Regulatingthe conventional weapons trade

An international Arms Trade Treaty is to be negotiated at a United Nations intergovernmental conference starting in early July. On 5 June, attendees of the Forum on Global Issues gathered at the Federal Foreign Office from NGOs and the academic and political spheres to learn about the German Government’s goals and the current state of conference preparations. Michael Georg Link, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, said that if the international community succeeded in drafting such a treaty, the year 2012 would “stand as a milestone in the history of disarmament and export controls”.

Preparations for the United Nations conference on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which will take place in New York City from 2 to 27 July, have been underway since 2006. The conference aims to conclude a treaty which will make it possible to monitor international trade in conventional weapons. To date this trade has not been subject to any specific regulations. The German Government is seeking an agreement that will set exacting and legally binding standards at global level for the trade in conventional weapons. Such an agreement should also curtail the illegal weapons trade.

Minister of State Link underscored the significance of an international arms trade treaty. This was not, he said, a ban or a limitation on the arms trade per se, but rather a regulatory treaty which would make it possible to deal with weapons responsibly. The challenge, according to Link, was to reconcile the need for responsibility in the use and trade of weapons with countries’ security needs in a universally valid and binding manner.

The need for better control: a message that cannot be ignored

Link said that the current absence of international standards for the conventional arms trade had far-reaching negative consequences, among which he cited illicit weapons markets and the misuse of weapons in conflicts. “The appalling plight of the civilian population in civil wars and the huge number of people killed send a message that cannot be ignored: the international community must act to bring these weapons under better control,” Link said.

He also outlined the characteristics which the German Government saw as necessary for the ATT.

The ATT, he said, should be

  • “robust, practicable and effective,
  • comprehensive and legally binding,
  • and marked by high standards of export licence decision-making”.

Minister of State Link expressly thanked the civil society sector for having initiated the conversation on negotiating an arms trade treaty.

The Forum on Global Issues was established by the Federal Foreign Office in 1999. It deals with a broad spectrum of global challenges and regularly brings together state and non-state actors in international politics in Germany to exchange views.

Last updated 06.06.2012

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