Lone Gunmen of the United States

On October 26, the United Nations voted on a resolution to lay
the groundwork for a treaty that would curb exporting arms to
conflict areas or areas known for human rights abuses. The
resolution passed 139 to 1, with 24 abstentions. The lone opponent?
The world’s largest arms exporter, the United States.

‘The United Nations wants to keep weapons on the global market
from falling into the hands of despots and guerillas,’ writes
Joshua Gallu in the German newsmagazine
Der Spiegel‘s online English edition.
The arms trade treaty would cover both large arms, such as tanks
and helicopters, as well as small arms, which have been known to
destabilize countries. This recent vote pushed forward a
two-part process of enacting a treaty, slated to take shape over
the course of the next few years.

The treaty is meant to hash out much-needed international
standards on arms trades. Writing for
TomPaine.com, William D. Hartung, the
director of the
World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource
, notes that up to this point ‘the arms trade has been
the ‘orphan of arms control’ — bound by no international
treaties of the sort that govern the possession or spread of
nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry.’

Many are critical of the US for voting against the latest push
for international standards, especially since other top arms
producers like the United Kingdom and the other European Union
nations all voted otherwise. Critics say that with the United
States and arms-supplying nations like Russia and China, which
abstained voting, not participating, the treaty’s potential
effectiveness is compromised.

The United States has countered with an interesting argument.
According to Richard Grenell, spokesperson for the US mission to
the United Nations, the United States considers the international
agency’s effort ‘so far below what we are already required to do
under US law that we had to vote against it in order to maintain
our higher standards.’

But given that an estimated 70 percent of the United States’
arms sales end up in the hands of human rights abusers and
undemocratic regimes, not everyone is buying it. Hartung points out
that powerful pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association
have been lobbying against the treaty in Washington. And while the
US continues its campaign against weapons of mass destruction,
Hartung suggests the US has a lot to gain from the spread of ‘slow
motion weapons of mass destruction’ — those smaller arms
responsible for steadily climbing death rates in areas of conflict.
Ironically, it’s American soldiers who may benefit the most from
reining in the sale of such weapons. As Hartung notes, a Johns
Hopkins University study found that more than half of the US troops
killed in Iraq have been on the wrong side of an AK-47.

Go there >>
UN to Consider Arms Trade Treaty

Go there too >>
We Arm the World

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