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Arms Embargoes

Explore research on the use of arms embargoes as a tool to help prevent mass atrocities.

Overview of the Evidence on Arms Embargoes

Our research review includes 14 reports that address the effects of arms embargoes on closely related outcomes, such as civilian killings, human rights violations, and conflict recurrence. We did not find any studies meeting our inclusion criteria that addressed the effects of arms embargoes on mass atrocities. Our research review found the following:

  • A mix of findings as to whether arms embargoes were effective in helping prevent mass atrocities or closely-related outcomes, and 
  • Relatively strong evidence on the association of one factor—using arms embargoes concurrently with other atrocity prevention tools—with greater effectiveness of arms embargoes in helping prevent mass atrocities.

About Arms Embargoes


Arms embargoes prohibit arms transfers to a whole country (“blanket arms embargoes”), specific areas or forces within a country (“selective arms embargoes”), or individuals or groups regardless of location (“global arms embargoes”). Arms embargoes can target one or all sides of a conflict (“partial” and “impartial” arms embargoes, respectively) (SIPRI 2007, pp. 2-3).

Theory of Change

If arms embargoes deny potential perpetrators access to arms or raise the costs of acquiring arms, they would reduce the likelihood or severity of mass atrocities by constraining their capacity for violence. If arms embargoes increase the expected cost of committing mass atrocities, potential perpetrators would be more likely to choose alternative options (Brubaker and Dörfler 2017, pp. 2, 8).

Strategies This Tool Can Support

(1) Dissuading potential perpetrators from committing mass atrocities
(2) Degrading potential perpetrators’ capacity to commit atrocities