Arms and the man – a tale of hope or continuing disaster?



The landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms – from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships – will enter into force on 24 December 2014.

This is indeed a landmark treaty and has taken more than a decade to get this far – but should we question it?

Rather than limiting distribution of these arms, but still developing and producing, shouldn’t we be starting the process of demilitarisation of the planet?

Shouldn’t we have a treaty that puts considerable limits on the arms actually being produced?

Should not arms companies be subject to an international peace tax – to provide support to all those damaged by this trade? This would be similar to the argument about ‘polluter pays’ for companies who flout international environmental standards.  It always seems so chaotic for agencies such as UNHCR to try to manage the aftermath of conflict – having to put out begging bowls to support those in refugee camps.

It seems to be an obscenity, in these times,  to have ‘Arms Fairs’ as if they are a celebration of the ‘biggest and best’.

Educationally, perhaps the issues around the Arms Trade need to be woven in to our curricula – whether it is taken as an ethics/moral/philosophical stance or a business and economics stance -all subjects can be informed by statistics, evidence and documentation to allow young people to have an informed discussion and have opportunities to develop skills of future problem solving.

This is what the UN says about Arms Trade regulation:

Working to improve lives and livelihoods around the world, the United Nations system is directly confronted with the impact of the absence of regulations or lax controls on the arms trade. Those suffering most are civilian populations trapped in situations of armed violence in settings of both crime and conflict, often in conditions of poverty, deprivation and extreme inequality, where they are all too frequently on the receiving end of the misuse of arms by State armed and security forces, non-State armed groups and organized criminal groups.

Adoption of the treaty by the UN General Assembly
The Arms Trade Treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013

Inadequate controls on arms transfers have led to widespread availability and misuse of weapons. One serious consequence: the disruption of life-saving humanitarian and development operations because of attacks against staff of the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations. In many areas of work, the United Nations faces serious setbacks that ultimately can be traced to the consequences of the poorly regulated arms trade. We see weapons pointed at us while maintaining international peace and security, in promoting social and economic development, supporting peacekeeping operations, peacebuilding efforts, monitoring sanctions and arms embargoes, delivering food aid or helping internally displaced persons and refugees, protecting children and civilians, promoting gender equality or fostering the rule of law. That is why the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty is so significant for the UN system as a whole.

Some documents to peruse while considering the range of issues around the Arms Trade:

Protecting civilians and humanitarian action through the ATT (ICRC)
Link to document
How to apply human rights standards to arms transfer decisions (Amnesty International)
Link to document
Practical guide: Applying Sustainable Development to Arms-Transfer Decisions (Oxfam)
Link to document
National Implementation of the proposed Arms Trade Treaty: A Practical Guide (Oxfam)
Link to document
Academy briefing No.3 The Arms Trade Treaty (2013)
Link to document
Arms Trade Treaty model law (Government of New Zealand, Small Arms Survey)
The Arms Trade Treaty Baseline Assessment Project (ATT-BAP) (Stimson Centre)
Link to homepage

Human Rights Council Resolution: Impact of arms transfers on human rights in armed conflicts

The impact of poorly regulated arms transfers on the work of the United Nations (UNODA Occasional Paper No. 23)

link to document


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