Tag Archives: arms trade treaty

The Global Arms Trade Treaty and the $70 billion Weapons Market

image from wikipedia

[T] global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) … was overwhelmingly approved by 154 countries on April 2nd, 2013 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.  The next stage is for those countries which voted for the treaty to begin formally signing up to it in early June. Each signatory country will then have to ratify it at home. The treaty will come into legal force 90 days after the 50th country has ratified it—perhaps as soon as the end of this year. For some, ratification will be a simple process; for others it could prove harder.

The Obama administration is a strong supporter and likely to sign up soon. But getting the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed for ratification will be a struggle, even though the American Bar Association has confirmed the treaty does not infringe any constitutional right to bear arms (as the NRA claims). America’s defence industry also supports it, hoping to bring other countries’ arms

Whatever difficulties may lie ahead, supporters of the treaty to regulate the $70-billion-a-year trade in arms are jubilant. It is the climax of a campaign that began a decade ago. It had especially strong support from African and Caribbean countries where society has been torn apart by civil war or transnational crime, both stoked by the illicit trade in small arms. The deal involved compromises: for example, a weaker section on munitions. But what a senior diplomat close to the negotiations describes as “the heart” of the treaty—the prohibitions section—is alive and beating.

The ATT requires states to establish regulations for arms imports and exports in eight main categories: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons. They must assess whether their transfer could lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law, terrorism or organised crime. They must take into account the risk of serious acts of violence against civilians, particularly women and children. An overriding risk of any of these consequences means states must block the deal.

States must also report annually on all their arms transfers to a UN-run “implementation support unit”. The aim is to shine a light on a previously murky business and make governments accountable under the terms of the treaty. The main sanction is embarrassment. That may seem feeble, but previous treaties on landmines and cluster bombs have set a new global norm which makes it shameful to use such weapons indiscriminately.

The abstainers include big arms exporters (China and Russia) and importers (India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia). But they may sign up later. Russia says it needs more time, while China (surprising some) played a constructive role, apparently influenced by the African countries with which it has forged close commercial ties. Both may find they pay an economic price if their arms industries are increasingly excluded from global supply chains. It will take time for new standards of behaviour to establish themselves, but the push has begun and the treaty can be further strengthened over time. For the moment, says a diplomat involved with the treaty over many years, what has been achieved is “pretty damn good”.

Regulating the weapons trade: A Killer Deal, Economist, April 6, 2013, at 69

Regulating the Weapons Markets

Regulating the Weapons Markets, how to weaken international legislation

Negotiators on Friday (Feb. 17, 2012) narrowly averted the collapse of talks on a world arms trade treaty to regulate the $55 billion global weapons market, agreeing on ground rules for negotiations after days of procedural wrangling….Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies as a result of armed violence and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities…..

Brian Wood of Amnesty International said Russia, China and several other arms-exporting nations were “resisting proposals from the overwhelming majority for criteria in the treaty that would stop arms transfers” when there was reason to believe they could be used for serious human rights violations.  He said Washington also had misgivings and was concerned that human rights criteria would discourage states like Syria, a major purchaser of Russian arms, from joining the treaty.  One diplomat described Syria’s 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, which has led to the death of over 5,400 people according to U.N. figures, and other Arab Spring uprisings as “the elephant in the room” as delegates ponder ways of halting arms sales to governments that kill their citizens.  “It was in everyone’s minds as we discussed the need for the treaty,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

There was a long debate about whether decisions at the July drafting conference in New York need to be made unanimously, which would give every country a veto.  The United States, Russia, China, Syria, Iran and others pushing for unanimity have argued that the only way to ensure universal compliance is to get all countries on board. Those who dislike the virtual veto, like Mexico and some European countries, believe it could mean that whatever treaty is agreed on in July – if there is one – will be weak.  “As we have seen in the case of Syria, veto power leads to inaction and hampers the ability of the international community to prevent conflict,” said Jeff Abramson of the group Control Arms. He was referring to Russia’s and China’s veto of two U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Syria’s crackdown.  In the end, participants at this week’s discussions at U.N. headquarters agreed that decisions at the drafting conference in July would be taken by consensus. A senior U.S. official described the veto as “the nuclear option” – a last resort.  The U.S. official, a leading member of Washington’s delegation, told Reuters the ability to “block a weak treaty” while protecting U.S. domestic rights to bear arms – a politically sensitive issue in the United States – was agreed on in 2009 and remained a condition for U.S. participation.

Diplomats involved in the talks said bickering between the United States and Mexico over procedure belied a concrete subtext – Mexico’s complaints that lax U.S. gun laws enable Mexican drug cartels to obtain weapons easily in the United States and move them across the U.S.-Mexican border.  One issue on which the U.S. and Mexican delegations disagree relates to tracking weapons and ammunition. Mexico would like a treaty to require national authorities to track and keep records of arms and ammunition from their manufacture to final use.  The senior U.S. official said such monitoring would not be permissible under U.S. law.  There are other areas of disagreement, delegates said. Washington does not want the treaty to cover ammunition, while China and Egypt are among those that want to exclude small arms.

Excerpt, By Louis Charbonneau, Collapse of arms trade treaty talks narrowly averted, Reuters, Feb. 18, 2012

Report of the Secretary General (Positions of China, Mexico, Egypt) (pdf)