Why we need a global Arms Trade Treaty

Why do we need a global Arms Trade Treaty?

Every day, millions of people suffer from the direct and indirect consequences of the irresponsible arms trade: thousands are killed, others are injured, many are raped, and/or forced to flee from their homes, while many others have to live under constant threat of weapons.

The poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition fuels conflict, poverty and human rights abuses. The problems are compounded by the increasing globalization of the arms trade – components being sourced from across the world, and production and assembly in different countries, sometimes with little controls. Domestic regulation of the arms trade has failed to adapt to these changes. 

While existing national and regional controls are important, these are not enough to stop irresponsible transfers of arms and ammunition between countries.

This is why Oxfam is calling on the member states of the United Nations to deliver a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to help save lives, prevent human rights abuses, and protect the livelihoods of people around the world.

The Treaty must be an international, legally binding instrument based on States’ existing obligations under international law. It must be properly implemented to reduce the human cost associated with the uncontrolled trade in conventional weapons and ammunition. It must establish binding criteria for analyzing international arms transfers on a case-by-case basis, and clearly determine when an arms transfer is prohibited.

What’s the connection between the arms trade and poverty?

The poorly regulated arms trade impedes socio-economic development. It is estimated that armed violence costs Africa $18 billion per year.

This is approximately equivalent to the annual sums of development aid to the entire continent. Armed conflict shrinks an African nation’s economy by 15 per cent (Oxfam, 2007, ‘Africa’s missing billions: International arms flows and the cost of conflict’.) Violence and instability, and the crime levels to which they contribute, discourage outside investment.

Nearly one million of the 7–8 million firearms produced every year are lost or stolen.

Additionally, corruption in the defence industry is estimated to cost $20 billion per year. The US Department of Commerce estimates that corruption in the arms trade accounts for approximately 50 per cent of all corrupt transactions globally, despite the fact that the value of arms traded annually does not exceed 1 per cent of global trade. Corruption and bribery leads to higher transactional and hidden costs, often representing a high percentage of the contract total value for the companies (Transparency International (UK), ‘Preventing Corruption in the Official Arms Trade’, 30 April 2006, Update Note 3.)

When will this Treaty enter into force?

In July 2012, the United Nation’s Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty produced a draft treaty but failed to adopt it when the United States, followed by Russia, Syria and others requested more time.

The lack of agreement on a final text was disappointing but not the end of the story.

On Tuesday 2 April, 2013, more than 90 countries co-sponsored a new resolution in the UN General Assembly to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty. The resolution passed in a sweeping victory – 155 in favor, 22 abstentions and only 3 countries opposed – Iran, Syria and North Korea.

On June 3, 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty opened for signature by all UN member states. To date some 119 States have signed the Treaty. For the treaty to become binding, 50 states had to ratify it in their own countries. This 50 number was topped on 25 September 2014, triggering the 90-day countdown to entry into force, on December 24 2014.

Will the Treaty really make a difference after it enters into force?

Implemented effectively, this Treaty can help transform the way the arms trade operates. It will set new standards and enshrine in international law strict controls on the arms trade, which has been poorly-regulated for generations.

Obviously it will take time for the logistics to be put in place for the effective implementation of a new law to be carried out. Work is currently underway to ensure the effective functioning of the treaty once it enters into force on December 24 2014.

How would an international Arms Trade Treaty work?

An effective ATT would be based on a simple principle: no transfers of weapons likely to be used for violations of international law.

It would establish common binding standards that must be applied to assess international weapons transfers. These standards would be based on existing international law including international human rights and humanitarian law.

In practice, this should mean that a transfer of weapons will be stopped if there is evidence that the weapons are likely to be used for grave violations of international human rights, humanitarian law, or will adversely affect sustainable development.

In 2010, only 90 of the world’s governments reported having basic national controls on the import of small arms and light weapons.
Why is there a legal vacuum in international arms trade?

Because the world has never agreed to have a set of international rules on arms trade. As incredible as this may seem, we have the most cumbersome rules on selling bananas and MP3 players, but no solid, internationally-binding rules on arms trade.

Among other rules that we must agree on, is the need to have each country involved in an arms deal, to be part of this international agreement. From the operating site, to the manufacturing country, to where the arms are shipped and all the way to the final destination – all those must be part of the same agreement that says that selling arms to militias or dodgy operators will be scrutinized.

What type of weapons should we include in the Treaty?

An Arms Trade Treaty must include all military, security, and police arms, related equipment and ammunition, and training.

How will this Arms Trade Treaty be enforced?

The Arms Trade Treaty proposed by NGOs like Oxfam would be incorporated into the national law and regulations of every ratifying nation, and reinforced through rules such as regular public reporting.

Therefore it would be illegal for any supplier government to ignore the Treaty’s criteria when supplying arms. Any decisions that break the terms of the Treaty could then be challenged and potentially overturned in the national courts.

Under the proposed Treaty, governments would be required to report their arms sales in an open and transparent way which would lead to greater public and parliamentary scrutiny.

If a major arms exporter is against the Arms Trade Treaty, what then?

The irresponsible arms trade affects all states and therefore all countries have a stake in the ATT. Whether they are arms importers, arms exporters, or states affected by armed violence, or a combination. All are important. 

Those who export arms must not prevent an Arms Trade Treaty that would reduce the flow of weapons into arms-affected states. This would hold to ransom all the work that these states are doing on the ground to stem the demand for weapons, and remove weapons from circulation.

Agreeing an ATT without some of the big exporters on board would still have an enormous value. It would create a new international norm for arms exports that would shape the way all states view arms exports, even those that had not signed.  All states would be measured against the norm, and to a certain extent held to account. 

Consider the Landmine Treaty: this treaty has reduced casualties from landmines by more than two thirds (2/3), and reduced the trade in landmines to almost zero, despite the fact that the US, China, India and Russia haven’t signed it.

A bulletproof international Arms Trade Treaty would promote justice, peace and security and is in the interests of all states, and those who suffer from the scourges of armed violence and conflict.