U.N. Pushes Arms Treaty, But Will It Work?

The United Nations could safeguard millions with the Arms Trade Treaty. . . if the blasted thing can get off the ground.

Can you explain international trade in a single paragraph? Don’t go crazy! International trade is complex because everyone is involved. And if you happen to be a factory worker, truck driver, salesperson, inspector, pilot, gas attendant, security guard, or one of thousands of other professions. . . you’re likely part of the system. This is how we buy, sell and move our computers and clothing, autos and produce, toys and cell phones.

Another product moves rapidly between nations on a daily basis with less regulation and devastating effect:  weaponry. This month, 193 member states of the United Nations will try to hash out an Arms Trade Treaty to reinforce the controls over the global arms trade. The UN clears up some general confusion about the treaty in this fashion:

The ATT will not:

  • Interfere with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession
  • Ban, or prohibit the export of, any type of weapons
  • Impair States’ legitimate right to self-defence
  • Lower arms regulation standards in countries where these are already at a high level.

What the ATT will do is establish high standards between nations for the transfer of arms and arms control. Look at it this way, in a perspective from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs:

Governments remain primarily responsible for providing security and protecting their populations, keeping to the rule of law. They take decisions on arms transfers across international borders.  That is why governments are expected to show responsibility in their decisions regarding arms transfers. This means that before approving international transfers (e.g., exports) of weapons, governments should  assess the risk that such transfers would  exacerbate conflict or be used to commit grave violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Full disclosure:  my experience in arms control is limited to a measly one-semester internship in a think tank. But after studying military history for 20 years, I think I understand how weapons end up in the wrong hands. The bad guys grab ’em from post-war caches, counterfeit manufacturers, depots, and black markets. One truckload of rifles and bullets can turn the tide in a power struggle, wipe out a village, and saturate the countryside with terror. In some countries, children are handed weapons and forced into the ranks of a warring militia. The cheap supply of rifles and handguns have also jump-started pirates and terrorists.

Every member state of the UN, including the United States, must weigh the values of the ATT on the international arms market. In America, our constitutional rights are not threatened by the treaty. But our concept of gun violence is nothing compared to the bloodshed in other countries. Violence is a rampant epidemic. No matter what inconvenience we place on exporters and economy, the line must be drawn here.

Photo:  United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs

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