Efforts to control the $70 billion a year global market in conventional weapons got a big boost when the United States signed the United Nations arms trade treaty, joining more than 100 other countries in affirming the need to keep these weapons out of the hands of unscrupulous regimes, militants and criminals.
But the work is far from done. At least 50 member countries, including the United States, must still carry out the next step and ratify the treaty for it to take effect; only six have done so. Proponents fear final ratification could take years, and it would be a travesty if it does.
The treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, is a pioneering agreement that is unquestionably needed. It covers global trade in tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms and light weapons — the kinds of weapons that are fueling conflicts and killing innocents in Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond.
The treaty would require states to review all crossborder arms contracts, establish national control systems and deny exports to purchasers who might use the weapons for terrorism or violations of humanitarian law, including genocide. In April, the 193-member General Assembly adopted it overwhelmingly by a vote of 154 to 3, clearing the way for individual states to sign and then ratify the pact. The states in opposition were familiar outliers in the international system: North Korea, Syria and Iran.
The National Rifle Association, like those nations, rejects this sensible international weapons regulation. It is opposed to the arms treaty even though the treaty has no impact on the American domestic market.
The group falsely claims the treaty will somehow infringe on Americans’ gun rights under the Second Amendment.
The United States is the world’s main arms exporter, responsible for about 80 percent of the global trade. But experts and officials say the treaty won’t impose any new requirements on the federal government or American companies because laws and regulations already require American manufacturers to comply with a comprehensive export control system that is designed to keep weapons away from human rights abusers and other bad actors. The treaty’s main impact will be felt elsewhere as other countries adopt comparable standards and rules.
Although the treaty has no enforcement power, its export control requirements, coupled with disclosure provisions to shame violators, could help reduce the spread of weapons in conflict zones. In a world where virtually every major commodity is subject to international agreements, allowing weapons to avoid any review or regulation is irresponsible and unacceptable.
-New York Times