Skip to main content Accessibility help

Toward Internationally Regulated Goods: Controlling the Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons

  • Asif Efrat (a1)


Contrary to the general trend of trade liberalization, specific goods—such as small arms, drugs, and antiquities—have come under increasing international control in recent decades through a set of international regulatory agreements. This article offers a theoretical framework of government preferences on the international regulation of these goods. Departing from conventional models of trade policy, the theoretical framework introduces negative externalities, rather than protection, as the motivation for restricting trade; it also takes moral concerns into account. I test this framework empirically through an original survey of government views on international small-arms regulation. Based on interviewing officials from 118 countries, the survey reveals a large variation in government preferences that conforms to the theoretical expectations. I employ this variation to explain why the international regulation of small arms is weak, despite the fact that these are the deadliest weapons of all in terms of actual death toll.



Hide All
Aaronson, Susan Ariel, and Zimmerman, Jamie M.. 2008. Trade Imbalance: The Struggle to Weigh Human Rights Concerns in Trade Policymaking. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Andreas, Peter. 2002. Transnational Crime and Economic Globalization. In Transnational Organized Crime and International Security: Business as Usual?, edited by Berdal, Mats R. and Serrano, Mónica, 3752. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Andreas, Peter, and Nadelmann, Ethan. 2006. Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Baker, Andy. 2003. Why Is Trade Reform So Popular in Latin America? A Consumption-Based Theory of Trade Policy Preferences. World Politics 55 (3):423–55.
Bass, Gary J. 2008. Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. New York: Knopf.
Bewley-Taylor, David R. 1999. The United States and International Drug Control, 1909–1997. London: Continuum.
Branstetter, Lee G., and Feenstra, Robert C.. 2002. Trade and Foreign Direct Investment in China: A Political Economy Approach. Journal of International Economics 58 (2):335–58.
Byman, Daniel L., and Cliff, Roger. 1999. China's Arms Sales: Motivations and Implications. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND.
Cukier, Wendy, and Sidel, Victor W.. 2006. The Global Gun Epidemic: From Saturday Night Specials to AK-47s. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
Davis, Christina L. 2004. International Institutions and Issue Linkage: Building Support for Agricultural Trade Liberalization. American Political Science Review 98 (1):153–69.
Efrat, Asif. 2009. Governing Guns, Opposing Opium: The Politics of Internationally Regulated Goods. Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.
Elkins, Zachary, Guzman, Andrew T., and Simmons, Beth A.. 2006. Competing for Capital: The Diffusion of Bilateral Investment Treaties, 1960–2000. International Organization 60 (4):811–46.
Friman, H. Richard, ed. 2009. Crime and the Global Political Economy. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Gawande, Kishore, and Krishna, Pravin. 2003. The Political Economy of Trade Policy: Empirical Approaches. In Handbook of International Trade, edited by Choi, E. Kwan and Harrigan, James, 213–50. Malden, Mass.: Wiley Blackwell.
Gilligan, Michael J. 1997. Empowering Exporters: Reciprocity, Delegation, and Collective Action in American Trade Policy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Global Witness. 1998. A Rough Trade: The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
Global Witness. 2000. Conflict Diamonds: Possibilities for the Identification, Certification and Control of Diamonds. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
Grant, J. Andrew, and Taylor, Ian. 2004. Global Governance and Conflict Diamonds: The Kimberley Process and the Quest for Clean Gems. The Round Table 93 (375):385401.
Grossman, Gene M., and Helpman, Elhanan. 1994. Protection for Sale. American Economic Review 84 (4):833–50.
Grossman, Gene M., and Helpman, Elhanan. 2001. Special Interest Politics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2005. Trading Human Rights: How Preferential Trade Agreements Influence Government Repression. International Organization 59 (3):593629.
Jane's World Defence Industry. 2004. Coulsdon, England: Jane's Information Group.
Kinsella, David. 2006. The Black Market in Small Arms: Examining a Social Network. Contemporary Security Policy 27 (1):100–17.
Kiss, Yudit. 2004. Small Arms and Light Weapons Production in Eastern, Central, and Southeast Europe. Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper No. 13. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
Klieman, Aharon S. 1992. Double-Edged Sword: Israel Defense Exports as an Instrument of Foreign Policy (in Hebrew). Tel Aviv, Israel: Am Oved.
Koremenos, Barbara. 2001. Loosening the Ties that Bind: A Learning Model of Agreement Flexibility. International Organization 55 (2):289325.
Krause, Keith. 1991. Military Statecraft: Power and Influence in Soviet and American Arms Transfer Relationships. International Studies Quarterly 35 (3):313–36.
Lai, Brian, and Morey, Daniel S.. 2006. Impact of Regime Type on the Influence of U.S. Foreign Aid. Foreign Policy Analysis 2 (4):385404.
LaPierre, Wayne. 2006. The Global War on Your Guns: Inside the UN Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.
La Porta, Rafael, Lopez-de-Silanes, Florencio, Shleifer, Andrei, and Vishny, Robert. 1999. The Quality of Government. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 15 (1):222–79.
Lumsdaine, David Halloran. 1993. Moral Vision in International Politics: The Foreign Aid Regime, 1949–1989. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
McAllister, William B. 2000. Drug Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century: An International History. London: Routledge.
Mertha, Andrew C. 2005. The Politics of Piracy: Intellectual Property in Contemporary China. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Milner, Helen V., and Kubota, Keiko. 2005. Why the Move to Free Trade? Democracy and Trade Policy in the Developing Countries. International Organization 59 (1):107–43.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1997. Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics. International Organization 51 (4):513–53.
Naím, Moisés. 2005. Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy. New York: Doubleday.
Oatley, Thomas. 2006. International Political Economy: Interests and Institutions in the Global Economy. 2d ed.New York: Longman.
Pierre, Andrew J. 1982. The Global Politics of Arms Sales. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Poe, Steven C., Tate, C. Neal, and Keith, Linda Camp. 1999. Repression of the Human Right to Personal Integrity Revisited: A Global Cross-National Study Covering the Years 1976–1993. International Studies Quarterly 43 (2):291313.
Raustiala, Kal. 1999. Law, Liberalization and International Narcotics Trafficking. NYU Journal of International Law and Politics 32:89145.
Regan, Patrick M., and Henderson, Errol A.. 2002. Democracy, Threats and Political Repression in Developing Countries: Are Democracies Internally Less Violent? Third World Quarterly 23 (1):119–36.
Saferworld. 2002. Arms Production, Exports, and Decision-Making in Central and Eastern Europe. June 2002. London: Saferworld. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
Schleifer, Andrei. 1998. State Versus Private Ownership. Journal of Economic Perspectives 12 (4):133–50.
Schleifer, Andrei, and Vishny, Robert W.. 1998. The Grabbing Hand: Government Pathologies and Their Cures. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Sell, Susan K. 2003. Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Simmons, Beth A. 2009. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Simmons, Beth A., Dobbin, Frank, and Garrett, Geoffrey. 2006. Introduction: The International Diffusion of Liberalism. International Organization 60 (4):781810.
Small Arms Survey [Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva]. Various Years. Oxford/Cambridge: Oxford University Press/Cambridge University Press.
Stigler, George J. 1971. The Theory of Economic Regulation. Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science 2 (1):321.
Taylor, Arnold H. 1969. American Diplomacy and the Narcotics Traffic, 1900–1939: A Study in International Humanitarian Reform. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Tomz, Michael, Wittenberg, Jason, and King, Gary. 2001. CLARIFY: Software for Interpreting and Presenting Statistical Results. Version 2.0. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2006. 2005 Global Refugee Trends. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
Weidacher, Reinhilde. 2005. Behind a Veil of Secrecy: Military Small Arms and Light Weapons Production in Western Europe. Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper 16. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 October 2009.
World Bank. 1995. Bureaucrats in Business: The Economics and Politics of Government Ownership. New York: Oxford University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed