Diversion is largely a self-inflicted problem that stems from negligence by states, militaries, and civilians
(Small Arms Survey, 2008).
The illicit trade of small arms and light weapons remains a serious problem internationally and in many countries. To prevent the illicit trade States call for responsible arms export control systems to be put in place. One solution is to prevent diversion, mostly limited to an assessment of the risk of diversion prior to export, and the insistence on the use of a robust stockpile management system by the recipient.
This paper highlights the use of Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) as a possible option to combat some forms of diversion. The newer active radio-frequency identification tags use global navigation satellite systems and the mobile telephone network to transmit their location. RTLS allows for a breadcrumb trail in the supply chain from the beginning all the way to the final recipient.
The use of RTLS to track and trace shipments should not be confused with “track and trace” method that has developed in the literature and in State practice regarding the regulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) including firearms. The basic “track and trace” idea is that when SALW or their ammunition are seized from suspected criminals, or retrieved in the field because the items are related to a crime or present a danger to the public, the markings on the weapons should help lead law enforcement authorities to the manufacturer, government stockpile, importer and/or exporter from where the authorities can determine the provenance of the weapon and if possible its chain of custody. The limitation of this approach is simply that it is designed in each case to only begin after the diversion or other illicit trade has already taken place and been discovered.
Here, it is proposed that, in addition to the post-facto ‘track and trace’ method, it is now feasible to track and trace entire shipments of SALW and related items in real time, and thus make it possible for the authorities to take action as soon as the diversion takes place. In any case systematic marking and record keeping of all SALW is essential for post-facto ‘track and trace’ and can enhance the effectiveness of ‘real time location systems’ making it more difficult to divert weapons to unauthorized users or for unauthorized use.