Inside Story America

Will the UN arms treaty succeed?

With the global weapons market costing about 750,000 lives every year, we ask if the US will back the arms agreement.

The world is awash with lethal weapons. It is an industry valued at more than $60bn a year and so far, it is operated with virtually no regulation.

It’s a clash between idealism and realism …. The treaty … could have a saliatory long-term effect, but … great powers Russia, the US and China will always go with their national interest as opposed to the other considerations.”

– Lawrence Korb, former US assistant secretary of defense

But now, delegates from around the world are aiming to change all that with the first ever binding treaty on the global weapons market.

The United Nations is hosting a month of negotiations, with many countries convinced that a convention is needed to prevent illicit arms from falling into the wrong hands.

It is estimated that there are 750,000 arms-related deaths each year. According to Amnesty International, 1,500 people are killed daily by conflict and armed violence. But despite that, there is no guarantee a treaty will be implemented.

Some of the proposed measures are being strongly opposed by the US, Russia and China.

This treaty … has no effect on the individual rights or the collective rights of citizens within countries to possess weapons, to purchase weapons. This treaty governs the international movement of weapons and hopefully ammunition between countries.”

– Frank Jannuzi, the head of the Washington DC office of Amnesty International

For its part, the US is against binding language that would prohibit arms transfers to countries if there is evidence they could be used to undermine human rights. It also opposes the inclusion of ammunition.

But for the first time the US, the world’s largest exporter of weapons, is prepared to sign on to the treaty, although opponents say that the real battle will be its implementation.

Will the UN arms treaty succeed? What exactly are they trying to achieve? What are the US objections? And which countries are the big players in the global arms trade?

Joining Inside Story Americas to discuss this are guests: Frank Jannuzi, the head of the Washington DC office of Amnesty International; Lawrence Korb, the former US assistant secretary of defense; and Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“There are no common international standards that guide when countries can and should not transfer, sell, gift conventional arms from one country to another. So this treaty is designed to raise the standards, to close the gaps. It’s not going to solve all the problems, but this is a severe problem that’s costing lives around the world every day and the conference is in efforts to begin to solve the problem.”

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association


  • 12 billion bullets are produced every year
  • 69 per cent of human rights abuses involve small arms or light weapons
  • there are 875 million small weapons in circulation
  • armes violence world wide costs $400bn every year
  • The combined arms sales of top 100 arms companies was $411bn in 2010


Seventy-four per cent of the world’s wepons are supplied by six countries:

USA: 30 per cent

Russia: 24 per cent

Germany: per cent

France: 8 per cent

UK: 4 per cent

China: 4 per cent

Others: 21 per cent


India: 10 per cent

South Korea: 6 per cent

Pakistan: 5 per cent

China: 5 per cent

Singapore: 4 per cent

Australia: 4 per cent