An international arms trade treaty was adopted at the United Nations in New York on 2 April. The treaty text confirms all CAAT's worst fears, not least by "recognizing the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interests ... in the international trade in conventional arms." It looks as though UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia's repressive rulers and Russia's to Syria's President Assad will continue unabated.
That CAAT was right to be sceptical about an arms trade treaty is confirmed by a letter from the Arms Export Policy Department of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This confirms that the treaty recognises states' "legitimate interests in producing, exporting, and importing weapons. International industial collaboration in arms production will be promoted through the introduction of common standards." The arms companies, which were represented on the UK delegation, could not have asked for more.
A blog by CAAT explains: "Why an arms trade treaty won't stop the arms trade", 18 March 2013.
There is no such thing as a "responsible" arms trade, so CAAT was always somewhat sceptical about an international treaty to "control" the trade. While those who worked for a treaty think it will do much to prevent the devastating impact of the arms trade, CAAT has been unsure how this would happen. CAAT also worries that it will be used to legitimise arms sales. The UK government, one of the most supportive of an arms trade treaty, approves licences which would be refused under any commonsense interpretation of the UK's current guidelines. Like the arms trade treaty, these latter include provisions on human rights. Little is likely to change while governments, including that of the UK, continue to support and subsidise the arms companies as they go about their deadly business.
A treaty would have been worthwhile only if it stopped arms sales, from the UK as well as elsewhere, to areas of conflict and to human rights violators, but this is unlikely to happen. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) argued that a treaty would be
good for business, both manufacturing and export sales.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt reaffirmed the Government's view in a speech to arms manufacturers in April 2012 when he said an arms trade treaty would help ".. create a level playing field for the legitimate defence industry, This will make British industry more competitive. The Government and the UK defence industry enjoy a close working relationship on the Arms Trade Treaty, with industry representation on the UK delegation."
While the impression was given to the public that a treaty will stop weapons reaching human rights abusers, no change appeared to be envisaged by the Government. Richard Tauwhare, Head of the FCO's Arms Export Policy Department, said on 19 December 2012 that the Department had reassured countries in the Middle East that a treaty "would in effect implement criteria that are very similar to those we currently implement" and "would not add anything on top of that." Given no significant change in current UK practice is envisaged, how effective would a treaty actually be in stopping weaponry going to authoritarian regimes?
The real UK government priority is the promotion of arms exports and it pushes and approves sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt despite existing controls supposedly banning exports where there is a clear risk of internal repression. If the UK, and other, governments seriously wanted to do something to end the devastation caused by the arms trade they should stop this promotion. The UK government should shut its arms sales unit, currently the UK Trade & Investment Defence and Security Organisation. There needs to be a change from the mindset that puts helping companies secure lucrative (for them, not the taxpayer) deals before all else. That is why CAAT concentrated its efforts on revealing and opposing Government military export promotion, not campaigning for an arms trade treaty.
Analysis of "An historic and momentous failure" by CAAT staff member Kirk Jackson, 29 April 2013
Wendela de Vries of Campagne tegen Wapenhandel in the Netherlands says "We have an Arms Trade Treaty" and asks "What difference does it make?" 23 April 2013
An article by George Gao for the Inter-Press News Service summarises diverse reactions to the adoption of the arms trade treaty, 2 April 2013
An analysis by Dr Neil Cooper: "The Arms Trade Treaty in the Context of Post-Cold War Conventional Arms Trade Regulation", 10 July 2012
The UK government's position on the arms trade treaty FCO website.
Control Arms, which includes Oxfam and Amnesty International, co-ordinated the campaign for an arms trade treaty.