David Miliband: We badly need a treaty to control the arms trade

It is bizarre that we've treaties to stop nuclear arms, but not to stop weapons flooding into conflict zones

Share
Related Topics

War was a defining symbol of the 20th century, with tens of millions dead. Today conflicts still blight large parts of Africa and Asia. We have seen the fighting in Georgia, on Europe's doorstep. Are we destined to repeat the last century's mistakes?

Oxfam has calculated that Africa loses around $18bn (£10bn) per year due to wars, civil wars, and insurgencies. According to Oxfam's research, globally, an estimated 1,000 people die every day due directly to the use of small arms.

Organisations like the United Nations, the Red Cross and the charities do a great job after conflicts start. But the drivers of continued high levels of conflict in the 21st century are all too evident.

Climate change for one will drive competition between and within countries for water supplies and force population movement caused by desertification or changing patterns of farming. Demography, too, will put pressure on resources and drive inter-communal tensions. International organisations and Governments need to raise their game at preventing conflicts in the first place.

A key element in helping prevent conflicts, and making them less deadly when they occur, are better controls on arms supplies. Weapons themselves don't cause wars, but they are the fuel that keeps them burning. Those who trade irresponsibly in arms don't care what the impact of their trade will be on innocent people around the world.

We need a global, effective, Arms Trade Treaty. It is bizarre that while treaties and conventions have existed for several decades to control the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, there is no equivalent global arrangement to stop weapons flooding into conflict zones.

There is a patchwork of arms export control systems across the world but they are inconsistent where they overlap; in many cases there are gaps between them. Irresponsible suppliers – both state and non-state – exploit these gaps and inconsistencies to trade weapons and ammunition to places where they are used to fuel conflict, to oppress or intimidate, or for other human rights abuses.

The aim of an Arms Trade Treaty is to have a globally agreed set of standards to regulate the trade in all conventional arms. It would make the legitimate trade in arms more straightforward and reliable because it would introduce common global standards. It would make it a legal obligation for all countries to adopt uniform and high standards against which they would assess their arms exports to ensure that arms did not end up in the wrong hands. These standards would include the recipient country's respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.

If we can achieve this, then putting an end to arms being used for human rights abuse, repression, terrorism, and undermining social and economic stability and development, can become an achievable goal.

In 2006, the UK worked with Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan and Kenya to set the ball rolling and introduce a draft UN resolution calling for a global Arms Trade Treaty which was supported by 153 countries. In 2007, there was an unprecedented level of response to calls from the UN secretary general for views on the scope and feasibility of this treaty; over 100 countries submitted views. Now we need to take this forward at the UN when we meet later this month to ensure the momentum is maintained. This is urgent work. A UN Group of Governmental Experts is concluding its review of ideas and suggestions from governments around the world on the feasibility and scope of this treaty.

We want to generate more support and understanding of the issues surrounding this treaty now and broaden the discussion. It is an issue that needs to be embraced by governments and NGOs but it should also be important to industry, academics, "think-tanks", and religious leaders. That's why today I will be meeting with representatives from the business community, NGOs and from a range of religious communities to discuss the issues and the benefits that this treaty will offer. We want as many people, from as many sectors of society as possible, to support the aims of the treaty.

Less than two years ago, only around 40 countries had expressed support for such a treaty. Now, over three-quarters of the countries of the world have acknowledged publicly the need for a treaty. It can be achieved, and we must work to achieve it.

The author is the Foreign Secretary

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Software Team Leader - C++

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A young Palestinian boy walks over debris from a house that was destroyed in an airstrike in Deir Al Balah  

The Middle East debate has more to do with the fashion for revolutionary tourism than real politics

James Bloodworth
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor