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 called 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.

After more than 10 years of campaigning, the first international Arms Trade Treaty has become a reality. The next step is to make sure it is properly implemented to reduce the human cost associated with the uncontrolled trade in conventional weapons and ammunition.

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 yearThis 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 did 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. 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. The ATT has taken only 18 months from opening for signature to entry-into-force. This is one of the fastest approval processes for any multilateral arms treaty, and shows the weight of political support the world’s nations have shown in the treaty.

Will the Treaty really make a difference?

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.

The ATT will transform the global arms business. It will help to shine a spot-light on the end-user. It will no longer be acceptable to look the other way when arms are transferred to regimes that will use them to harm innocent people and violate their human rights.

How does this international Arms Trade Treaty work?

Under the new rules in the ATT, before any arms transfer takes place, the supplier government must assess associated risks of the deal against strict criteria, including whether the arms might be used for human rights violations or war crimes. If there is a substantial risk of this happening, the deal cannot be authorized by the seller.

The first Conference of States Parties (CSP) of the Treaty is expected to take place during late-August/early-September 2015. At these meetings States and civil society will work together to ensure the treaty is properly implemented and that irresponsible arms trades are being stopped.

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. 

Even without some of the big exporters on board, the ATT still has an enormous value. It creates a new international norm for arms exports that will shape the way all states view arms exports, even those that have not signed yet. All states will 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.

Implemented effectively, the international Arms Trade Treaty will 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.