The Arms Trade Treaty and the P5’s dilemma

By Angeline Annesteus


With one day left to conclude the first ever Arms Trade Treaty, the African states, CARICOM, NGOS, and other delegations urge the P5 to close the remaining gaps in the treaty text that is now under negotiations.

The whole point is that nobody is supposed to be making profit by transferring arms to governments or any armed group that will use them to attack civilians. The P5 (China, Russia, UK, France, US) are the five permanent Security Council members, and along with Germany they are responsible for 74% of global arms deal. Meanwhile, the P5 are also responsible to maintain peace and security. The P5’s dilemma is that there is a conflict between peace and profit and that they have no other choice than choosing one or another.

Despite the pressure from Washington, France and UK have been key champions advocating for peace and security throughout the negotiations. They believe that an Arms Trade Treaty that does not include strong provisions on ammunitions and Human Rights and International Humanitarian rules will not serve as an effective tool for preventing the deadly consequences of the poorly unregulated International Arms Trade.

China, Russia, and the US are still uncertain. They all wish to promote peace and security but with putting a band aid on a serious issue. China is calling for weak provisions on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws while the US is asking for the exclusions of ammunitions. In fact, the US has made clear that they prioritize profit over peace. In April16 of 2012, the head of the US delegation, Thomas Countryman, had reiterated the US position on his remarks at Stimson Center:

The US has made our position on one other issue very clear in the preliminary discussions with international partners. Many states and organizations –many of them without major armaments industries or significant international arms trade – have sought to include ammunition in the scope of an ATT. The United States, which produces over seven billion rounds of ammunition a year, has resisted those efforts on the grounds that including ammunition is hugely impractical.

It’s hard to believe that the US would not want to regulate the international movement of ammunitions when they know that of the 12 billions of ammunition produced each year, huge amounts of them fuel all forms of armed conflict globally. As Nigeria points it out, a weapon is only a weapon when there is ammunition inserted. Without strict control on ammunition, it’s less likely that states will be able to control the hundreds of millions of weapons that are already in circulation. States parties have to put tight regulations on ammunitions to help control the weapons that are already in circulation and are responsible for 750.000 deaths yearly as a result of armed violence.

As for now, we remain optimistic that states parties will not miss this unique opportunity to make the most important step toward regulation of global arms trade that will save the life of millions of civilians around the globe. 

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