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An Arms Trade Treaty is within our grasp

Op-ed by Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to China, for Arms Trade Treaty Diplomatic Conference, New York, 18 to 28 March 2013.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to China

An Arms Trade Treaty – and, with it, the chance to make a major contribution to the security of humankind – is within our grasp. In the negotiations being held at the United Nations in New York over the next two weeks, the UK will be working closely with delegations from all countries to agree an historic Treaty text that will make a lasting difference to people across the world. It will help to ensure that the uncontrolled movement of arms no longer threatens the security and prosperity of everyone, everywhere, and particularly the world’s most vulnerable.

The UN Conference last July came very close to agreement, and the vast majority of States want 2013 to be the year we agree an Arms Trade Treaty.The overwhelming international support for an Arms Trade Treaty was shown in November when 157 states, including the US, China and India, voted in favour of a Resolution to hold a further Conference this month to finalise the Treaty, with no country voting against.

So the task now is to realise that shared vision by agreeing a robust Treaty with the widest possible support, particularly of the major arms exporters. On every level, the case for a Treaty is overwhelming:

  • the Treaty will save lives: A man, woman or child dies every minute as a result of armed violence. Two-thirds die in countries not officially in conflict. Over 2 billion small arms are circulating in Africa alone. Poorly regulated or illegal flows of weapons from abroad destabilise societies, states and regions
  • the Treaty will promote development: Violence fuelled by unregulated or illegal weapons diverts resources from schools and healthcare. It undermines sustainable development, erodes stability and robs millions of their future. It is estimated that armed violence has cost Africa some $18bn a year, equivalent to the total aid it receives
  • the Treaty will combat terrorism and crime: When terrorists benefit from the easy access to weapons, they threaten the security of not only the countries where they base themselves but also their neighbours and the rest of the world
  • the Treaty will reduce human suffering: Up to three-quarters of grave human rights abuse involves the misuse of weapons. The Treaty would require governments not to allow the export of arms where there is an unacceptable risk they could be used to violate human rights or international humanitarian law

The ATT will not solve all our problems, but it offers us the chance to take a very significant step forward. It will offer the prospect of a better future to millions who live in the shadow of conflict.

As the Foreign Secretary has said:

The prize is on offer. History will not forgive those who seek to prevent it.

Published 18 March 2013