, few studies focus on cases where norms actually do not emerge or influence action. The primary explanation for weak small arms norms is a competitive normative environment that is facilitated and perpetuated by: (1) competing coalitions that promote opposing norms and ideas and (2) a great-power consensus that works against stronger arms control norms.
By entering this website, you consent to the use of technologies, such as cookies and analytics, to customise content, advertising and provide social media features. This will be used to analyse traffic to the website, allowing us to understand visitor preferences and improving our services. Learn more