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France 24, France

The United States:
Major Obstacle to
a Global Arms Trade Treaty

By Charlotte Oberi

After a month of negotiations in New York, a treaty to regulate the arms trade was dead in the water. The reluctance of the U.S., which accounts for 40 percent of the global arms trade, frustrated a number of countries supporting the treaty.

Translated By Diana Huet de Guerville

29 July 2012

Edited by Lydia Dallett

France - France 24 - Original Article (French)

On Friday, July 27, noises heard in the UN hallways in New York were in fact groans of frustration. After three days of negotiations, supporters of a treaty to regulate the global arms trade made no secret of their anger toward the U.S. The treaty text, which they had been working on for four weeks, was abandoned after a veto from the American delegation, followed closely by the Russians and Chinese.

This time, however, the NGOs in attendance had had high hopes for successful negotiations. At the international level, the "classic" weapons (tanks and combat helicopters, munitions, small-caliber weapons...) are not subject to any regulation, unlike chemical or nuclear weapons. On Friday, after having worked on two drafts of the text, the delegates from the 193 UN member states were as close as they had ever been to signing a treaty regulating the arms trade — a nearly $60 billion per year business. Attempting to fill a gap in international law, this treaty would prohibit any arms sale posing a risk of severe human rights violations.

"The conference’s inability to conclude its work on this much-awaited A.T.T., despite years of effort of member states and civil society from many countries, is a setback," acknowledged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"A total surprise"

The setback was caused by several countries, including Russia, China, Egypt and even Venezuela. Unsurprisingly, Syria, North Korea and Iran also declined to support the treaty text. But it was definitely the U.S.' position that attracted the most attention. "The U.S.' final decision was a total surprise," lamented Aymeric Elluin, director of Amnesty International's "Arms and Impunity" campaign.

As one of the major arms exporters, with 40 percent of the global market, the U.S. played an active part in the process. Breaking with his predecessor, Barack Obama had adopted a policy of engagement that suggested a different outcome.

"Culturally, the U.S doesn't like treaties which restrict arms," admits Aymeric Elluin. “But we were expecting better from a Democratic administration.”

An Administration Restrained by the Gun Lobby

But the suspense was short-lived: "It's obvious that Obama is impeded by the electoral timeline." Indeed, the presidential election takes place in November. Until then, it would be difficult to go up against the gun lobby, which is very influential in the U.S. Less than a week after the Aurora massacre — where 12 people were killed by a shooter taking inspiration from Batman's Joker — gun owners don't appear ready to reconsider their position.

Among them, the powerful National Rifle Association hasn't hidden its hostility toward anything which it views as a threat to the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms. In addition, during the negotiations, 51 senators also expressed their intention to oppose the treaty, a position echoed by Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. During a town hall meeting in Ohio on July 18, Obama's opponent positioned himself as a defender of American freedom and independence. "Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right?" Romney asked.

"A way out of this impasse"

Though blocked, the treaty must now forge ahead, with or without the U.S., according to Aymeric Elluin. "Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, yet nothing has changed in relation to arms since he was elected." On the international level, we are at a standstill. "We need to find a way out of this impasse," he says, recalling the drive to close Guantanamo — one of the key issues of the "Yes, we can" campaign — where progress on the issue lags behind expectations.

More determined than ever, NGOs see the UN General Assembly in September as the next target, while Washington claims to be open to a second round of negotiations in 2013. "As we speak, people are being massacred in Aleppo [one of the bastions of the Syrian rebellion]; we must continue the work," insists Aymeric Elluin. At the end of the negotiations, 90 countries signed the text, stating they were "disappointed but… not discouraged" by this failure and are "determined to secure an arms trade treaty as soon as possible."

"We can act without the U.S. After all, the International Criminal Court was also created without them," notes Amnesty's campaign director.



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