About Time for an Arms Trade Treaty
By Cassidy Regan on 05/31/2012 @ 03:00 PM
After years of international trade regulations on items from bananas to MP3 players, the United Nations will finally hold a conference this July in the hope of establishing global arms trade standards. The long-overdue Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) could be a step forward in preventing conventional weapons from reaching those who would commit atrocities, but the treaty is also at risk of being a big step back.
Irresponsible and illegal arms transfers have long-fueled violent conflict across the world, from Colombia to Bosnia to the current situation in Syria. Though an ATT would by no means mean an end to the illicit arms trade – or to the dangers of legal transfers – it could lay an important foundation for improving controls over weapons exports, holding those who evade arms restrictions responsible and outlawing trades that would fuel human rights violations or mass atrocities. But if the standards set in the treaty are weak on accountability or narrow in scope (opting not to include items like ammunition, for example), the resulting requirements could be weaker than those that already exist in bilateral treaties and international law.
So far, U.S. statements on the terms of an ATT have been less than ideal. Rather than advocating for strong adherence to human rights standards, recent speeches have noted that the ATT should include what governments “must consider” before making an arms sale – not what is mandatory to respect. Moreover, the U.S. has expressed only slight willingness to make ammunitions sales a part of the treaty’s scope, stating that the administration is open – but doubtful – when it comes to the feasibility of related regulations.
Unfortunately, this stance comes as no surprise when considering continued U.S. arms sales to abusive regimes like that of Bahrain. The U.S. is also a major exporter of ammunition, which could be a concern when it comes to – in one example – U.S. arms sales to Kenya.
Small arms proliferation has long threatened East Africa, where some activists have begun to call for an Arms Trade Treaty as an important means of curbing trafficking. In this context, Kenya has unfortunately become a major site of arms smuggling and related violence, and many Kenyans I spoke with last December fear what this might mean for tensions during the next national elections. One foreign policy expert I spoke with recently highlighted ammunition as a major point of prevention. While the guns may already be present, she noted, decreased access to the bullets they require could prove essential – especially considering how easily legally-procured ordnance can fall into the illicit market. Last year, direct commercial sales to Kenya approved by the U.S. Department of State included a significant amount of ammunition.
While an Arms Trade Treaty may not serve to end sales like these, a strong agreement would raise dialogue around the impact of arms transfers to a new level – particularly if recognizing the danger of all weapons and related items (such as ammunition). FCNL has a long history of advocating for small arms control, and Diane Randall, our Executive Secretary, recently added her name to a letter to President Obama calling for a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty. Over the next few months, we’ll continue to monitor the progress on the ATT and to join groups advocating for an agreement that will improve upon current international law and, hopefully, U.S. standards – rather than weaken them.
Take action now! Rep. Raúl Grijalva has organized a letter to the Administration calling for a strong and effective ATT. Write to your members of Congress to urge them to join this important effort toward an agreement that will strengthen, rather than weaken, global commitment to ending arms flows for atrocities.