First UN arms trade treaty signed

Sales of tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships and light weapons will be covered

Photo: Pho­to: Inter­net The Knot­ted Gun sculp­ture in front of UN Head­quar­ters in New York.

More than 65 coun­tries signed the land­mark trea­ty reg­u­lat­ing the mul­ti­bil­lion-dol­lar glob­al arms trade on 3 June and the Unit­ed States announced it will sign soon, giv­ing a strong kick­off to the first major inter­na­tion­al cam­paign to stem the illic­it trade in weap­ons that fuel con­flicts and extrem­ists.

More than 65 coun­tries signed the land­mark trea­ty reg­u­lat­ing the mul­ti­bil­lion-dol­lar glob­al arms trade on 3 June and the Unit­ed States announced it will sign soon, giv­ing a strong kick­off to the first major inter­na­tion­al cam­paign to stem the illic­it trade in weap­ons that fuel con­flicts and extrem­ists. The trea­ty aims to end the "'free-for-all' nature of inter­na­tion­al weap­ons trans­fers," UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon stat­ed. It estab­lish­es inter­na­tion­al stand­ards that will apply to glob­al trade in con­ven­tion­al arms, ran­ging from hand­guns to tanks, as well as muni­tions and parts for weap­ons.
The announce­ment by US Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry that the US - the world's larg­est arms deal­er - will sign is crit­i­cal, but the trea­ty's ulti­mate strength rests on sup­port by all major arms export­ers and import­ers. "The Trea­ty is an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to efforts to stem the illic­it trade in con­ven­tion­al weap­ons, which fuels con­flict, empow­ers extrem­ists, and con­trib­utes to vio­la­tions of human rights," Ker­ry said in an offi­cial press state­ment.
While the trea­ty was over­whelm­ing­ly approved on 2 April by the UN Gen­er­al Assem­bly, key arms export­ers includ­ing Rus­sia and Chi­na and major import­ers like India, Sau­di Ara­bia, Indo­ne­sia and Egypt abstained and have giv­en no indi­ca­tion yet that they will sign it. Though the trea­ty states that it will not inter­fere with the sov­er­eign right of each nation to reg­u­late its domes­tic arms trade, US law­mak­ers also were con­cerned that the terms of the agree­ment will be used as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to tamper with gun rights with­in the Unit­ed States. One hun­dred and thir­ty mem­bers of Con­gress, rep­re­sent­ing both par­ties, sent a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Obama and the sec­re­tary of state ask­ing them to reject the trea­ty.
The trea­ty will require coun­tries that rat­i­fy it to estab­lish nation­al reg­u­la­tions to con­trol the trans­fer of con­ven­tion­al arms and com­po­nents and to reg­u­late arms bro­kers. It pro­hib­its the trans­fer of con­ven­tion­al weap­ons if they vio­late arms embar­goes or if they pro­mote acts of gen­o­cide, crimes against human­i­ty or war crimes, and if they could be used in attacks on civil­ians or civil­ian build­ings such as schools and hos­pi­tals. What impact the trea­ty will have in curb­ing the glob­al arms trade - esti­mat­ed at between $60bn and $85bn - remains to be seen. A lot will depend on which coun­tries rat­i­fy it, and how strin­gent­ly it is imple­ment­ed once it comes into force. Sig­na­tures are the first step to rat­i­fi­ca­tion, and the trea­ty will only take effect aft­er 50 coun­tries rat­i­fy it.

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