The easy availability of arms increases the incidence of armed violence, acts as a trigger for conflicts and prolongs wars once they break out. Civilians are increasingly being targeted. Conflict and armed crime prevent aid reaching those who desperately need it and often lead to people being denied health care and education. The ‘war on terror’ has fuelled weapons proliferation rather than focusing political will on controlling arms. It has led to increasing numbers of arms being exported, particularly by the US and the UK, to new-found allies such as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines with no regard for human rights or development concerns.

The uncontrolled proliferation and misuse of arms by government forces and armed groups is having a massive human effect in lost lives, lost livelihoods and lost opportunities to escape poverty. An average of US$ 22 billion a year is spent on arms by Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America - an amount that would otherwise enable those same countries to be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals of achieving universal primary education (estimated at US$ 10 billion a year) as well as targets for reducing infant and maternal mortality (estimated at US$ 12 billion a year). A typical civil war leaves a country 15 percent poorer, with around 30 percent more people living in absolute poverty. The opposite also occurs. As per capita income halves, the risk of civil war roughly doubles. Nearly half of the countries with the highest defence burden have low indicators of human development.