x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

US politicising of arms control endangers all

The United Nations' failure on Friday to reach agreement on how to regulate the multibillion dollar global arms trade is troubling for many reasons.

The United Nations' failure on Friday to reach agreement on how to regulate the multibillion dollar global arms trade is troubling for many reasons, but mostly it reinforces the cynical view that profits and politics always trump pragmatism.

Negotiations on a treaty that would require all countries to establish regulations to control the sale of conventional arms, as well as regulate arms brokers, broke down at the weekend. The finger of blame was quickly pointed at the United States, which decided unilaterally that it needed "more time" to consider the proposal. Washington's move prompted Russia and China to ask for the same.

Few will see this collapse as surprising, but after nearly a month of negotiations - and years of planning - there had been hope a deal was near. All sides will agree illegal trade in small arms is one of the biggest causes of instability worldwide. Local and regional conflicts, especially in Asia and Africa, are perpetuated by the ease of acquiring small arms and anti-personnel munitions, like grenades, which the treaty sought to regulate.

Yet the arms trade is big business, making international regulation difficult. The value of the global arms trade is estimated at $60 billion (Dh220 billion). Curiously, the vast majority of that trade is carried out by the five permanent members of the United Nations, making the likelihood of an agreement even less likely (although to Britain's immense credit, it has pushed hard for a treaty).

In this case, politics appeared the true obstacle to agreement. In the United States, the gun lobby wields immense power, and even in the wake of the recent tragic shooting in Colorado, the gun lobby has not backed down, arguing that the UN treaty is counter to the US constitution. This despite the fact that the treaty would only apply to arms sales outside of nations - it would not change the law within the United States, or any other country.

Domestic concerns will always triumph over international statutes, but in this case the US could have supported bans on arms trading without infringing the rights of its citizens.

Even the best intended treaties have flaws. Children are still trafficked, money is still laundered, nuclear material still proliferated. But because each of these issues have legal frameworks governing them, prosecution and punishment becomes possible.

Arms trading requires something similar.