Friday, April 05, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #102 - Part 2

Good news #2: UN treaty on arms sales

Another bit of good news, and something I doubt you heard about: On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the first international treaty to regulate the international arms trade, now etimated at $60 billion a year and rising rapidly.

The vote was 154-3, with 23 abstentions.

It will go into effect 90 days after 50 countries ratify it. It prohibits countries that ratify it from exporting conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes, or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, or if the exporting country believes they would be used in attacks against civilians or schools and hospitals. Exporters must also evaluate whether the weapons would be used by terrorists or organized crime and must take steps to prevent the weapons from being diverted to the black market.

The treaty covers a wide variety of military equipment from tanks, artillery systems, aircraft, warships, right down through helicopters and missiles to small arms and light weapons.

It comes as the result of more than ten years of effort and the vote produced loud cheers in the General Assembly chamber when it was posted.

The only "no" votes were cast by Iran, North Korea and Syria.

The US, which is the world's largest arms exporter, with about 30% of the world market, voted yes. Russia, which is the world's second largest arms exporter, with about 26% of the market, abstained. So did China, which, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, now ranks number five on the list of arms exporters.

Germany and France, the second- and third-largest arms exporters, voted yes, as did the UK, which has dropped to sixth place behind China. India, Indonesia, and many Arabs states abstained.

What impact the treaty will actually have remains to be seen, of course. A lot of good words and even good intentions across history have melted under the pressure of expediency, and this could prove to be just another case. A lot will depend on which countries ratify it and which ones don't and how strictly those countries implement it.

Which brings up the question of what are the chances for ratification here. I don't really need to go into that, do I? Treaties require the approval of 2/3 of the Senate and they can't muster a 3/5 vote to move ordinary legislation.

Oh, and here's a big surprise: Even though this refers only to international trade, has no bearing on domestic law, and so has no impact on the Second Amendment and in no way relates to gun sales or ownership domestically, the NRA and the gun manufacturers fought against it. As a result, in one of the amendments to the Senate Budget last month, Senators, ever eager to lick the jack boots of the gun lobby, voted 53-46 to stop the US from joining the treaty.

In other words, the US helped negotiate the thing, helped to push the thing, was praised for its work on the thing, voted for the thing, but no way is going to ratify the thing. Because pleasing the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America is more important than keeping missiles and guns out of the hands of terrorists and war criminals.

So we have to celebrate the treaty for what it is: a first step, a small step, a baby step, a declaration of principles in an area when many don't have any. In the words of Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it is
a noble gesture that may over time acquire the kind of precedence or enforcement that would give it meaning.
And then, after the immediate celebration, we have to ask ourselves how we can morally tolerate being the world's biggest dealer in death.


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