More than 60 countries signed the landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade on 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 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.
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 ones ratify and which ones don’t, and how stringently it is implemented once it comes into force.
The seven co-sponsors of the treaty — Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom — issued a joint statement at a news conference Monday morning saying they were “heartened” that on the first day the treaty is open to signature, so many countries were signing.
At the morning session, 62 countries signed the treaty. At least one more, Germany, was expected to sign in the afternoon.
There have been some problems in harmonising the translations of the treaty into the U.N.’s six official languages, and Mr. Kerry said the United States looks forward to signing the document “as soon as the process of conforming the official translations is completed satisfactorily”. Once that happens, the treaty would have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate where it is expected to face an uphill struggle because of opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA).
The treaty covers battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
It prohibits states that ratify it from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The treaty also prohibits the export of conventional arms if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
In considering whether to authorise the export of arms, a country must evaluate whether the weapons would be used to violate international human rights laws or employed by terrorists or organised crime. A country must also determine whether the weapons would contribute to or undermine peace and security.
In addition, the treaty requires countries to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market.