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Politics

U.N. Agrees to Arms Treaty to Help Regulate Weapons Trade

The United Nations General As­sembly voted on Tuesday, April 2 to approve a treaty aimed at regulating the trade of conventional weapons across the globe.

The 193 members voted 154 to 3 to approve the Arms Trade Treaty, a contract that seeks to regulate the $70 billion conventional arms business and keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers.

The United States, the world’s pri­mary arms exporter, co-sponsored the treaty despite opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA), a U.S. pro-gun lobbying group who has openly opposed the treaty and has vowed to fight to prevent its ratifica­tion by the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement following the vote that the United Nations adopted, “a strong, effective and implementable Arms Trade Treaty that can strength­en global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to con­duct legitimate arms trade.”

Kerry continued, “Nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, in­cluding the Second Amendment.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the vote. In a statement made shortly after votes concluded, he expressed that the treaty “will make it more difficult for deadly weapons to be diverted into the illicit market and will help to keep warlords, pirates, terrorists, criminals and their like from acquiring deadly arms.”

Many arms-control advocates ac­knowledge the vote as a major step in the global effort to put basic regula­tions on the growing international arms trade. However, the treaty was criticized by Iran, North Korea and Syria, claiming the treaty imposes restrictions that prevent smaller states from buying and selling weapons in order to ensure self-defense.

According to an article from The Guardian, many countries already regulate their own arms exports and there are some international treaties governing nuclear, chemical, and bio­logical weapons.

However, this is the first legally binding international treaty that aims to regulate the global trade of conven­tional weapons.

The treaty will not control the do­mestic use of weapons, the U.N.’s website explains, but requires coun­tries that ratify it to establish their own national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms. In­cluded are battle tanks, armored com­bat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, missiles and missile launch­ers, combat aircraft, warships, as well as small arms and light weapons.

Despite the overwhelming votes that were in approval of the treaty, twenty-three countries abstained, many from nations with suspicious human rights records such as Bah­rain, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. The abstaining countries also included China and Russia, which are leading sellers, raising concerns about how many countries will ultimately ap­prove the treaty.

For the first time, regulation will link sales to the human rights records of the buyers. In an effort to curb the international sale of weapons that kill thousands of people each year, the U.N. took their first step towards regulating the issue.

“The global trade in conventional weapons from warships and battle tanks to fighter jets and machine guns remains poorly regulated. No interna­tionally agreed standards exist to en­sure that arms are transferred respon­sibly,” the U.N. website states.

In an effort to ensure that interna­tional standards are created and up­held, the treaty calls for sales to be evaluated on whether the weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, fuel genocide and war crimes, or incite terrorism and organized crime.

The treaty ultimately establishes an international forum of nations that will review reports of arms sales and publicly name violators. “It will help reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes,” Secretary of State John Ker­ry said in a statement after the United States voted with the majority for ap­proval.

According to Dr. Charles Cotton of the Political Science Department, “No matter the issue, a vote tells a story, who votes ‘yes,’ who votes ‘no’ and who doesn’t vote. China and Rus­sia didn’t vote since they are major arms traders and this will ultimately hurt their ‘business.’”

He explained that it is unlikely that the U.S. will stop trading weapons with non-state actors as it does cur­rently. Therefore, “This is seen by China and Russia as legislation which will give the U.S. a market advantage, plain and simple. They’ll see it as the U.S. using the U.N. to maintain its global hegemony [supremacy],” said Cotton.

He continued, “I think the most important aspect of the vote from an American perspective is that we co-sponsored the treaty. You must remember that we export more arms than anyone, so we also have to be cautious about what our [Americans] true intentions are with the legisla­tion.”

According to a study conducted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2012, the United States is the top arms supplier, spend­ing an estimated 8.8 billion a year, followed by Russia, China, Ukraine, Germany and France, respectively.

Dr. Thomas Lamatsch of the Po­litical Science Department expressed, “The member states almost unani­mously agreed that the U.N. is the only organization with the authority to regulate the international system. While they don’t have a ‘police’ force to regulate it, we must not forget that this treaty only regulates international arms trade, not domestic gun control.”

He explained that it is too early to say how much of an impact the U.N.’s recent vote will have. “We have to wait for at least 50 member states to ratify the agreement in their respec­tive parliaments before it goes into effect.”

In response to the 153 to 3 vote, Lamatsch said, “The overwhelming majority is great, particularly since the three ‘no’ votes come from Iran, North Korea, and Syria. I personally think a contract that these three na­tions dislike is probably good.”

Dr. Saliba Sarsar of the Political Science Department and Associate Vice President for Global Initiatives expressed, “The Arms Trade Treaty passed by the United Nations General Assembly this past week is truly his­toric.”

He explained, “Iran, Syria, and North Korea, three troubled coun­tries that are facing arms embargoes, were the only ones in the 193-mem­ber body to vote against the treaty. To have almost 80 percent of the Mem­ber States agree on a resolution of this importance is impressive.”

Sarsar continued, “A main goal of the treaty is to keep such weapons away from the hands of terrorists, organized criminals, and others who break humanitarian laws and maim and kill innocents, including women and children.”

He said, “In this respect, the treaty advances human rights as it connects weapon sales to each buyer’s record of human interaction.”

Sarsar expressed that having this treaty, “Will obviously make the world a better and safer place but the challenge remains as to how to imple­ment it completely and in a timely manner.”

In order for the treaty to be effec­tive, Sarsar explained that the first step is to have the treaty take effect 90 days after 50 Member States ratify it. The second step, he described, is to have countries that ratify it actually enforce its provisions.

“The hope is the U.N. General As­sembly will follow up on this treaty and will play a more vigorous role as ‘the chief deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the Unit­ed Nations,’” Sarsar said.

Alexandria Fitzgerald, a senior communication major and U.N. Stu­dent Ambassador expressed, “No one has respect for international law. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this vote.”

She continued, “Honestly, I can see how this treaty might create more tension between the United States and the rest of the countries of the world, most specifically China and Russia.”

Fitzgerald said, “In this case, the U.S. has the upper-hand and in-effect, could disrupt their relations with competing nations. As past historical events have shown, international law does not always hold as much prece­dence as people hope for Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations,” she said.

Fitzgerald explained, “In the hopes of human rights’ development, this is a turning point and if it’s success­fully carried out will be monumental. However, words can only do so much. It will be the actions taken to follow through with this treaty that will be effective.”

Lexi Todd, a senior political sci­ence major said, “This treaty will ulti­mately save lives and make the world a safer place.” She explained how the treaty “will require governments to block the transfer of dangerous weapons” and is “a step in the right direction towards preventing weap­ons from being traded in the illegal market.”

The treaty is scheduled to go into effect once 50 nations have ratified it. It will be open for signature on June 3 and will enter into force 90 days after the 50 signature.

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