In the build-up to the Diplomatic Conference in July which aims to negotiate a binding Arms Trade Treaty, Governments have been sending the UN their views on what it should contain. These are principally in response to suggestions by the Conference chair contained in a “non-paper”. The UK Government suggestions are at page 106-109 here
Today in Parliament UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he was in favour of an Arms Trade Treaty. But a look at the paper his Government has submitted to the UN suggests he does not support a treaty that will be effective. Granted that many Governments aim to avoid any treaty being negotiated at all, or would only accept a very watered-down one, but given compromises inevitably have to be made in international negotiations, it sends a bad signal to the doubters if it looks like you are not very serious to kick off with.
Sadly the UK states it aims to “facilitate” what it calls a “legitimate” trade in arms. What is “legitimate” one moment, like selling arms to Colonel Gaddafi, as the UK did recently, is not legitimate the next. But once arms are sold you can’t get them back. The idea of “legitimate” arms trading is a smokescreen to disguise an argument of convenience not a point of principle. International relations is a hazardous ever-changing affair and that reality should be acknowledged.
The most depressing section is paragraph “V” called “criteria and parameters”. Here the use of qualifiers makes you wonder why the UK Government will bother turning up to New York. For example states must forbid transfers where there is a “substantial” risk (not any risk or a slight risk but a substantial one) that “serious” violations of international humanitarian law, human rights law , or of peace and security would ensue. Presumably an arms sale creating a slight risk of a minor violation of human rights is fine, or one resulting in a slight risk a minor fight between two states. But, however, and, quite rightly, no such qualifier is stated for terrorism (the wording is “any terrorist acts”). So under this bizarre criterion selling arms to someone who “might” use them in a border dispute would be fine while “facilitating” a terrorist act killing two people is not. Both are wrong.
The fact the UK cannot enter the negotiations saying both should not be permitted just shows they aim for a treaty which will leave the current arms trade largely as it is. They may say, and I agree, that nothing else will be possible because plenty of states oppose. But then if that is the case better to be honest and denounce the whole rotten charade. Because let’s face it, that probably might have more impact than negotiating a piece of paper which will change nothing, but make it more difficult to call for change in the future.
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Published on June 27, 2012 14:41 • 491 views • Tags: arms-trade-treaty

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