What’s going on with the Arms Trade Treaty?

 In Arms Sales and Military Aid

With one person dying every minute from gun violence around the globe, the United Nations negotiations currently underway for an Arms Trade Treaty are urgently needed.

As it stands, there are tighter international regulations on bananas and iPods than weapons and ammunition. The treaty would stem the tide of arms flowing to repressive regimes and underground weapons markets that have fueled the worst atrocities of the last few decades. The treaty has been a work in progress for over six years. The July conference will be the last round of negotiations where UN member nations will finally hammer out the details. This a historic opportunity to address the global instability caused by the unregulated arms trade.

Here are some highlights from the news about the conference:

1) While the treaty will not stop arms sales, it will force countries to have basic regulations and a common set of criteria for sales, as well as holding dealers more directly accountable.

“Many countries have weak or ineffective regulations, if they have any at all. Making matters worse, only 52 of the world’s 192 governments have laws regulating arms brokers; less than half of these have criminal or monetary penalties associated with illegal brokering.”

2) The arms control community is pushing for a legally binding treaty that prevents sales to any nation that violates human rights or is under a UN arms embargo. According to The New York Times:

“The international system is so haphazard and has so many loopholes that weapons still get through. A study by Oxfam, the international relief organization, found that from 2000 to 2010, countries under embargo imported arms worth $2.2 billion. Syria, for instance, still receives weapons from Russia and Iran even though its security forces have killed more than 13,000 protesters. Trade in virtually every major commodity, from oil to bananas, is subject to international agreements. It is absurd that conventional arms are not subject to strong controls.”

Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam, explains the function of the UN Arms Trade Treaty:

“The treaty will do two basic things. First, it would require countries to adopt a basic system of export and import controls, to ensure weapons do not fall into the hands of war criminals, terrorists, and human rights abusers. Second, it will restrict countries from selling, leasing or giving arms to end users when there is a substantial risk that those arms will be used for abuse, war crimes, or terrorism”

Listen to a recent interview on KQED with Offerheiser here.

3) Conservative groups like the NRA have been working the rumor mill and spreading misinformation that a UN Arms Trade Treaty will infringe on the second amendment. There is no truth in these inflammatory and politically motivated claims, but unfortunately that hasn’t slowed them down.

130 representatives signed a letter to the president opposing a strong Arms Trade Treaty, led by representative Mike Kelly (R-PA).  In this letter they cite objections saying the treaty is “likely to pose significant threats to our national security, foreign policy, and economic interests as well as our constitutional rights.”

In an interview with Fox News,Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association claims,“It cheapens our rights as American citizens, and weakens our sovereignty.”

Amnesty points to what could be the NRA’s ulterior motives here:

“The NRA’s real agenda may be to protect the lucrative weapons industry, which helps bankroll the organization. That industry is estimated to exceed $60 billion annually and benefits immensely from the current free-for-all in the global trade in weapons and ammunition.”

Oddly enough, NRA spokesperson Chuck Norris made our case for us a while back when he said, “What’s ironic is that the United States already has the world’s pre-eminent system for regulation of true military arms sales. If the rest of the world merely adopted the U.S. regulatory regime, there would be no need for an Arms Trade Treaty.”

In his strange, circular way, Mr. Norris makes exactly our point. US law is viewed as the “gold standard” of weapons regulations globally (though we still feel there are improvements to be made). The Arms Trade Treaty is the missing piece needed to bring the other nations who supply arms up to the minimum standard set by the United States, making it harder for weapons to slip into a currently thriving underground market.

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