This article will show how trends of globalization have transformed both the proliferation of and efforts to control small arms and light weapons (SALW). We first examine how the distribution of small arms has become more diffused, moving away from a state-centric model of ‘arms transfers’ to circulations of SALW through outsourced networks comprising a myriad of public and private actors. We then show how the post-Cold War international environment has allowed progressive norm entrepreneurs like middle powers and NGOs greater voice in determining SALW policy. Simultaneously, however, it has also allowed great power states and defense companies to benefit from the legitimacy of associating with human rights groups, ‘capturing’ the SALW policy process, particularly the Arms Trade Treaty, in a way that protects their interests. Efforts to transfer, exchange and control small arms and light weapons are thus indicative of wider global political processes in which power is diffused through multilayered networks and complexes. Exploring the policy implications, we argue that these networks enable actors to augment their power and capacity through alliances with other agents, but simultaneously constrain their scope of action and ability to control the process. This makes it more difficult for actors representing the public interest to override those acting in private or particularist interests.
Global policy success requires a thorough understanding of how to navigate and operate in multilevel, multi-actor, multinational and multi-scale networks.
Global policy makers and activists need to become increasingly familiar with operating strategically in networks and complexes of public and private actors, selecting allies and contractors who share values and interests that are consistent with the intended policy outcomes.
A smaller, more coherent campaign network can sometimes be more effective and mobilize more strategically than a broad-based, diffused coalition
Rather than focusing simply on state-centric treaties, global policy making around multifaceted issues like SALW proliferation may be better served by created multilayered ‘regime complexes’, incorporating a network of mutually reinforcing institutions, norms, treaties, programs, embargoes and campaigns.