How to Stop War

The Arms Trade Treaty is a welcome step, but it will be insufficient to stem the flow of weapons

By S. Saheb

Preventing conflict and the injustices that trigger conflict has been the goal of the United Nations since its inception. But as history has proven before and since, there is no easy solution. The national interests of individual states will always jeopardize cohesion of the whole; nowhere is this truer than in the global trade in armaments. The globalization of the weapons market has allowed manufacturers to stay far removed from the conflict zones where their weaponry is used, but they should not be allowed to remain distant from culpability. It is with this in mind that the international Arms Trade Treaty came into effect at the end of last year.

The threat today posed by non-state actors like ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda, which cannot manufacture their own weapons, has given the treaty added impetus, but it is so far little more than a wishful first step. Only 69 nations, including only five of the world’s top ten arms producers, have ratified the treaty. The top three arms exporters, the United States, Russia, and China, have not yet ratified the treaty. The U.S. has signed it, but is unlikely to implement its measures due to fierce opposition from gun owners at home, while Russia and China have expressed no interest in signing.

Arms exports are big business for these states. The United States’ major weapons exports increased by 23 percent over the last 4 years, while Russia saw a 37 percent increase, and Chinese exports expanded by 143 percent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Combined, Russia and America exported some $56.6 billion worth of weapons in 2013. Rather than giving these arms dealers reason to hesitate, the onslaught of ISIS and Boko Haram has actually increased their profits. Yet countless weapons have fallen through the hands of corrupt and unstable nations into the grip of malicious organizations.

The Arms Trade Treaty was created to ensure the existence of regulations on the international trade of conventional arms and is intended to prevent human rights abuses by encouraging responsible arms trading. It points out the risks that emerge with the trade of arms between nations, and sets standards for the export of battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, artillery, and armored vehicles, as well as small arms. The treaty’s intent—to prevent terrorist activity, organized crimes, and genocide—was welcomed by many nations, but its effectiveness is questionable.

Certainly the treaty can aid in promoting inter-state cooperation in reducing human casualties in war-torn countries, but willingness to cooperate is the necessary element for its success. In theory, the treaty will …

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