News / USA

UN Passes Landmark Arms Treaty

The U.N. General Assembly vote approving the first U.N. treaty regulating the international arms trade, April 2, 2013.
The U.N. General Assembly vote approving the first U.N. treaty regulating the international arms trade, April 2, 2013.
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The United Nations has overwhelmingly approved a landmark treaty regulating trade in conventional arms.

The legally binding treaty sets international standards to regulate the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons - from battle tanks, warships and attack helicopters to small arms and light weapons. Major arms exporters, such as the United States and Russia, as well as major importers like China, India and Pakistan, took part in the negotiations.

The vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was 154-3, with 23 abstentions. The three nations voting against the treaty were Iran, Syria and North Korea. China and Russia were among the abstentions.

The Arms Treaty

  • Approved in U.N. General Assembly by a vote of 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions
  • North Korea, Iran and Syria voted against the treaty
  • Regulates trade in conventional arms
  • Does not ban or prohibit the export of any type of weapon
  • Does not impair states' right to self-defense
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, an independent research firm, said the treaty is "historic in the sense that it is the first time that there will be international standards to guide how countries authorize weapons transfers - and the first time that there will be annual reporting on those transfers by all of the state signatories of the new arms trade treaty.”

Human Rights Part of Arms Treaty

Martin Butcher, arms policy adviser with the international humanitarian organization Oxfam, said the treaty also establishes key human rights criteria.

“It’s really important that this treaty puts human rights and humanitarian law in control of the arms trade," said Butcher. "The states will now have obligations not to transfer weapons to countries where human rights are being abused, where for example civilians are being killed by a government - that’s a strong obligation.”

Paul Holtom, arms transfer expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said the treaty also regulates the transfer of ammunition.

Ammunition Regulated by Treaty

“The case has been made very strongly by states from Latin America and Africa that they feel it’s one thing to control the weapons, to control items," said Holtom, "but they feel that it’s the small munitions that are a key problem in terms of the fuel for many of the conflicts.”

Daryl Kimball agreed, saying "we have to remember that AK-47s last a long, long time - these are durable weapons. But they can’t function without a fresh supply of ammunition. So these requirements on the export of ammunition are very important."

No Enforcement Mechanisms

Some experts pointed out that the treaty does not have any enforcement mechanisms. But Oxfam’s Martin Butcher said other means can be used to make states accountable for their actions.

“There will be a lot of moral pressure on countries. They will come together on a regular basis and scrutinize what each other is doing," said Butcher. "And we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that moral pressure on countries to make them change their behavior.”

The United Nations approval of the treaty brings to a close seven years of negotiations. The pact will now be open for signature and will become part of international law once 50 countries ratify it.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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by: Dominiq from: France
April 02, 2013 7:31 PM
yeah... that will work... hey UN, just stick to condemning the US and Israel... that is the only thing you were meant to do... well, that and having Syria as the International protector of "Human Right..."


by: Jose79845
April 02, 2013 7:12 PM
The UN has declared that there is no human right to self defense and are following through with the eventual ban of all small arms for civilian use.


by: R.U. Cerius from: Arkham, GC
April 02, 2013 5:46 PM
Oh, joy. Finally we have world peace. Nobody will ever violate a UN treaty, because we all know what violation of a UN treaty means....yes, that's right - absolutely nothing.

Oh, golly - if they're caught, it means some mean old sanctions, just like the ones which prevented Iran and North Korea from developing their nuclear programs.

Provided, of course, that the president of the UN isn't involved in profiting from the violation.

Another useless "victory" for he guys in the blue helmets.


by: ChasL from: Seattle
April 02, 2013 5:46 PM
The human rights provision says arms can go to countrys that are not killing civilians, so there will be arms to kill civilians?

Am I the only one noticed the irony of all this self-righteousness? I bet the human rights provision doesn't even apply to us and our weapon exports, which is 2nd biggest in the world.


by: Sask father of three
April 02, 2013 5:40 PM
Seems to me it is the first step that big Gov. will use to keep my grandchildren from hunting.


by: stroydex from: US
April 02, 2013 5:13 PM
China will sign then promptly ignore the treaty.


by: stroydex from: US
April 02, 2013 5:11 PM
China will sign then promptly ignore the treaty.


by: M from: UK
April 02, 2013 5:07 PM
God, go away UN and stop acting like you have any impact on anything. What are you going to do when someone breaks the agreement? Write angry letters to them? You have no power and therefore are useless. No one cares about you UN.


by: john237 from: USA
April 02, 2013 1:56 PM
So now the USA and the West will not supply arms, ammunition and smart bombs to rebels groups to over-throw the legitimate governments for achieving their goals of regime change? Also, such arms and bulldozers will not be sold for continuing human occupation, land grab or human rights violations? Or the resolution is only targeted towards few selected countries to whom the West has red eyes?

In Response

by: Anonymous
April 02, 2013 9:04 PM
The USA isn't providing weapons to rebels in Syria, they are providing non-lethal help. The Arab League however has passed days ago the right to provide weaponry to the Syrian people and the FSA. This is a great thing, helping the people protect themselves from a tyrant ex-dictator that thought he could kill all opposition.

I know this is what you were referring to and are wrong.


by: RelevantRyan from: Washington
April 02, 2013 1:54 PM
I guess since the United States is a signatory for this agreement that from this point on they will not be supplying weapons to FSA any longer.

In Response

by: Anonymous
April 02, 2013 9:07 PM
They haven't been suppolying them with weapons. Do you see american weapons there? no. That was just propaganda lies.

The Arab League however just ok'd the right to sell weapons to the FSA and Syrian people to protect themselves against the Tyrant Bashar al Assad because he has been killing thousands of innocent civilians.

Which overall is a great idea. The sooner Bashar is captured or killed the better the world will be.

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