A United Nations treaty on the arms trade may be just around the corner according to some NGOs, as talks on the pact were to wind up in New York on Friday. But the world’s major arms exporting countries and some countries in regional hotspots were still not ready to accept the latest draft.
“There have been some improvements since the last text and the historic treaty we need is within reach.” OXFAM arms expert Anne MacDonald said in a statement late Thursday. “A major problem is that arms transfers under defense agreements may not be affected by this treaty.”
MacDonald says the current form of the draft wouldn’t apply transfers from government aid programs and defense agreements, an exemption that would allow Russia to continue selling the Syrian government weapons under existing contractual agreements.
“An Arms Trade Treaty should ban such transfers whether or not the two countries are under contract.”she said.
Advocacy groups are also calling on top weapon producing countries like the US, Russia and China to tighten up proposed measures to regulate international ammunition transfers, a goal shared by a broad group of states and regional organizations.
But the Obama administration has so far resisted the inclusion of ammunition into the treaty. The sticking points for the United States appear to be requirements for monitoring international trade in ammunition as well as domestic fears in the US that the treaty somehow impinges on Americans’ right to bear arms as protected in the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
Washington argues ammunition can’t be practically tracked or traced and that record keeping for a commodity produced and transferred in the in billions of rounds per year would be a significant burden.
“Because each State imports small arms and light weapons ammunition, these burdens would need to be assumed by each State at significant administrative and financial costs.” the State Department ‘s assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman told the Conference July 10. “Our own experience in regulating domestic transfers has shown that there is little utility for law enforcement in imposing the same controls on ammunition transfers as we do on arms. Accordingly, the United States largely eliminated most controls on domestic transfers of ammunition.”
But activists and various governments affected by small arm violence say those claims don’t really hold up, as the treaty does not require marking individual rounds but instead calls for reporting on international transactions, a current practice undertaken in parts of the European Union. They also say argue the US already regulates ammunition exports, and that the treaty would call on other states to apply similar standards.
Last week, 74 countries including Colombia, Mexico, South Sudan, members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market like Jamaica and Haiti, the Economic Community of West African States like Ivory Coast, Mali and Nigeria as well as European states such as Germany and the Netherlands issued a statement supporting the inclusion of ammunition.
“The scope must consequently also be wide enough to address the problems referred to in the GA resolution. We need a treaty that encompasses all conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons and ammunition.” reads the statement.
Meanwhile on Thursday, a bipartisan group of US Senators sent a letter to President Barack Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promising to oppose any text that could threaten the 2nd amendment despite repeated assurances from American officials at the conference the treaty would only regulate the international arms trade and respect U.S. constitutional and legal structures.
The American gun lobby and several conservative organizations have criticized attempts to include international trade in small arms and ammunition into the treaty.
Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Ted Bromund, an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the arms trade deal, wrote Wednesday that its impact on American foreign policy and economic interests would be “difficult to reckon”, but could grow over time.
While the North Korean, Irananian and Syrian governments have been some of the most vocal opponents the deal, Bromund believes dictatorships could use a legally binding treaty to defend their right to buy, sell, and transfer weapons as a matter of national sovereignty.