A meeting of the COST research group of the European Commission on the topic of small arms and light weapons took place on 5th and 6th October 2005 in Sofia. The Center for the Study of Democracy is one of the new members of the group and hosted a COST meeting for the first time. The Center also co-organized the event together with Saferworld, SIPRI and the University of Bradford.|
The reason for the meeting was that although the situation has improved in recent years and there are now a number of official sources of information on arms export licenses and on actual deliveries, alongside a range of other public domain sources (such as company websites and defense publications), the EU arms exports continue to be subject to excessive secrecy. In the past, COST Action has hosted a number of meetings highlighting the importance of transparency, most notably discussions in Oslo and Barcelona.
There is a lack of knowledge among researchers about how the different sources can best be exploited, and a lack of co-ordination in utilising the information and analysis already out there. The purpose of the two-day COST meeting was to seek to address and overcome these shortcomings, by combining the expertise of research institutes and researchers from around Europe to explore how government information has been used, how best to utilise and spread existing best-practice, as well as teasing out new ways this data can be employed.
The meeting consisted of three main themes. It firstly focused on examining the purposes and impacts of transparency. The representative of the University of Bradford, Owen Green, stated that the civil society researchers want more information to be able to review and assess the export policies of the supplier governments. The other argument was their desire to be able to track flows of weapons into conflict areas, unstable regions, or countries of concern in relation to human rights.
The second main theme of the meeting was to identify and examine ways in which enhanced transparency and the structure of information availability has in practice affected the quality of democratic accountability and oversight, or the policies and practices of governments. The third highlight was the information that remains unavailable and prevents a thorough analysis of export policies or assessment of where weapons are going.
The meeting provided a unique opportunity for researchers to share resources, exchange information, develop current methodologies, explore new ideas on how to encourage greater transparency from governments and discuss ways of overcoming substantive information barriers in order to advance their research on arms.