A Code of Conduct for Arms Sales

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  • by Anup Shah
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Since the early 1990s there has been efforts to review and develop arms-transfer principles and codes of conduct to ensure that arms are not sold to human rights violators. Some major events, summarized, include the following:

YearAgreement or significant event

Sources: Federation of American Scientists1, Oxfam and the Control Arms Campaign2, and the Arias foundation for peace and human progress3.

1993A US Code of Conduct bill started and has been introduced in successive sessions of Congress since.
1995A group of Nobel Peace Laureates, led by former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, proposed a comprehensive International Code of Conduct.
1998West Africa’s regional body, ECOWAS agreed to a Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons. It is currently being strengthened to transform it into a legally-binding convention.
1998The European Union (EU) accepted a regional Code of Conduct, the first group of states to do so. The Code covers all conventional weapons, not solely small arms. In 2004, following pressure from civil society, the code has been strengthened somewhat.
1999US Congress passed the International Code of Conduct Act, requiring the administration to pursue a multilateral agreement on uniform, strict export standards.
2000At the December US-EU Summit, the US and EU agreed to work together on this type of agreement.
2001The United Nations conference on Small Arms led to a Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. The aim was to decide the steps nations should take to prevent the illicit trade in small arms. An initial proposal by NGOs for an Arms Trade Treaty was also circulated with strong backing by many national and international lawyers and government experts.
2003In November, in the Americas, the OAS agreed to a Model Regulations for the Control of Brokers of Firearms, their Parts, Components and Ammunition, applying a detailed set of transfer criteria based on interntional law to control arms brokering.
2004In April, 11 countries from the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region adopted the Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of SALW in April 2004
2006In October, the first steps were taken at the United Nations towards a global Arms Trade Treaty.
2008On October 31, 147 states at the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to move forward with work on an Arms Trade Treaty. Only the US and Zimbabwe voted against it.

Common themes in such codes include:

  • Not selling arms to non-democratic regimes, or regimes that will use the weapons to commit human rights abuses;
  • Not selling weapons where internal or external conflicts may be fueled;
  • Not selling weapons that could undermine development and thus increase poverty.

However, while this sounds positive, the world’s major arms dealers have continued to sell arms to human rights violators, as mentioned in earlier parts of this site’s Arms Trade4 section. There are a number of reasons (discussed further below) as to why these codes have not been as effective as hoped. They include:

  • Divergent standards;
  • Divergent interpretation and implementation;
  • Weakness or diluted Codes;
  • Corruption and pressure to dilute codes further.

The Control Arms Campaign—a joint effort of Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms—notes that,

The arms industry is unlike any other. It operates without regulation. It suffers from widespread corruption and bribes. And it makes its profits on the back of machines designed to kill and maim human beings.

So who profits most from this murderous trade? The five permanent members of the UN Security Council—the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China. Together, they are responsible for eighty eight per cent of reported conventional arms exports. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms. Former US President Jimmy Carter, presidential campaign, 1976

The Arms Industry5, Control Arms, as of August 28, 2004

On this page:

  1. Loopholes in Arms Control Laws Allows Easy Bypass of Arms Controls
    1. By-passing end-use limitations
    2. Lack of accountability and financial transparency
    3. By-passing national laws by manufacturing in another country
  2. US Arms Transfer Code of Conduct
    1. Code Seems Positive
    2. Internationalizing the US Code of Conduct so it Does Not Apply to the US!
    3. Fears About a Code of Conduct Typically Unfounded
  3. A European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports
    1. EU Code of Conduct Criticized as Weak From the Beginning, in 1998
    2. Many Problems with the EU Code of Conduct still, into 2004
    3. Loopholes allow arms transfers to human rights abusers
    4. Lack of transparency and accountability
    5. A weak code that allows this to happen
    6. Privatization of Security
    7. Expanded EU May Further Weaken European Code of Conduct and Encourage Irresponsible Export of Surplus Arms
  4. South Africa Adopts Human Rights Concerns in its Arms Transfers
  5. An International Arms Trade Treaty for All Conventional Weapons?

Loopholes in Arms Control Laws Allows Easy Bypass of Arms Controls

The Control Arms Campaign also notes that legal loopholes allow dealers to easily by-pass controls. Those loopholes include:

  • By-passing end-use limitations;
  • Lack of accountability and financial transparency;
  • By-passing national laws by manufacturing in another country;

By-passing end-use limitations

Some governments demand to see an end use certificate identifying where arms are going and what they are to be used for.

This is a vital mechanism to ensure that

  • Arms authorized for export are delivered to the stated end user;
  • Arms are not diverted or misused for human rights violations.

But arms dealers can still get the weapons to their clients because this system is easy to bypass. For example,

  • The licensing body does little, or has limited abilities to, verify certificates;
  • Certificates are obtained through corrupt channels;
  • Certificate are faked or cite a destination that is just a transit stop. Control Arms cites an example of Canada selling 33 helicopters to Colombia, a country with a terrible human rights record. They achieved this by going through the US, despite strong Canadian controls. Certificate for end-use is not required if selling to the US, and there are no re-export guarantees.

Lack of accountability and financial transparency

As noted in the Arms Trade6 section on this site, the arms trade is one of the most corrupt businesses in the world.

Many arms dealers—middlemen—are corrupt and use corrupt means, such as corrupt arms transporters and financiers. Off-shore banking is used to make it hard to track the finances.

(For more about off-shore banking and its problems in general, see this site’s section on Evading Responsibilities7.)

By-passing national laws by manufacturing in another country

By shifting production to another country, arms companies can avoid national laws. So, as Control Arms notes, even if these countries are engaged in, or export arms to, conflicts in which gross human rights abuses are committed, this practice allows arms exporters to effectively bypass controls prohibiting arms sales there.

Governments in at least fifteen countries, including France, USA, UK, Israel, Switzerland, and Germany, permit companies to license the production of their arms and ammunition in forty-five other countries. Many of these countries have even weaker arms-export controls, greatly increasing the likelihood that the weapons they produce will be used to carry out atrocities, and destroy lives and livelihoods.

The loopholes—how dealers bypass arms controls8, Control Arms Campaign, as of August 28, 2004

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US Arms Transfer Code of Conduct

The US is the world’s largest arms dealer and often criticized along with many leading European countries for selling weapons to known human rights violators.

Code Seems Positive

Yet, it too has an Arms Trade Code of Conduct. It prohibits military assistance and arms transfers to countries that do no promote democracy, do not respect human rights, are engaged in acts of armed aggression, and do not fully participate in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.

However, the Code allows presidential exemptions based on either a US national security interest or a determination that an emergency exists requiring the United States to transfer arms or provide military assistance. Congress can however, with a 2/3 majority vote, vote to block any presidential waiver. Nonetheless, to that end, the Administration would be required to compile annually a list of countries not meeting these requirements for military assistance and arms transfers and make the list available to Congress and the international community.

Furthermore, a resolution introduced in 1999 required the US President to promote an international arms transfer control regime, through the United Nations and other international fora … to limit arms transfers worldwide, particularly transfers to countries that do not meet the criteria established [in the resolution], for the purpose of establishing a permanent multilateral regime to govern the transfer of conventional arms.

The President then has to report each year efforts taken each year to gain international acceptance of the principles of arms code of conduct.

For more details, see a summary of the Code of Conduct9 from Center for Defense Information (CDI).

Internationalizing the US Code of Conduct so it Does Not Apply to the US!

Yet, despite what sounds like a promising code, and measures to promote such principles world wide, there has been growing criticism of the principle of a code of conduct. Indeed, as CDI also criticizes, there have efforts in the US to weaken the Code10 by making it apply to other countries but not the US.

Fears About a Code of Conduct Typically Unfounded

Often from commercial interests, there have been fears raised about any code of conduct, typically along the lines of If we don’t sell weapons, someone else will. As CDI also noted, this argument has become increasingly untrue and irrelevant as more and more countries have shown commitment to joining up to codes to prevent a free flowing marketplace of deadly weapons.

The Council for a Livable World’s Arms Trade Oversight Project deals with many concerns11, noting that:

  • The Code is NOT an arms sales ban;
  • The Code does NOT create an arms sales blacklist due to annual reviews;
  • The Code does NOT micro manage the President in foreign affairs but instead strengthens its position regarding human rights and military issues;
  • Congress does NOT give up its right to block specific sales;
  • The Code provides Congress an opportunity to scrutinize arms;
  • The Code’s restrictions are very close to those already in existing law;
  • While other countries may be able to sell when the US doesn’t, the US can help set standards, given its prominent world position and pressure other countries to also commit to an international code, thus leveling the playing field amongst competing arms dealers;
  • The Code will NOT cost jobs; Already many foreign arms deals require concessions such as much of the production being overseas as well.

In comparison, the Europeans seem more committed and willing to have a Code of Conduct, yet theirs too is fraught with problems.

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A European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports

In June 1998, the European Union introduced a Code of Conduct in the export of arms. The Code of Conduct provided the criteria against which arms licenses are judged. Licenses should not be granted where there are concerns that the equipment for export could be used to commit human-rights violations, fuel internal or external armed conflict, or increase poverty by undermining development.

EU Code of Conduct Criticized as Weak From the Beginning, in 1998

Even though the code has been signed there are still many criticisms about it that say that it falls short of establishing effective monitoring of sales and transfers by a Member State. It is also claimed that it will still be probable that arms can be exported to the regimes that would be the most likely to use them and violate international humanitarian law (which lays down the rules of war).

In 1998, as the Code was agreed, a joint statement by leading NGOs in this field (Oxfam, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Safer World, BASIC and the World Development Movement) issued a critique. They charged that

the agreement fails to provide full respect for international humanitarian law and falls short of establishing adequate EU mechanisms and procedures for Member States to take coordinated action to effectively monitor and control transfers by the Member States and their nationals of military, paramilitary and security equipment and services.

Despite appeals from parliamentarians and non-government organisations in the EU,

  • There is no explicit obligation to prohibit transfers to forces which would most likely use them to seriously violate international humanitarian law (which sets out the rules of war).
  • There are virtually no provisions to address the current deficiencies in most EU Members States’ arms control regimes, such as the failure to strictly regulate international arms brokering and licensed production agreements, or to adopt rigorous systems of certifying and monitoring end-use.
  • Finally the Code, as agreed, contains no provision for parliamentary or public scrutiny over arms exports from the EU and thus does little to foster greater transparency and accountability over the arms trade across Europe as a whole.
The EU Code of Conduct on the arms trade—Final Analysis12, Statement on behalf of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Saferworld, Amnesty International, BASIC and WDM, June 1998 [List formatting mine.]

Many Problems with the EU Code of Conduct still, into 2004

Leading human rights organization, Amnesty International, issued a warning in May 2004 saying that arms export controls in the expanded European Union are dangerously ineffective13.

2004 is supposed to see a review of the EU Code of Conduct, but Amnesty fears that the review will not be wide or deep enough to address very serious flaws.

In a report titled Undermining Global Security: the European Union’s arms exports14, Amnesty noted many of the things highlighted further above from the Control Arms Campaign, but with more detail, and more specifically, with the EU Code of Conduct.

Amnesty also notes:

  • The EU is a major player in arms deals: France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom accounted for one third of the worldwide arms transfer agreements signed between 1994 and 2001.
  • EU expansion to include 10 new members adds some additional countries with significant arms deals.
  • The application of the EU Code has shown the system to be deeply flawed. Disturbingly, there are numerous reports of exports of MSP [Military, Security and Police] equipment, technology and expertise from existing EU Member States or new EU member states which have been transferred mostly in secret to recipients who have used such items for grave human rights violations or breaches of international humanitarian law.

Problems include:

  • Loopholes allow arms transfers to human rights abusers;
  • Lack of transparency and accountability;
  • A weak code that allows this to happen.

Loopholes allow arms transfers to human rights abusers

Amnesty described various ways arms are transferred to human rights abusers or where concerns are to be found. For example,

  • Certain EU and new Member States have—by neglect, lack of resources or intent—undermined, by-passed or ignored their own national export criteria and those of the EU Code and therefore have allowed arms and security equipment to be transferred to illicit or abusive end users.
  • There have been failures to control transit and trans-shipment of arms adequately.
  • Arms brokers are experts at using shell companies, shipping agents and distributors to arrange the sale of arms and weapons to human rights crisis and conflict zones. Because of the lack of effective controls at the national, EU and international level, the brokers, transportation agents, intermediaries and those providing financial services for such third party arms transfers rarely break export laws and can operate with impunity despite the serious human rights abuses caused by such arms transfers.
  • The provision of powerful surveillance and interception capabilities are sometimes provided to repressive states, thus contributing to human rights violations carried out by the police, security and intelligence forces. Amnesty also charges that EU governments seem to have paid little regard to this aspect of export control.
  • Companies in the EU and New Member States are still manufacturing and trading in equipment that may be used in torture and ill-treatment, despite ratifying a United Nations Convention prohibiting any torture.

Lack of transparency and accountability

Many of the problems Amnesty describes is due to lack of transparency and accountability. For example,

  • There is no Operative Provision in the Code to address the massive risks posed by the spread of LPO (Licensed Production Overseas), where a company in one country allows a second company in another country to manufacture its products under license.
  • There is a lack of reporting and regulation on military, security and policing training provided by various military and security companies.
  • There is a lack of monitoring of end-use certificates. As Control Arms noted further above, certificates are sometimes faked, or there is inadequate resources to follow up.
  • Transparency and reporting are poor. Information that is vital to enable parliamentarians and the public to hold governments to account is poor. While some countries have improved in this area, (often only after public pressure), very few governments provide sufficient details on products licensed for export, the quantities of weapons exported, who the end user is, etc.

A weak code that allows this to happen

This situation has arisen because the EU code is weak. Major flaws in the EU Code make it hard to be fully effective. Such flaws include:

  • Code is only politically binding not legally binding;
  • Vague phrases and criteria lead to different interpretations and loopholes;
  • Some provisions are weak, such as countries only need to take into account the level of human rights in a receiving country.
  • Lack of many operative provisions to close loopholes, increase transparency and accountability;

Privatization of Security

Amnesty also highlights a marked increase in the last decade in the use of private security or military companies by governments, companies and also inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide security training, logistics support, armed security and, in some cases, armed combatants. The types of companies in this privatization of security include:

  • Mercenaries;
  • Private Military Companies;
  • Private Security Companies.

On mercenaries:

Amnesty International believes that all governments should oppose the use of mercenaries as they operate outside the normal criminal justice system and on the fringes of military command structures. This can have important consequences for the protection of human rights, because mercenaries in various conflicts around the world have executed prisoners and committed other serious human rights abuses. It is much harder to hold mercenaries to account than regular members of a country’s security force, not least because such personnel can leave the country at any time and thus escape any accountability.

… Introducing effective international legislation to prohibit mercenaries has proved difficult, particularly as mercenaries usually deny that they are mercenaries and present altruistic, ideological and even religious reasons to mask the true nature of their participation under international law … but in actual practice the constant factor is money. Mercenaries are paid for what they do. The hired mercenary attacks and kills for gain, in a country or in a conflict not his own.

Undermining Global Security: the European Union’s arms exports15, Amnesty International, May 14, 2004

On private military companies, Amnesty gives an example of a French company which seems to have little accountability.

On private security companies, while services provided vary enormously, there are a number of cases where they have directly and indirectly contributed to human rights abuses.

The general concern about all three groups is lack of full accountability and transparency.

Expanded EU May Further Weaken European Code of Conduct and Encourage Irresponsible Export of Surplus Arms

EU expansion to include 10 new members brings additional concerns regarding Arms Control:

  • Some new countries are significant arms dealers;
  • The weak EU Code of Conduct may have to be made weaker to accommodate the newer members (because of taking the lowest common denominator approach to get new members to adopt the Code). While the EU appears to be attempting to address this, Amnesty criticizes it for being weak and only encourages countries to do things, rather than oblige them to;
  • To meet NATO requirements, these new EU member countries will need to get rid of their old stock of weapons and modernize. Surplus must therefore be dealt with. Usually they are meant to be destroyed. But the irony of this is:
    • Many old weapons have been sold for cheap to third world countries;
    • The major European arms dealers sell more arms to the new European countries to help modernize;
    • EU aid to third world countries may help purchase these arms;
    • In effect, The richer EU countries are therefore financing their own arms sales.

But, as Amnesty also notes, even existing EU members have been guilty of irresponsibly exporting surplus arms contrary to the criteria of the EU Code mentioning Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany and France as examples.

There are numerous opportunities to review the EU Code and strengthen it, as Amnesty and others have urged. Other leading organizations including smaller ones from the newer member states are also urgently taking up this issue.

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South Africa Adopts Human Rights Concerns in its Arms Transfers

South Africa used to be one of the top arms exporters in the world, and is still prominent. During the Apartheid era, they were known for selling arms to human rights violators. Since 1994, though, Human Rights Watch have pointed out that they have made remarkable progress … in adopting a set of human rights friendly policies in relation to arms transfers.

This policy is called the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC). The Conventional Arms Control Bill to implement this policy is still in the works. However, in their 2000 report on South Africa16 Human Rights Watch pointed out that at the same time, it believes that the South African government must urgently address the inconsistencies that have emerged between its arms export policies and practices, and deny all human rights abusers its weapons, the tools with which such abuses have been committed.

Into 2005, the above-mentioned Oxfam and Control Arms paper also notes that South Africa has exported arms to a number of countries with questionable human rights records, including Colombia, Algeria, and Nepal. (See page 7 of that report.)

South Africa is a well-respected, and increasingly more influential, developing country that is growing in stature. It has a lot of influence in Africa as well, so their use and exports of arms are of particular interest too.

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An International Arms Trade Treaty for All Conventional Weapons?

As noted further above, the 2001 UN Small Arms conference saw an initial proposal for an Arms Trade Treaty. This grew out of the NGO campaign in Europe for a legally binding EU Code of Conduct. Since its initial circulation at that conference, it has been slightly amended and reviewed by many national and international lawyers and government experts.

The idea of the treaty is not just to cover small arms and light weapons, but all conventional arms (weapons of mass destruction are usually treated separately).

Inspired by Nobel Peace Laureates and developed by lawyers, human rights organizations, and humanitarian NGOs, the treaty has support of a growing number of governments, as well as more than 600 civil society organizations worldwide, according to an Oxfam and Control Arms briefing paper (see page 4 of the paper mentioned below). Costa Rica, Finland, Tanzania, Kenya and others supported the idea of the Arms Trade Treaty, and in In March 2005, the UK government pledged to promote it during its presidencies of the G8 group of nations and the European Union in 2005.

A briefing paper by Oxfam and the Control Arms campaign summarizes its purpose and notes that the objective of such a treaty is to consolidate states’ existing and emerging obligations under international law into one framework convention. It is a simple, clear document, which does not contain new substantive legal obligations but provides an unambiguous universal standard for international arms transfers. The treaty defines the criteria against which any proposed cross-border transfer (export, import, transit, or transhipment) of conventional arms should be permitted and it requires states to incorporate these criteria into their national laws and to make regular public reports to an international registry of all arms transfers.

A summary of the core principles of the treaty emerges from states’ existing obligations under international law and contains 6 principles as the basis for the proposed treaty:

  1. All international transfers of arms shall be authorised by a recognised state and carried out in accordance with national laws and procedures which reflect, as a minimum, states’ obligations under international law.
  2. States shall not authorise international transfers of arms which would violate their expressed obligations regarding arms under international law.
  3. States shall not authorise international transfers of arms where they will be used or are likely to be used for violations of international law.
  4. States shall take into account other factors, including the likely use of the arms, before authorising an arms transfer.
  5. States shall submit to an international registry comprehensive national annual reports on international arms transfers, and the registry shall publish a compiled, comprehensive, international, annual report.
  6. States shall establish common standards for specific mechanisms to control all aspects of arms transfers, including brokering, licensed production etc, as well as operative provisions to strengthen implementation.
Towards an Arms Trade Treaty; Next steps for the UN Programme of Action17, Oxfam and Control Arms, July 2005, p.17

The paper adds that such a treaty needs to be international, comprehensive, and binding, (p.18) if it is to be effective. Otherwise, there may be too many loopholes or exception for countries to by-pass these goals.

A major report by the Commission for Africa18 in March 2005 also urged (p.69): As a matter of priority and no later than 2006, the international community should open negotiations on an international Arms Trade Treaty.

Towards the end of October, 2006, the majority of the world’s nations voted at the United Nations to an Arms Trade Treaty. 139 countries voted in favor, with only the United States voting against it. Russia, China, India, and Pakistan were amongst a number of major arms producers that opposed the treaty as well, but technically abstained from the voting. Support was particularly strong in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The voting is just the first step as it simply indicates that on principle, countries mostly agree to the idea of such a treaty. It was agreed that a group of experts would be established in 2007 to look at the feasibility, scope and parameters of the treaty, followed by a report back to the General Assembly in 2008.

The BBC notes that many countries against this treaty feared a damaging effect on their arms industries19. However, IPS noted a number of emerging arms exporter countries did support this vote20, implying that they did not see a damaging effect.

It could of course be that those opposed to it benefit from the loopholes, and sell to many human rights violators, so have the most to lose, while those that mostly sell legitimately, do not. A separate IPS report had noted that big powers were split on the proposed treaty21, noting Oxfam’s study that some weapons and ammunitions they had sold had found their way to conflict zones22, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated almost 4 million people have been killed since 1998.

Campaign groups such as Oxfam and Amnesty International see this first step as a major success23. However, given the number of powerful countries that opposed the treaty (through either a negative vote, or abstension), the effectiveness of such a treaty still remains a concern.

At the end of October 2008, 147 states at the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to move forward with work on the Arms Trade Treaty.

As before, the vote for this was particularly strong in Africa, South and Central America and Europe, which Oxfam noted indicated strong demand for arms control both from countries severely affected by armed violence and from major exporters 24.

Only the US and Zimbabwe voted against, ignoring increasing global consensus for an ATT.

18 nations also abstained on the arms trade treaty vote25: Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Yemen.

Highlighting the urgency for this treaty, the above-Oxfam article also added that, Since the UN process started in December 2006, approximately 695,000 people have been killed directly with firearms, illustrating the urgent need for an Arms Trade Treaty.

In another report, Oxfam also added that irresponsible arms transfers are wrecking attempts to reduce poverty26. Two thirds of the countries most likely to miss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in conflict or emerging from conflict, for example. And purchasing arms also has the knock-on effects of increasing debt, reducing funds available for other priorities (such as tackling poverty), and increases corruption:

All states have a right to self-defense. An ATT will not impede a state’s right to acquire conventional arms for legitimate self-defence and law-enforcement purposes in accordance with international law and standards. Responsible, regulated transfers of military and security equipment can assist a state to provide the security and stability necessary for development. However, irresponsible transfers can do the opposite.

For a great many of the world’s poor people, war or criminal armed violence are directly impeding their chances of development. At least 22 of the 34 countries least likely to achieve the MDGs are in the midst of—or emerging from—conflict. By 2010, half of the world’s poorest people could be living in states that are experiencing violent conflict or are at risk of it.

Shooting Down the MDGs; How irresponsible arms transfers undermine development goals27, Oxfam Briefing Paper, October 2008

The same report also breaks down how irresponsible arms transfers undermines each MDG:

MDGHow arms transfers fueling armed conflict undermine the MDGsHow arms transfers misused in human rights abuses undermine the MDGsHow the cost of arms transfers can undermine all the MDGs

Shooting Down the MDGs; How irresponsible arms transfers undermine development goals28, Oxfam Briefing Paper, October 2008

Eradicate extreme poverty and hungerLoss of livelihood, unemployment, displacement, and disruptions in service provision, internal trade, and markets.Extra-judicial killings of a main income earner. Displaced people have restricted access to food, markets, jobs, and trade. Arms transfers can divert funds from social spending such as education and health care. They can also contribute to unsustainable debt service payments, which reduce resources for social spending.

Expenditure on arms transfers can be justified if the transfer:

  1. Fulfills a legitimate security need;
  2. Is cost-effective; and
  3. Does not involve corrupt practices.
Achieve universal primary educationSchools are closed down and teachers and pupils displaced. Over time, reduced perceptions of the gains from education can reduce families’ investment in schooling – especially for girls.Displacement and reduced access to education.
Promote gender equality and empower womenMore female-headed households, increases in gender-based violence, and recruitment of women/girls into armed groups.Gender-targeted violence, or indirect impact on women as survivors and heads of households.
Reduce child mortalityDestruction of medical facilities for neo-natal care, and increases in child/infant mortality due to disease and malnutrition.Displacement, which can impede access to health care and medical services.
Improve maternal healthDestroyed health infrastructure and overburdened health care, diverting funds from other areas.Displacement can result in less access to neo-natal health care or midwives.
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseasesDestroyed or disrupted health services and sanitation systems, and increases in sexual violence and prostitution.Sexually transmitted diseases increase through sexual violence.Displaced people experience high levels of untreated disease.
Ensure sustainable environmentAccelerated rural-to-urban migration, destruction of infrastructure for safe drinking water/sanitation, exploitation of resources, and deforestation.Natural resources can be exploited to buy arms during armed conflict. Displaced can overburden resources such as firewood or water.

The next steps will include a resolution to widen and deepen discussions amongst all states. It will set out the next stage in the process towards agreeing the framework, scope and principles of a legally binding treaty to bring the arms trade under much stricter control by states.

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0 articles on “A Code of Conduct for Arms Sales” and 2 related issues:

Arms Trade—a major cause of suffering

The arms trade is a major cause of human rights abuses. Some governments spend more on military expenditure than on social development, communications infrastructure and health combined. While every nation has the right and the need to ensure its security, in these changing times, arms requirements and procurement processes may need to change too.

Read “Arms Trade—a major cause of suffering” to learn more.

Arms Control

Read “Arms Control” to learn more.

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created:
  • Last updated:

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Document revision history

Added information about the Arms Trade Treaty vote and related issues
Majority of the world voted for an Arms Trade Treaty
Added information about the proposed Arms Trade Treaty for all conventional arms, additional events since the 1990s, and a short note on South Africa’s record.
Rewrote most of this November 2000 article.