Peacekeeping: Every Missing Bullet Counts


August 1, 2016: Since the late 1990s peacekeepers have become increasingly occupied just trying to stop all the shooting going on. It wasn’t always like that. After the Cold War ended in 1991 there have been too many people with AK-47 running around firing at anything and everything. How to stop that? There’s always been a simple solution available; outlaw 7.62x39 ammunition. Since 1991, this rifle round has become the biggest killer on the planet. This is the ammo used in the AK-47 and the SKS carbine (a non-automatic rifle with a smaller magazine than the AK-47). You can't get find and seize all those weapons and destroy them. But you can sharply reduce the supply of ammo. Unlike the rifles, which last a long time, the ammo has a limited shelf life, and it tends to get used real quick, especially by users of automatic weapons like the AK-47.

In the meantime there are millions of elderly rifles still out there and many that go back over a century (to World War I). These rifles are largely bolt-action weapons with small ammo capacity. Even second hand the weapons were expensive to purchase and the ammo wasn’t cheap either. This produced generations of sharpshooters in out-of-the-way places like Afghanistan, Somalia and the rest of Africa and rural Asia. Empty rifles are basically awkward clubs, and left without ammo long enough, will be discarded by their owners or used very sparingly. For many AK-47 users, if there is not much ammo, especially cheap ammo, available the AK-47 becomes rather useless. Unlike the older semi-automatic or bolt action rifles, the AK-47 was not built for accurately firing single shots.

The problem with the AK-47 is that it is cheap as well as fully automatic. Over twenty million AK-47s went on to the market after the Cold War ended. All those huge military establishments in communist nations were dissolved with the collapse of communism. The unneeded weapons were sold off, legally or illegally. Suddenly, angry people around the world had cheap automatic weapons. And cheap ammunition (10-20 cents a round for 7.62x39). Where before, tribal or warlord warfare was a few people with pistols or bolt action rifles plus a lot of guys with spears, knives, machetes and bows. Now just about everyone has automatic weapons. The old style warfare produced a low body count, because the weapons at hand were not all that effective, and it took a lot of courage to get up close and personal with that stuff. But an AK-47, and a few dollars’ worth of ammo, suddenly turned any twelve year old kid into a mass murderer. Armed mayhem was now cheaper and deadlier. Millions of people died in Africa, and elsewhere, as a result.

It's probably not practical to expect the 7.62x39 round to be successfully outlawed. Cocaine and heroin are illegal, and look at how much of that stuff is to be had. But the big difference here is that it's poor people who are getting this ammo, and killing each other with it. The illegal drug business is driven by huge demand in affluent nations. Shutting down the major producers of 7.62x39 ammo, who tend to be legitimate businesses that produce a lot of similar products, would drive the cost of AK-47 ammo up. The AK-47 is doing the most damage in poor countries. So if you make manufacture of the 7.62x39 illegal, most of the large producers will have to shut down, or face international sanctions.

The small, outlaw, producers will make a lot of money, because suddenly 7.62x39 ammo will be real scarce, and the price will skyrocket. Not as much of the ammo will be available for all those weapons. Fewer bullets means fewer dead bodies. The poor users are not stupid, and they can count. Expensive ammo means you use the weapons less. That means fewer people get killed. Alas, this idea never gained any traction so the cheap 7.62x39 ammo continues to be available in large quantities.




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