Too 'Lite' on the Arms Trade Treaty

By Abramson, Jeff | Arms Control Today, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Too 'Lite' on the Arms Trade Treaty


Abramson, Jeff, Arms Control Today


In "How to Reach Consensus on an Arms Trade Treaty" (January/February 2012), Andrew Wood rightly states that industry would have a major role in implementing an eventual arms trade treaty (ATT) and highlights the value of its engagement as the international community meets to finalize treaty text this summer. He also forthrightly identifies a number of sticking points in the negotiations and properly seeks to dismiss the distraction caused by members of the firearms industry and sport shooter community.

Unfortunately, he repeats a narrative being spun by the United States and some other states that the best course of action is to seek a "lite" treaty that is short and simple. Although there are certainly levels of detail that may go too far, a too weakly defined treaty runs the real risk of creating too much freedom for countries to omit items that they do not want to see included or providing a stamp of approval for arms transfers that are irresponsible.

Although Wood notes that the moral argument for an ATT is clear, he characterizes the aim of an ATT as "to regulate global trade...more effectively, not to reduce or to limit the scope for legal trade." In doing so, he dismisses too quickly the humanitarian and moral reasons that motivate most countries' and civil society members' engagement in the ATT endeavor. For us, controlling the arms trade is about saving and protecting lives. Although business and arms trade can be compatible, they are at odds when arms trade results in human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, and actions that undermine development. The treaty must establish the supremacy of these human values in determining what is responsible trade, not just take them into account.

Wood stresses the importance of agreement among the UN Security Council's five permanent members (P5), suggesting in particular that China and Russia may be aiming for a politically binding agreement rather than a legally binding treaty.

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