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Inside Story

Can a global arms trade treaty save lives?

Negotiators from 150 countries are trying to reach a deal to halt the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition.
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2013 13:47

According to human rights groups one person is killed every minute because of armed violence, through conflict and crime.

"I think we will get a treaty either at the end of the conference or if it has to go back into the vote of the General Assembly, I am very confident. The big issue is: what kind of treaty? Would it be strong enough to try to prevent the world crimes, the Syrian human rights violations, and all the other harm that it has caused to millions of people around the world?"

Brian Wood, Amnesty International

But no globally agreed standards exist to regulate the international trade in arms, a trade in dangerous and deadly products, designed to kill and maim.

Latest figures put the annual expenditure at $1,630bn. The international trade in conventional weapons is worth an estimated $70bn a year, in that time, eight million guns and other small arms are made. That represents almost 22,000 arms a day.

Some 12 billion bullets are produced every year, that industry alone is worth more than $4bn.

This has been a stumbling block, with the US calling for ammunition to be excluded from any arms treaty.

The US is the biggest weapons exporter, accounting for nearly one-third of world trade, followed by Russia with 26 percent. 

"You could see something sign with those states [US, Russia and China]  not as parties to it, and there are those that are advocating for that, rather than compromising too much, and then of course the other facet of that is it could that those states could become parties later on."

- Joanna Spear, an associated professor of International Affairs at George Washington University

The rest of the world accounts for less than half of all trade; Germany, France and China completing the top positions, and Britain has been overtaken from the top five by China.

India is the biggest importer of conventional weapons accounting for 12 percent of imports, and China is also a major importer buying 6 percent of the world's weapons. Pakistan and South Korea import 5 percent each, and Singapore is at 4 percent.

Negotiators from 150 countries are trying to hammer out a deal to halt the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition.

But a conference in 2012 failed to reach agreement, after objections from the world’s biggest exporters - the US, China and Russia.

So, is a binding global arms trade agreement possible? Will there be a political will to enforce it? Will any compomise lead to a weak and meaningless pact? And can it prevent weapons falling into the wrong hands?

Joining presenter Jane Dutton on Inside Story are guests: Brian Wood, the arms control manager at Amnesty International; Joanna Spear, an associate professor of International Affairs at George Washington University and an author on arms sales and controls; and Bharat Karnad, a senior fellow of National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

"Ten working days have been set aside for these negotiations that are supposed to be concluded by the 28th of this month, the organisers and campaigners hopeful that they can come up finally with an arms trade treaty .... Of course we have been here before, last year in July there were talks, campaigners that watch this very closely so they believe that they made substancial progress on the text, on the draft treaty, but at the last minute the US said that it needed more time to study the details, and wanted to postpone things, Russia then said that it also wanted a postponement to study the details a little closer."

- James Bays, Al Jazeera Correspondent

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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