Toothless International Arms Trade Treaty
On April 2nd 2013, The United Nations General Assembly approved the first global arms trade treaty with 154 votes in favor, 3 against and 23 abstentions. The overwhelming approval comes one week after Iran, Syria and North Korea prevented a treaty-drafting conference at U.N. headquarters from reaching the required consensus to adopt the treaty. These same countries were the sole votes against the treaty last Tuesday.
The text of this treaty carries the purpose of regulating the international trade in conventional arms. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praised the treaty as a powerful new tool in preventing grave human rights abuses and for providing momentum for further global disarmament efforts. In his statement, after the General Assembly’s action, he called it “a victory for the world’s people” and “a historic diplomatic achievement – the culmination of long-held dreams and many years of effort.”
There are plenty of reasons to stay skeptical on how much effect this treaty will actually have unless the world’s biggest weapons manufactures sign up. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) warned, that the treaty would do little to control the sale of arms to dictatorial regimes, because it determines that countries have exclusively commercial reasons to export arms.
The parliamentary coordinator of the CAAT believes that the treaty legitimizes the arms trade. “If governments are serious about ending the trade in weaponry, with dire consequences for peace and human rights, they should immediately stop promoting arms exports.”
Critical voices of this treaty will take the Secretary-General’s words with a grain of salt, as some would argue, since the UN has turned a blind eye to arms and funding going to Al–Qaeda-linked rebels in various countries, making itself complicit in these crises.
The treaty bans the export of conventional arms to countries considered guilty of committing crimes against humanity and breaking international human rights laws. The problem arises when we consider that it is the UN that makes the decision on whether a country is a human rights abuser or not. What makes this treaty down right dangerous is the fact that it doesn’t include any prohibition regarding the extension of arms to terrorists and unlawful non-state actors. This means that NATO and other states will be free to continue providing arms to opposition groups in Syria, while at the same time having an increased say over the arming of importing states, even if they are in agreement with their national security and legitimate defense interests.
The United States as the world’s largest arms exporter with heavy sway over the UN, is given an even greater ability to influence which country is allowed to acquire weapons for its own defense, since the treaty fails to acknowledge the right of every state to obtain, produce, export, import and possess conventional weapons for security purposes.
The treaty also fails to prohibit the obvious. The transfer of arms to countries engaged in military aggression against other countries such as Israel. It also fails to prohibit the export of any kind of weapon.
Some common-sense measures found their way into the treaty, such as the introduction of a national system that monitors the arms circulation in countries that don’t already have such a system.
In order to legitimize this treaty, global mass casualty figures were used. The rightful objective should therefore be the reduction of arm sales by limiting global production. Surprisingly enough, the treaty does not target this area.
Accusations, that the text of this treaty is highly industry friendly cannot be dismissed. It denies arms to unfriendly governments, while institutionalizing and legalizing the arming of “good terrorists”.
The hope is, that an international arms trade treaty will finally be able to reduce human suffering and have meaningful impact, once the UN stops being a limb of some of the most powerful arms exporting countries.