Over the last six years, the UK has led international efforts to agree a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty. In 2006, the UK co-authored the first UN Resolution on this subject, alongside Kenya, Costa Rica, Australia, Japan, Finland and Argentina. This eclectic group of countries demonstrates the strength and breadth of international support for a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty.
This work is coming to a head at the United Nations in New York where intensive negotiations on the text of a treaty are due to conclude Friday 27 July.
International regulation of the arms trade is urgently needed. More than 740,000 men, women and children die each year as a result of armed violence. Two thirds of these deaths occur in countries that are not officially in conflict. Weapons move easily across borders. A treaty will help stop arms reaching terrorists and insurgents. It will also reduce violent conflict which is so detrimental to developing countries: it is estimated that each year Africa foregoes wealth creation of $18 billion as a result of armed conflict.
For the regulation of the arms trade to be effective, it therefore needs to be truly global in its reach, and be supported by the major arms exporters.
The overwhelming majority of countries, from across all regions, are strongly behind this work. Non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Red Cross have worked tirelessly to raise public awareness and backing for the treaty around the globe. The responsible defence industry also fully supports these efforts.
In our view, the treaty must include everything from firearms to fighter planes, bombs to bullets. Arms brokering must be controlled and corrupt practitioners prosecuted. It should establish a transparent system whereby states publish a list of controlled goods and report regularly on their arms exports. Greater transparency will build global confidence and will give the unscrupulous nowhere to hide.
The treaty should include strong provisions on human rights, sustainable development, the risk of exacerbating conflict or being subject to corrupt practices. This will help ensure arms do not fall into the wrong hands.
There will be compromises. That is the essence of negotiation, but we are determined that the treaty will contain the highest possible standards.
But time for the negotiations is running out, genuine differences remain to be bridged and there is a small but determined minority of states who oppose the treaty. Their opposition is directly counter to the interests of the vast majority of the world’s population.
We have both travelled separately to New York over the past three weeks to show our firm support for the negotiations and to engage personally in working to persuade key states to agree to a strong treaty. We are determined to spare no effort to ensure these negotiations have the best possible chance of success, despite the real challenges they face.
The world is watching negotiations at the UN and will be ready to hold the international community to account. It needs to deliver.