Enemies as allies: the US and the Arms Trade Treaty


Right-wing news outlets were crowing. The ‘new’ Axis of Evil (North Korea, Syria, and Iran) had prevented the United Nations from regulating global trade in conventional arms.

America’s Fox News was quick to blame the “dictators” for the collapse of the negotiations, reporting that Pyongyang and the gang led the way for most of the developing world (including Russia and China,) though the proposed legislation was, in their view, still objectionable, because it was supported by the Obama Administration.

Say what? You heard it right.

Few agreements of its kind have aroused as much passion as the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Take a survey of the English-language press, and one will encounter all kinds of conspiracy theories about the conference’s goals, some of which make the Fox News report sound rational.

The American blogosphere, in particular, fears that US agreement to the treaty will lead to further restrictions being imposed on firearms ownership as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 28 people were killed.

Truth be told, there isn’t much to fear. For example, the treaty does not impact on the regulation of arms possession, or specify what kind of conventional weapons can be sold or exported.

These are the sorts of concerns Americans especially harbour, as they are guaranteed a constitutional right to bear arms – a right that remains hotly debated, as it also, many of its critics contend, allow for the ownership of weapons used by criminal gangs, and deranged persons, the kind behind massacres such as Sandy Hook.

Still, Americans fear that as you create one set of restraints, others will follow.

In reality, the proposed treaty intends to prevent weapons from being transferred to the point of their use.

Particularly in unstable regions of the world, where they might be fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals, or governments considered to be in violation of international law, or whom are otherwise threatens to global stability.

Hence the anxieties of Iran, North Korea and Syria.

All locked in varying states of conflict, both civil and international, they have every reason in the world to want to inhibit such a treaty from coming into effect.

For example, Iran purchases a significant amount of arms from China and Russia, including transport aircraft, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, and small arms.

Tehran in turn is said to licence some of these materials for domestic production, which it then distributes to allies such as Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Shi’ite rebels in Iraq and Yemen, as well as Hamas in Gaza.

Though more self-sufficient than Iran, as a weapons producer, North Korea is said to exchange missile technologies with Tehran, as well as with Pakistan, with whom it has supposedly collaborated with on missile and nuclear weapons development.

Surely, there is more information like this to detail.

Still, based on the intentions of the ATT, it is not hard to understand why these countries blocked it.

In varying states of conflict (with the US and its allies) they would all stand to lose access to significant markets for their weaponry, as well as be cut off from their suppliers.

Why American conservatives would bemoan such a scenario is of course telling.

Fearing a loss of rights to civilian ownership of military firearms, they side with their country’s enemies against the regulation of weapons that might also be used against the United States.

On Tuesday afternoon, the UN General Assembly voted on a revised draft of the ATT.

Though Iran, Syria and North Korea cast ballots against this new version, the treaty was overwhelmingly approved, with 154 votes in favour, 23 abstentions (including China and Russia), and three against.

According to Reuters, the ATT will be available for signature beginning 3 June, and will go into effect 90 days following its 50th signatory ratification.

Commenting on its American critics, such as the National Rifle Association, Gavin Aronsen of the left-wing political website Mother Jones doubted that US opposition was simply a matter of defending Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.

“...the gun lobby’s real opposition to the treaty is probably economics. The US is the world’s leading arms exporter, and gun dealers aren’t eager to be required to report weapons exports that may wind up in the hands of warlords or terrorists overseas.”