The UN starts a last-chance bid tomorrow to agree on a treaty to regulate the US$80 billion a year conventional arms trade, but the US and other major powers have thrown up immediate obstacles.
The 193 UN members will have 11 days to hammer out a treaty that could force countries to evaluate, before making a sale, whether weapons will be used for human rights violations, terrorism or organized crime.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with a host of Nobel Peace Prize winners and pressure groups, have urged the key powers to buckle down and make concessions. However, the omens are not good.
Four weeks of talks in July last year ended in failure. Major arms producers — such as the US, Russia and China — and buyers — including Egypt, India, Pakistan and the Gulf states — battled to chip away at the sales conditions and even to exclude whole categories from the treaty.
The US refuses to include ammunition. China wants to protect its small arms, while Russia opposed including gifts and transfers of arms that could be made to an ally. A compromise document was drawn up, but the US asked for more time.
“Quite frankly, a lot of the other big producers were relieved,” one Western diplomat said.
The UN General Assembly has decreed that these will be the “final” negotiations.
“We really want to nail this thing now,” one European diplomat said. “There is a willingness, but a lot depends on the US again.”
The US State Department reaffirmed on Friday that it opposes any treaty that includes ammunition because of the financial and administrative burden of keeping checks.
“The US is steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
However, he added that his country, the world’s top arms producer, could only agree on a “treaty that addresses international transfers of conventional arms solely.”
Eighteen Nobel Peace Prize winners, including former US president Jimmy Carter and South African campaigner Desmond Tutu, sent a letter to US President Barack Obama saying he had a “moral duty” to seek a strong treaty.
Ban called for a treaty that includes ammunition.
“It is our collective responsibility to put an end to the inadequate regulation of the global trade in conventional weapons — from small arms to tanks to combat aircraft,” he said.
Lobby groups have condemned the existing draft that does not include ammunition, nor spare parts and components, arms intended for police use, drones and military helicopters.
Twelve billion bullets worth US$4.3 billion are made each year, according to Oxfam. The US produces half of them and the compromise accord drawn up last year only mentioned ammunition in an annex to the proposed treaty.