Hopes for robust arms trade treaty survive stalled UN negotiationsAugust 2012
Agreement on the first ever global arms trade treaty (ATT) could be within sight, despite the failure of month-long talks involving more than 170 UN member states in New York.
A landmark deal seemed close when a revised version of the draft document was presented for discussion on 27 July – the frantic final day of negotiations – before US president Barack Obama indicated he needed more time to consider the changes. Russia and China also called for more time.
However, more than 90 countries issued a statement outlining their continued commitment to agree an ATT as soon as possible.
This outcome leaves open the possibility that, after further discussion, a final draft could be put to the 193-strong UN general assembly, even by the end of the year, with its approval requiring a two-thirds majority.
Moves to create an ATT were launched at the UN in 2006 when 153 governments supported work on comprehensive standards for the trade in conventional arms, to help tackle the illicit sale of weapons and the conflicts they help sustain.
Fund managers Calvert, Aviva, Co-operative, ING and Legal & General are among 39 signatories to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment which supported calls for a “strong, legally binding and comprehensive” treaty.
They are demanding an enforced ban on the transfer of arms and ammunition where there is a risk of human rights violations, and that the UN adopts consistent sanctions and requires all arms transfers to be reported.
The investors warned: “Without a stronger global conventional arms control system, there are clear regulatory and reputational risks for companies in the defence industry and/or arms importing.”
While Russia, China, France, the US and UK all issued statements backing a treaty, the most robust support came from Norway, Mexico and Kenya, as well as campaigners and NGOs. The strongest opponents were Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Cuba and North Korea.
NGOs and campaigners had claimed that an earlier draft document was so riddled with weaknesses and loopholes as to render it meaningless. Global civil society alliance Control Arms outlined five ‘loopholes’ that needed to be closed to make any treaty workable.
These included: removing “meaningless references to controlling parts and components and ammunition”; preventing states from gifting weapons or providing military assistance programmes to evade controls; introducing a human rights requirement to arms trade controls; removing a state’s ability to make its own judgements on deals that contravene the treaty; and ensuring that existing arms deals are included in any treaty agreement.
However, it was generally accepted that the last draft put to the negotiations on 27 June addressed most of these issues and optimism rose that a deal could be reached.
The fact that the US wanted to delay a final decision supported the view put forward by some figures that Barack Obama, who faces US presidential elections in November, was constrained by domestic politics.
One senior SRI figure within a major US fund management company, who asked not to be named, said Obama’s support for a strong treaty, in the teeth of gun lobby claims that it would remove a citizen’s right to bear arms, would be an act of “political suicide” and would hand the election to his Republican challenger.
Earlier, speaking at the opening of the ATT conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The world is overarmed and peace is underfunded. Military spending is on the rise. Today, it is well above $1tn a year.
“Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African countries lost an estimated $284bn (£180bn, €231bn) as a result of armed conflicts, fuelled by transfers of ammunition and arms — 95% of which came from outside Africa. And, globally, 60 years of UN peacekeeping operations have cost less than six weeks of current military spending.
“Poorly regulated trade in weaponry is a major obstacle to everything we do. For example, the delivery of emergency assistance is often disrupted by armed threats and attacks against UN staff and other humanitarian organisations. In the last decade, nearly 800 humanitarian workers were killed in armed attacks.”
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