Anti-War Activists Push for U.N. Arms Treaty

UNITED NATIONS, Oct (IPS) – A coalition of human rights organisations and anti-war activists has renewed its campaign for a new international treaty to regulate the world’s fast-growing 1.1-trillion-dollar global arms trade.

The campaign is timed to coincide with a meeting of the 192-member U.N. committee on disarmament and international security which will discuss later this month whether or not to start work on such a landmark treaty.

“There are far too many vested interests in the arms trade firmly entrenched in the United Nations,” says one Third World diplomat, “and they will do their utmost to protect their lucrative trade.”

The world’s major arms manufacturers — described as the “worst culprits” — are also the most powerful in the United Nations, namely the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

A report released Monday by Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) says global military spending this year is estimated to reach more than 1.1 trillion dollars, outstripping the highest figure reached during the Cold War, in real terms, and roughly 15 times the current international aid expenditure.

This growth in military budgets has caused a boom for the arms industry, with the top 100 arms companies increasing their sales by almost 60 percent: from 157 billion dollars in 2000 to 268 billion dollars in 2004, according to the study.

And while the world spends more on weapons, the number and scale of conflict-related food crises is also growing. Last year, conflict became the leading cause of hunger, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The report, titled “Arms Without Borders: Why a globalised trade needs global controls”, calls on U.N. member states to support an Arms Trade Treaty during the current 61st session of the General Assembly which concludes mid-December.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Centre for Peace and Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, says a global arms trade treaty would set an important baseline for controlling the global trade in weapons.

“It is critical to have global common standards, rather than the current patchwork of measures that can easily be undermined,” Goldring told IPS.

“An arms trade treaty would be an important confirmation that weapons are not simply another commodity, to be traded in the same fashion as toasters or video games,” she added.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in June this year that U.S. military spending in both Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to push global military expenditures to a new high in 2006: far above the current 1.1 trillion dollars..

According to SIPRI, the United States accounted for 48 percent of total military spending worldwide in 2005.

The United States, France and Britain, three of the big powers at the United Nations, are all involved in costly overseas military operations, while the fourth big power, namely China, is modernising its armed forces.

“In these circumstances, there is a strong likelihood that the current upward trend in world military spending will be sustained in 2006,” SIPRI said.

Goldring told IPS that the United States continues to dominate the global arms trade, as it has done since the breakup of the Soviet Union 15 years ago.

“The U.S. government and weapons manufacturers persist in arming unstable regimes with extraordinarily capable weapons,” she said.

They then argue that the proliferation of these weapons makes it necessary to develop and produce a new generation of even more expensive, more capable weapons. This establishes a self-perpetuating, vicious circle, Goldring added.

She also said that weapons suppliers frequently argue that their sales are consistent with international human rights standards and international humanitarian law.

“But then they look the other way when their weapons are used to commit human rights abuses. It’s past time to set a higher standard.”

While the arms trade is a global phenomenon, Goldring argued, the vast majority of the trade in major conventional weapons is accounted for by just six countries: the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany.

“The proposed arms trade treaty gives these countries a reason to exercise true leadership, by setting standards for this pernicious trade. It will not be easily achieved, but it is vitally important,” she added.

The London-based international aid agency Oxfam, a member of the arms control coalition, said in a statement released Monday that unregulated arms sales are continuing to fuel poverty, conflict and human rights abuses.

Africa is particularly affected: 61 percent of African countries affected by food crises are in the grip of civil wars.

In Afghanistan, Oxfam said, about 2.5 million people currently don’t have enough food to eat and conflict is hampering relief efforts.

During the past few months in Gaza, the ongoing conflict has left hundreds of U.N. food containers stranded at border posts, leaving Palestinians short of essential supplies such as bread.

The United States and countries in the Middle East are responsible for the bulk of the growth in military spending, but some of the world’s poorest countries have also increased spending, Oxfam noted.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Sudan, Botswana and Uganda all doubled their military spending between 1985 and 2000. And Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan spent more on their military than on health care during 2002-2003.

“Year on year arms spending escalates and year on year conflicts are causing more hunger and suffering. Arms sales do not start conflicts, but they certainly fuel and lengthen them. It is time the world stemmed the uncontrolled flood of weapons into the world’s war zones,” Oxfam added.

“The world must agree to start work on an Arms Trade Treaty this October,” said Bernice Romero, Oxfam International’s campaigns director. (END/2006)


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