Foreign Policy Blogs

Yes, U.N. Does Pass the Arms Trade Treaty

U.N. General Assembly passes Arms Trade Treaty

U.N. General Assembly passes Arms Trade Treaty

Update to 26 of March entry, “Will a New Arms Trade Treaty Be Approved?”:

On 2 April, the U.N. General Assembly passed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) – the first binding international treaty designed to regulate the $70 billion cross-border conventional arms trade, and create a standard to protect peace and security. Countries will be required to review each international arms contract to confirm that arms will not be used in human rights abuses, violations of humanitarian law, or terrorism.

Reaching the successful outcome was anything but easy.

Two rounds of voting were necessary on the third and final president’s (Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia) draft of the ATT. Prior drafts were viewed as flawed by various countries, which prevented them from ensuring their vote in the affirmative. After long negotiations to shape the third draft, diplomats concluded a strengthened draft had been pieced together. The conference then proceeded to the first of the two votes on the ATT on 28 March.

According to the rules of procedure of the conference, a consensus vote in the affirmative was necessary from all member states to pass the treaty – the clause was originally insisted upon by the U.S. to ensure its ability to block a treaty viewed to impinge on domestic gun ownership. The U.S. wound up supporting the third draft, but Iran, North Korea and Syria joined together to vote against it, blocking consensus and stalling the treaty. The diplomats representing the three countries claimed that the treaty is unjust because it is unbalanced between exporting and importing countries, there are many legal flaws, and it does not regulate the arms trade to non-State actors (such as rebel groups in Syria pushing to overthrow Assad). There were other nations, such as Russia and China, that did view the treaty favorably but did not block its passage.

To get around the blockade, the draft treaty was sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to request putting it to a vote in the General Assembly, where only a majority is needed. The treaty was indeed placed on the docket and on 2 April, after Angola switched its vote, 155 countries voted to pass the treaty, 22 abstained and the same 3 countries – Iran, DPRK and Syria citing the same reasoning – voted against it. The 22 abstaining countries that initially did not fully support the draft treaty as constituted – such as Russia, China, Bolivia, India and Saudi Arabia – provided various reasoning for their vote. A common thread was the document can be viewed as a political act. The NRA and many U.S. senators affirmed their opposition after the vote.

Fifty nations will need to ratify the ATT for it to enter into force, and then it will be implemented 90 days from that point.

Overall, CSOs were especially pleased with the number of countries that voted in the affirmative – Pakistan’s unexpected yes vote, for example, is thought to demonstrate the strength of the treaty.

As the final vote was displayed digitally inside the General Assembly Hall, it was met with applause and adulation from country delegations and CSOs alike, such as the Control Arms coalition, that spent significant time pursuing a treaty to regulate the arms trade.

British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the outcome as a “landmark agreement that will save lives and ease the immense human suffering caused by armed conflict around the world.” And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry applauded the treaty as well, which he described as “a strong, effective and implementable Arms Trade Treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade.”




Joe Gurowsky

Joe Gurowsky focuses on energy, environment, geopolitics, trade, international development and climate related issues. Recently, he worked in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania regarding different energy related programs . Joe has also traveled to Costa Rica, Ghana, the UAE, Germany and Alberta, Canada for aspects of energy and environmental policy.