MOSCOW, April 3 – RAPSI, Ingrid Burke. In a decisive move toward regulating the grey to black markets that have historically surrounded the global arms trade, the UN General Assembly voted by a landslide Tuesday to approve the world’s first comprehensive arms trade treaty.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered outspoken praise for the treaty’s adoption: “I wholeheartedly welcome the adoption, today, of a first-ever Arms Trade Treaty by the General Assembly. It is a historic diplomatic achievement – the culmination of long-held dreams and many years of effort. This is a victory for the world’s people.”
For years, the arms trade has been something of a Wild West in the legal sphere. Speaking with RAPSI last spring in the lead-up to the first Arms Trade Treaty negotiation conference, Oxfam Humanitarian Media Officer and arms trafficking expert Louis Belanger urged the imperative of adopting a comprehensive treaty: “this is THE chance of a generation for us to put a stop to this unregulated trade. It’s the most deadly of all trades and it’s the most unregulated of all trades. Like we say here, there are more rules to trade bananas, and to trade tomatoes, and IPods, than there are to trade weapons. And that’s a fact.”
Tuesday’s landslide adoption came in the aftermath of two UN conferences that were convened in the past year with the sole aim of finalizing and enacting the treaty. Both had ended in bitter stalemates, thus necessitating a UN General Assembly vote.
The conferences were held on a decision-making consensus basis, making it possible for a very small number of countries to block adoption efforts despite the endorsement of the majority.
In July 2012, optimism in the treaty’s enactment was abruptly derailed when the US refused to sign off on the present text under pressure at home from a group of lawmakers who vowed to block ratification in Congress due to perceived threats to the US Constitutional right to bear arms.
USDOS spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated, “we do not support a vote in the UNGA on the current text. The illicit trafficking of conventional arms is an important national security concern for the United States. While we sought to conclude this month’s negotiations with a Treaty, more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue. The current text reflects considerable positive progress, but it needs further review and refinement.”
This statement came on the heels of a widely publicized move by US lawmakers vowing to block the treaty’s ratification if it were adopted by the UN.
Last week, the UN Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty failed to reach consensus before the conference’s deadline due to the objections of North Korea, Syria, and Iran that the present text failed to protect their national interests.
That conference culminated in a debate over the true meaning of consensus – and whether it was in fact necessary to deem the conference a failure with only three objections in the face of so many nations’ support.
Mexico’s representative proposed that in light of the overwhelming support for the text, the conference should move forward with its adoption sans vote. Russia’s representative asserted to the contrary that in light of the fact that three member states had formally objected to the draft, an adoption would constitute an “unacceptable manipulation” of consent. He warned that it would be inappropriate to “simply disregard the rules of multilateral diplomacy.”
Accepting the stalemate, Conference President Peter Woolcott of Australia noted that the treaty text would be transferred for a UN General Assembly vote, where a majority vote promised a means of circumventing the conference’s strict consensus requirements. In doing so, he expressed hope that, “the treaty is coming.”
During Tuesdays General Assembly meeting, 154 member states voted for the treaty’s adoption, three voted against, and 23 abstained. Sticking to their guns, North Korea, Syria, and Iran were the three detractors.
Russia abstained from voting. Its UN representative explained that while the government was not prepared to vote against the draft, neither could it show unambiguous support. He explained that the present text of the treaty contains several major shortcomings. For one, the text fails to include a weapons ban to non-state entities. The text’s emphasis on humanitarian risk assessment is too vague. Ultimately, the text is promising in certain capacities, but “it failed to attain the standards applied in the Russian Federation and other States,” he explained, according to a UN release.
The treaty will not enter into force immediately. It will be open for signatures on June 3, and will take effect 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 states.
As each state has its own ratification criteria, this process could prove lengthy.