UNITED NATIONS – The world’s nations took the first steps at a conference that ended Friday toward a legally binding treaty that would try to regulate the multibillion-dollar arms trade and prevent the transfer of weapons to armed groups fueling conflicts, terrorists and human rights violators.
When the conference began two weeks ago in the 192-member General Assembly, many delegates were uncertain whether there would be wide support for a treaty regulating a trade which French Ambassador Eric Danon said has been veiled in secrecy for 2,000 years because arms trading is a matter of sovereignty and the weapons are “the symbol of life and death.”
The main achievement of the conference, Danon said Friday, is that “the principle of an Arms Trade Treaty is now agreed by all the countries, even if some countries make reservations on some aspects.”
The United States, Britain and the European Union also praised the outcome of the conference and even Pakistan, which was singled out by many diplomats as being most vocal in questioning the need for a treaty, appeared to sign on.
“We do not question the validity of the objective,” Pakistani diplomat Reza Bashir Tarar said, but achieving consensus on a treaty – which will be required at the United States’ insistence – “will not be easy.”
“When we do, documents that emerge will have lasting value,” he said at Friday’s closing session.
The General Assembly first voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, with the U.S. casting a “no” vote. Last October, the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration’s position and supported an assembly resolution to hold a four-week U.N. conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty with four preparatory conferences – the first of which just ended.
Danon called the U.S. reversal “very important” in arms control and disarmament efforts.
U.S. Ambassador Don Mahley said the United States is “pleased” with discussions so far and “we hope the negotiations will continue to develop in a positive direction.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditure in 2009 was estimated at $1.53 trillion. The top exporters were the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, Britain and Spain and the top importers were India, Singapore, Malaysia, Greece, South Korea and Pakistan.
There was no final document agreed on by all delegates but Argentina’s U.N. Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, chairman of the preparatory process, issued a “Chairman’s Draft Paper” which spells out possible elements, principles, goals and objectives of a treaty.
The goals would have a treaty “establish the highest possible common international standards for the import, export and transfer of convention arms” and “prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit transfer, production, and brokering of conventional arms.”