Britain has a responsibility to ensure tough standards are imposed on the sale of our weapons

The UN will soon meet to agree a global arms trade treaty and as events in Syria show, thousands of lives depend on on the outcome

Share
Related Topics

In 1996 a group of Nobel Laureates first set out their vision for a global accord to better regulate the international arms trade.

Seventeen years later, there is still no effective international regulation of the global arms trade and people continue to lose their lives across the world because of  the inadequately-controlled trade in weapons and munitions.

But this coming week the UN will meet to try and agree a new arms trade treaty which carries international support, and crucially includes America, Russia, and China. Thanks to the legacy of leadership on this issue bequeathed by the last Government, the UK has a central part to play in these negotiations.

Being the world’s fourth largest arms exporter, we have a responsibility to ensure that we impose tough standards on the sale of our weapons and munitions. And as a nation proud of our ability to influence global trends, Britain must now prove we are also able to respond to them.

When the international community met last year on the same topic it failed to reach agreement and the UK failed to take a lead. This second attempt to reach a deal is even more urgent.

In government, Labour introduced some of the toughest arms export regulations in the world, but growing concern about movement of arms globally has rightly prompted new calls for a broader and tougher set of international standards. So when UK Foreign Office ministers head to New York this week they will have our full support to sign up to a deal that works for the Britain and helps introduce tougher rules.

The time spent last year was not wasted; it made clear the areas of consensus and pointed to the issues which still require further work to reach agreement. Crucially, international leaders must not now jettison a strong treaty in favour of a lowest common denominator treaty. And any efforts to protect the legitimate arms trade should not be allowed to perpetuate illegitimate practices. To achieve this, loopholes and exemptions in the existing draft Treaty must be addressed.

Firstly, all types of weapons transfer should be covered so that gifts or loans are also subject to scrutiny against the criteria of preventing human rights abuse. Secondly, the Treaty must also apply to all existing and future transfer agreements. As it stands the draft treaty would not be strong enough to prohibit the weapons agreement which Russia has with the Assad regime in Syria. As an existing weapons cooperation agreement, Russia is free to continue to upgrade and refurbish Syria’s attack helicopters, despite the horrific human rights violations which are taking place in Syria.

A priority for the UK Government must be to correct this and ensure the Treaty specifically includes a commitment to review existing defence agreements between countries once there is evidence of routine and regular human rights violations. Without this, allowing Russia to continue to supply President Assad's regime, risks ensuring the efforts in New York this week are seen as a failure.

Thirdly, effective oversight and guidelines require a treaty based on comprehensive standards. For that reason we support the inclusion of a wider range of weaponry, including ammunition, small arms and components.

Fourth, we must encourage the UK Government to agree to a deal which delivers transparent and legally binding standards. Mandatory national reports of the countries to whom arms are sold should be seriously considered.

The treaty must ensure that arms will not be transferred if there is a substantial risk that they would be used to commit human rights abuses, and it should address the growing use of weapons in gender-based sexual violence in conflict zones across the world.

Britain can not only lead on the negotiations next week, but must also take a lead on exploring reform to our own domestic guidelines. Labour has proposed early Parliamentary scrutiny of export decisions in order to increase transparency and seek cross-party consensus. As they stand, the current risk assessment criteria used in relation to export licenses are too dependent on retrospective assessments. These focus on evidence of historical human rights abuses, rather than seeking to future-proof any agreements with a more preemptive set of criteria.

The Government should encourage the international community to place greater emphasis on existing social, political and economic drivers of conflict that we now know would offer a better assessment of emerging threats and danger of future instability.

The tragic unravelling of Syria over the past two years should teach us that historical stability will not prevent a rapid slide towards volatility if the conditions become as severe as they have in Syria. The brutal violence – and the ready supply of arms to all sides in Syria – reinforces the need for a truly comprehensive international arms deal. In New York this week the government must now act to secure one.

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP is Shadow Foreign Secretary. Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP is Shadow Defence Secretary

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own