Wednesday, April 03, 2013

...And Gun Running Just Became Less Fun (if only slightly)

Delegates at the United Nations applaud the passage of the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty.
Yesterday the United Nations voted overwhelmingly in favor of a treaty designed to begin a system of regulating the global weapons trade business. This treaty comes after seven years of laborious negotiations, and upon its implementation, it will seek to link arms sales to the human rights records of buyers.

The General Assembly voted 154 to 3 in favor of the treaty with 23 abstentions, largely from nations like Bolivia, China, Cuba, IndiaMyanmar, Nicaragua, RussiaSri Lanka, and Venezuela that are well known for their dubious human rights behavior. The three countries who voted 'no', unsurprisingly, were Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Support for the treaty was particularly strong among the African delegations, as their home countries have often had their histories defined by bloody conflicts stemming from the relatively easy access to weapons that rebel groups have traditionally had.

The Treaty will go into effect 90 days after fifty countries have signed onto it. Given it's overwhelming support, many diplomats expect this to take place within the next two to three years, which is quite fast for an international treaty of this sort. The odds of the United States being one of those countries are expected to be quite slim.

The weapons trade is a bustling $70 billion per year industry that is tied strongly to the deaths of tens of thousands of people in violent conflicts all over the world. In part, it aims to make it more difficult for situations to arise like the present one with Russian and Syria, in which Russia argues that its arms sales to the embattled Syrian government are legal under international law because there is no arms embargo in place against the country. These arms sales have contributed to the deaths of over 70,000 Syrians in their ongoing civil war.

Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari speaking at the UN yesterday.

Sales would have to be evaluated based on whether or not the weapons will be used by the buyer to break humanitarian law, foment genocide, commit war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime, or slaughter women and children. If enacted, the treaty would ban sales outright to countries who would engage in any of the above activities, but in practice it is expected to cut off arms to international pariahs, namely countries such as the three that voted 'no'.

The treaty's chances of ratification in/by the United States are not good, as the exceptionally powerful gun lobby (led by the National Rifle Association) induced 50 senators to declare months ago that they would oppose the treaty, which is more than enough to defeat it. Nevertheless, in deference to American concerns, the preamble of the treaty specifies that the treaty is concerned with international sales, not domestic ones. The NRA, among other groups, will oppose the treaty's ratification anyway.

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