“Week of Action” on arms trade treaty

June 14, 2009

John Duncan – John Duncan is the United Kingdom Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament. He comments regularly via Twitter and on his own Blog. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once remarked that in terms of people killed and injured every day, conventional weapons are the worst weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.

Monday sees the start of a “Week of Action” to generate support for a new International Arms Trade Treaty, organised by NGO alliance “Control Arms” which brings together Amnesty International, Oxfam and IANSA.

Control Arms have been lobbying for an ATT for the best part of ten years; inauspicious timing perhaps in a decade that is increasingly refereed to as “the Decade of Stalemate” in the field of international multilateral diplomacy.

The low point of international efforts to curb the proliferation of conventional weapons was probably 2006, with the collapse of the United Nations Review Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons in New York. But it was also the year that a group of seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Kenya, Japan, and the UK) launched a process in the United Nations leading to the negotiation of a new legally binding treaty to regulate the international arms trade.

The humanitarian and moral case for regulation is unassailable, with hundreds of civilians being killed every day by weapons that have found their way into the hands of criminals, terrorists, insurgents and more recently pirates.

But economics is an equally important driver in this debate. As the discussion in the UN has moved forward, more and more companies from the arms industry itself have come to support the need for international regulation of what is now a global industry. The patchwork of arms export control agreements that currently exist has frustrated cooperation amongst responsible companies and served as a brake on inward investment. They have had the effect of creating competitors operating on different standards who are pushed towards the areas of the market where there is the highest risk these weapons will be misused or diverted.

As someone whose job bridges both nuclear and conventional weapons proliferation, I am acutely aware that one of the key elements of making progress towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons is to stop the uncontrolled proliferation of conventional weapons.

Next month, discussions will reconvene at the UN on the future Arms Trade Treaty. My colleague Grace Mutandwa has blogged on FCO site about the impact of the current absence of such regulation in her own country. Other Foreign Office colleagues will provide their own perspectives in the coming days. Readers can also follow the event on Twitter.

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