DISARMAMENT: U.N. to Pursue Conventional Arms Trade Treaty

  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Friday, October 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The proposed new treaty, which is expected to be ready for a U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2012, will regulate the global trade in conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, warships, missiles, battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

By an overwhelming majority, the 192-member General Assembly adopted a resolution Friday, after years of negotiations, that sets the stage for 'common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms'.

Some of the world's biggest arms traders, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany, supported the resolution, which garnered 153 out of 192 votes.

The 19 states that abstained included two of the remaining major arms exporters, Russia and China, along with countries with active domestic arms industries: Egypt, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Also in that list were Bahrain, Belarus, Cuba, Kuwait, Libya, Nicaragua, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Yemen.

'This is a great day for supporters of the Arms Trade Treaty,' Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, Senior Fellow with the Center for Peace and Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS.

She said the U.N. resolution 'moves the international community closer to observing principles enshrined in international human rights and humanitarian law.'

'This resolution also demonstrates the importance of presidential leadership in the United States,' she said.

In less than a year, Goldring pointed out, the U.S. government has gone from being one of the chief opponents of the proposed treaty to being a strong supporter.

'Elections matter,' she added.

William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, told IPS the commitment by the majority of the world's nations to negotiate limits on the conventional weapons trade is an historic development.

For too long the arms trade has been the 'orphan of arms control', existing on a relatively unregulated basis even as there were major international agreements regarding nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

He also pointed out it was less than a decade ago that the United Nations adopted its first 'programme of action' on small arms and light weapons.

'The fact that U.N. member states have now committed themselves to negotiating a binding treaty in relatively short order is a huge step forward,' Hartung noted.

It is a testament to the work of scores of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the globe who pushed this issue onto the international agenda when governments were, by and large, ignoring it, he declared.

In a statement released Friday, the Control Arms Campaign - a coalition of hundreds of NGOs from more than 100 countries which lobbied for the treaty - described the resolution as 'a historic breakthrough'.

But the coalition expressed reservations about the procedure planned for the U.N. Conference that could give every member state the right of veto over final decisions.

A small number of sceptical states must not be allowed to hijack the process when it is clear the world wants a strong treaty, the statement added.

Rebecca Peters, director of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a member of the coalition, said 'finally governments have agreed to negotiate legally binding global controls on this deadly trade'.

Brian Wood, Amnesty International's head of arms control, said the treaty needs a golden rule requiring governments to stop any proposed arms transfer that poses a substantial risk of being used for serious violations of human rights or war crimes.

In a statement released here, Anna Macdonald of Oxfam International said that for too long, governments have let the flow of weapons get out of control causing pain, suffering and death in some of the world's poorest regions.

Goldring told IPS that 'unfortunately, the list of countries abstaining from this vote included Russia, China, and several important U.S. arms transfer recipients'.

It will be important for these countries to participate fully in the process of negotiating the treaty, and U.S. leadership can help bring about this result.

'The major weakness of the resolution is its emphasis on reaching decisions through consensus,' Goldring said.

In practice, the United Nations defines consensus as unanimity. This has the unfortunate effect of allowing the least-committed participant to veto language, even if all of the other countries participating agree, she noted.

The United States frequently played this role during the administration of President George W. Bush.

In the 2008 biennial meeting of states on small arms and light weapons, negotiators achieved significant progress only when the chair wisely abandoned the principle of consensus, Goldring declared.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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