UN approves global arms trade treaty - but how effective will it be?


It has been the product of ten years of intensive diplomatic lobbying and is billed as the best chance the world has yet seen to regulate a trade that kills hundreds of thousands every year.

But even before the ink was dry there was scepticism that the UN’s newly passed global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will have any palpable effect unless the world’s biggest weapons manufactures sign up.

The treaty, which was stalled last summer, was overwhelmingly approved late on Tuesday night at the UN and has been hailed as a landmark attempt to bring some sort of control to the sale of small arms, tanks and missiles – weapons which kill by far the largest percentage of people each year but remained unregulated. 

Despite fierce opposition from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Syria over the inclusion of provisions banning sales to human rights abusers – and steep opposition from America’s gun lobby over a clause covering ammunition – the treaty was passed by 154 countries with 23 abstentions and three votes against. North Korea, Syria and Iran voted against the treaty whilst Russia and China abstained. The Obama administration voted in favour of the treaty in a snub to the gun lobby which recently managed to halt an attempt to curb the sale of semi-automatic rifles following a spate of spree killings.

David Cameron hailed the vote as “a landmark agreement” that would “ease the immense human suffering” caused by conflicts whilst groups like Amnesty International and Oxfam – who have long lobbied for the ATT – largely welcomed the wording of the document. But others were more sceptical. Campaign Against Arms Trade warned that the treaty would do little to curb the sale of arms to despotic regimes because it recognised that countries have entirely commercial reasons to export of arms.

"This treaty legitimises the arms trade,” said Ann Feltham, CAAT's Parliamentary Coordinator. “If governments are serious about ending the trade in weaponry, with its dire consequences for peace and human rights, they should immediately stop promoting arms exports."

Both supporters and critics are agreed that for the treaty to have teeth, the world’s major exporters will need to sign up – and ratify – the document. That is where the real difficulties will begin. Implementation is years away and there are no specific provisions to monitor its success.

In the US – the world’s largest arms producer – the National Rifle Association and nearly 50 senators have already said they will try to stop the treaty’s passage through the legislature. Russia and China – major weapons manufacturers with considerably looser domestic controls governing who they sell weapons to – have also yet to be convinced of the benefits of the ATT. Doing so will be key to the ATT’s success.

The global land mine ban, which began with a similar treaty in 1999, now has 160 countries signed up. But the world’s largest mine manufacturers, including the US, Russia, China, India and Pakistan, have refused to back it meaning landmines are still routinely available and used in conflicts.

If Russia signed up to the ATT it would be particularly difficult for Moscow to continue supplying arms to the Syrian regime which is in the midst of a civil conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

Anna MacDonald, head of arms control at Oxfam International, said the treaty should be considered a success despite its current shortcomings.

“This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syrias,” she said. “It will help to reduce armed violence. It will help to reduce conflict.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas