As the deadline for negotiations at the UN looms nearer, countries are busily hammering out the details of a treaty to restrict the trade in arms. The projected treaty is intended to reduce the flow of weapons to regimes which break human rights’ law and marks the first time an attempt has been made to impose global regulations on the trade in conventional arms. This trade currently stands at around 50 billion pounds a year. Whether an agreement will be reached and what form it will take is, at this point, an open question. The UN chief Ban Ki-moon says only very limited progress has been made so far whilst groups such as Amnesty International and campaign against the arms trade have criticized an apparent lack of resolve amongst nations to formulate tighter regulations. Moreover, some campaigners argue that a treaty would do little to affect the flow of arms. Kate Stearman, media coordinator for the campaign against the arms trade, outlined why:
"There’s a lot of talk about having a strong treaty or weak treaty but, in fact, even if it was a so-called “strong treaty” – it’s not going to make any substantial difference. Our fear is that arms trade treaty will legitimize the arms trade even further rather than actually stop it or even limit it".
Former Foreign Secretary in the previous labor government David Miliband recently criticized the UK for standing aside and not taking an active role in negotiations. “It was in danger”, he warned, “of betraying the animating spirit of the campaign to regulate the arms trade”. The British UN mission, however, has recently expressed confidence that the historic agreement is very close after a new draft was circulated yesterday. Moreover, in a statement given this morning the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stressed the importance of an arms treaty and the UK government’s leading role in pressing for one. Doubts, though, surround Britain’s actual commitment to imposing stricter import criteria. The UK has consistently ranked among the top ten arms exporters in the world. Its biggest customers include regimes listed by the Foreign Office as countries of concern because of ongoing human rights abuses. In a recent report by the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls the government was censored for criticizing authoritarian regimes while simultaneously providing them with weapons. Kate Stearman of British foreign policy:
"The UK government says that it supports arms trade treaty and it put some diplomatic efforts behind it, but the problem is of real disconnect between what it’s saying on UN and what its policy is, a disconnect which we would call hypocrisy. UK is one of the world’s largest arm exporters and it exports routinely to countries that commit human rights violations, press their own people, who are aggressive towards the neighbors".
According to campaigners, the treaty in its current form has a number of potential defects. The US has opposed the inclusion of ammunition as one of the military items subject to the terms of any eventual agreement whilst China has argued that small arms should be excluded, the treaty may also only imply to commercial sales and not to reduce of arms. Nevertheless, Amnesty International recently praised a new draft of the treaty arguing that it went a long way to closing major loopholes in the earlier version. As diplomats gather for the last day of negotiations in New York, the pressure is rapidly mounting for them to produce a robust treaty which satisfies not only the aspirations of governments but arms campaigners worldwide.