UNITED NATIONS – Sixty-seven countries signed the landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade Monday and the United States announced it will sign soon, giving a strong kickoff to the first major international campaign to stem the illicit trade in weapons that fuel conflicts and extremists.
The announcement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. – the world’s largest arms dealer – will sign is critical, but the treaty’s ultimate strength rests on support by all major arms exporters and importers. While the treaty was overwhelmingly approved on April 2 by the U.N. General Assembly, key arms exporters including Russia and China and major importers including India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt abstained and have given no indication yet that they will sign it.
Signatures are the first step to ratification, and the treaty will only take effect after 50 countries ratify it.
Finland’s foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, a key treaty backer, predicted that there will be 50 ratifications “within slightly more than a year – but the real test is, of course, getting those who still have doubts or who have not made up their minds, to sign on and ratify.”
The treaty will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but it will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country. It prohibits the transfer of conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, and if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
What impact the treaty will have in curbing the global arms trade – estimated at between $60 billion and $85 billion – remains to be seen. A lot will depend on which countries ratify it, and how stringently it is implemented once it comes into force.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special event marking the signings that the treaty shows that “the world has finally put an end to the ‘free-for-all’ nature of international weapons transfers.”