Minister calls for support for tough new arms trade treaty

Original Story VIA:


Alan Duncan hopes to persuade the US to back the new treaty. He says: ‘Our resolve is clear and we are taking a lead’.

The international arms trade has become the greatest threat to development and has to be controlled by a tough treaty to regulate weapons and munitions sales, a government minister warns.

In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies thinktank, Alan Duncan, the minister for international development, will urge allies such as the US to set aside their concerns and sign up to the comprehensive arms trade treaty (ATT), which will be hammered out during a month-long negotiation at the UN in July.

Britain has been one of the key supporters of a treaty that could prevent countries selling arms to any regime that might use them to violate human rights.

Speaking to the Guardian, Duncan said: “The arms trade has become the greatest threat to development, beyond disease and disaster. We are making some progress on issues such as polio and malaria.The factor that is most restraining development is conflict, which is why this new treaty is so important. It has massive implications for development.”

The UN conference in July is the culmination of six years’ lobbying and haggling by governments, arms companies and aid agencies. It should lead to a treaty that harmonises and toughens up international laws governing the sale of arms into one comprehensive, legally binding, document.

Oxfam has estimated that the absence of a single binding treaty has allowed at least $2.2bn [£1.38bn] worth of arms and ammunition to be imported under arms embargoes between 2000 and 2010.

At the moment, the new ATT would ban all weapons sales to countries that could use them to abuse human rights, or encourage corruption or armed violence.

Such a treaty might have stopped Syria importing arms in 2010, the year before an uprising brutally suppressed by the Assad regime.

Duncan admitted there would be difficulties defining the banning of arms sales in this way, but insisted it was right to include the concept.

“It is nebulous, but we are in favour of it being there. It will be left to the signatory countries to implement. We are not setting up an international police force. There will be a shared obligation among signatory countries to police the treaty.”

Duncan added that it was essential the ATT included “from fighter planes down to portable weapons, small arms and ammunition”.

He said: “Including the portable weapons is vitally important. It is one of the most dramatic drivers of conflict and development decay. This treaty has to cover the full spectrum of weaponry. Crucially, there will also be a register of brokers, to stop middlemen from being able to dump arms into areas.”

In recent months the US has expressed concern about the treaty being too prescriptive, as have China and Russia.

But Duncan hopes Washington can still be persuaded and ensure there is “a quantum leap forward”. He said: “The US is less enthusiastic than we are, but you never know. If our defence industries can be in favour of this, so can theirs. Our resolve is clear and we are taking a lead.”

The global weapons market is estimated to be worth $55bn, and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs says: “The trade in conventional weapons – from warships and battle tanks to fighter jets and machine guns – remains poorly regulated.

“No set of internationally agreed standards exist to ensure that arms are only transferred for appropriate use.”

In a recent report, Oxfam claimed that in the first decade of this century several states broke embargoes and continued to trade weapons on a large scale. The report cited a list of countries, which included Burma ($600m of trade from 2000 to 2010), Iran ($574m from 2007 to 2010) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ($124m, 2000 to 2002).