Arms Treaty Efforts Gather Steam; U.S. Skeptical of Global Pact to Regulate Non-Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt


GENEVA - Washington Times special correspondent John Zarocostas interviewed John Stewart Duncan, Britain's ambassador for arms control and disarmament and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, here recently about efforts to rally support for United Nations talks on a global Arms Trade Treaty to regulate exports, imports and transfers of conventional weapons.

Question: The United Kingdom is one of the proponents of an initiative to begin negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on conventional weapons. What's the thrust of this idea?

Answer: Well, the history of an ATT goes way back to the 1930s, so, the idea has been around a long time. The question is why we have decided to put our support behind this process, and it comes from a variety of different perspectives. Clearly, there are problems in terms of arms trade. There's certainly no architecture internationally in the same way as there is for weapons of mass destruction. Conventional weapons have a whole series of different arrangements, but nothing that's global. And in an increasingly global marketplace, that does not seem to us to be the right way forward. The effects of a lack of proper controls of the arms trade are abuse of human rights, exacerbation of conflicts, and we think that something ought to be done about it.

Q: In December, 153 countries indicated they supported this idea, 24 abstained [including China and Russia] and one country - the United States - opposed it in a vote of the U.N. General Assembly. Are you hopeful that you can get the skeptics on board?

A: Yes, we have started a process we are at the beginning of a process the secretary-general has asked states to give their views on the feasibility of an arms-trade treaty, its scope, what it should cover, and what parameters should be in the treaty itself, and we hope that everyone will respond to that.

We are actually engaged in quite detailed discussions with the various major arms producers in the agnostic camp, but also with the United States, which probably has the gold standard of export controls. But the question is not changing U.S. export controls, but bringing everybody else up to a standard which we can feel confident in.

Q: This issue also brings in the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), an area that has been kept at arm's length largely from national-security criteria, with a lot of the human rights reviews and inquiries that we have seen in other industrial areas. Is this a path-breaking initiative here?

A: I think it is. It's interesting that many people have commented that the United Kingdom is one of the co-authors of this initiative.

France, Spain, Germany, other major producers of weapon systems and weapons have joined in and are among the co-sponsors of the resolution of the U.N. Why is that? We're not going to stop being arms manufacturers, but what we want is a responsible arms trade, and it is very clear from our discussions that the U.K. industry also wants to be responsible.

So, as you say, CSR is something which not only applies to the lumber and coffee industries it applies to all parts of industry, and their ability to leverage finance for future investment cannot be solely dependent on government financing. They're beginning to realize there's something in it for them.

The submission of the U.K.'s response to the U.N. secretary-general's request for views was worked up together with U. …