Transparency in armaments builds confidence between countries, and can help determine whether excessive or destabilizing accumulations of arms take place. Being open about armaments may encourage restraint in the transfer or production of arms, and can contribute to preventive diplomacy.
Since its inception in 1991, the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms has received reports from more than 170 States. The vast majority of official transfers are captured in the Register.

At its establishment, States decided that they would continue to work on expanding the Register’s scope. They have done so through Groups of Governmental Experts. Such an Expert Group is convened every three years and reports to the General Assembly, which may incorporate the Group’s recommendations in a resolution.

These Expert Groups have urged the UN “to overhaul the Register database on its website with a view to making it more user-friendly and up-to-date technologically”. This has now become a reality.

Not all arms covered
The Register covers seven categories of arms, which are deemed the most offensive ones. Recently, countries decided that small arms could be added to the Register. Most countries that report on their imports or exports now include small arms in their yearly reports.

What to report?
The UN Register has a layered structure of reporting obligations.

Reporting on categories is expected to be comprehensive, which means that any given report is expected to include all transactions from all categories under which transfers took place in that year.

Category I Battle tanks Tracked or wheeled self-propelled armoured fighting vehicles with high cross-country mobility and a high-level of self-protection, weighing 16.5 metric tons unladen weight, with a high muzzle velocity direct fire main gun of at least 75 millimetres calibre.
Category II Armoured combat vehicles Tracked, semi-tracked or wheeled self-propelled vehicles, with armoured protection and cross-country capability, either: (a) designed and equipped to transport a squad of four or more infantrymen, or (b) armed with an integral or organic weapon of at least 12.5 millimetres calibre or a missile launcher.
Category III Large-calibre artillery systems Guns, howitzers, artillery pieces, combining the characteristics of a gun or a howitzer, mortars or multiple-launch rocket systems, capable of engaging surface targets by delivering primarily indirect fire, with a calibre of 75 millimetres and above.
Category IV Combat aircraft
Combat aircraft includes manned and unmanned aerial vehicles as defined below:

(a) Manned fixed-wing or variable-geometry wing aircraft, designed, equipped or modified to engage targets by employing guided missiles, unguided rockets, bombs, guns, cannons or other weapons of destruction, including versions of these aircraft which perform specialized electronic warfare, suppression of air defence or reconnaissance missions;

(b) Unmanned fixed-wing or variable-geometry wing aircraft, designed, equipped or modified to engage targets by employing guided missiles, unguided rockets, bombs, guns, cannons or other weapons of destruction. The term “combat aircraft” does not include primary trainer aircraft, unless designed, equipped or modified as described above.

Category V Attack helicopters
Attack helicopters include manned and unmanned aerial vehicles as defined below:

(a) Manned rotary-wing aiManned rotary-wing aircraft, designed, equipped or modified to engage targets by employing guided or unguided anti-armour, air-to-surface, air-to-subsurface, or air-to-air weapons and equipped with an integrated fire control and aiming system for these weapons, including versions of these aircraft which perform specialized reconnaissance or electronic warfare missions;

(b) or unguided anti-armour, air-to-surface, air-to-subsurface, or air-to-air weapons and equipped with an integrated fire control and aiming system for these weapons.

Category VI  Warships Vessels or submarines armed and equipped for military use with a standard displacement of 500 metric tons or above, and those with a standard displacement of less than 500 metric tons, equipped for launching missiles with a range of at least 25 kilometres or torpedoes with similar range.
Category VII Missiles and missile launchers (a) Guided or unguided rockets, ballistic or cruise missiles capable of delivering a warhead or weapon of destruction to a range of at least 25 kilometres, and means designed or modified specifically for launching such missiles or rockets, if not covered by categories I through VI. For the purpose of the Register, this sub-category includes remotely piloted vehicles with the characteristics for missiles as defined above but does not include ground-to-air missiles.
(b) Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS)


Additionally, countries can report on:
Small arms & light weapons
SMALL ARMS

LIGHT WEAPONS

1. Revolvers and selfloading pistols
2. Rifles and carbines
3. Sub-machine guns
4. Assault rifles
5. Light machine guns
1. Heavy machine guns
2. Hand-held underbarrel and mounted grenade launchers
3. Portable anti-tank guns
4. Recoilless rifles
5. Portable anti-tank missile launchers and rocket systems
6. Mortars of calibres less than 75 mm


Furthermore, countries can report on:
Military holdings
Procurement through national production
Relevant policies / national legislation


Military holdings
Reporting on a transfer is even more transparent if the context for the purchase is given. That is why countries can report on their national defence policies, and on the amount of weapons they already own.

Governments may buy arms from domestic producers
If countries without a domestic industry dutifully report their imports, it would be fair if countries who produce arms for themselves report on their domestic purchases. In that way, all acquisitions are covered. Therefore the Register includes a provision for reporting on procurement through national production.

Relevant policies
Apart from being open about your hardware, ‘transparency in armaments’ may also include sharing with others what your national arms export legislation is, and on what further policies export decisions are based.

Discrepancies
The Register of Conventional Arms requests countries to report on their exports and imports. This is a built-in verification mechanism: is a shipment reported in the same way by the exporter as the importer?

Not all reported transfers match. Reasons include:

Not all countries report every year.
National interpretation may differ on which weapons come under what category.
Some countries report the contract signing date, others the transfer date – leading to reporting in different years.
A contract may contain more items than the number actually shipped, e.g. because the weapon broke down.
Other reasons.
   
To minimise discrepancies, some governments now consult their trading partners on how both will include a transfer in their national report before submitting it.
   
© 2013 United Nations