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Difficult negotiations to regulate arms trade

The UN arms trade treaty is being given a second chance. In 2012, Russian, Chinese and US pressure caused it to fail - and this time emerging weapons producers may join them.

The global trade in T-shirts, toys and tomatoes is strictly regulated, while the arms trade was subject to no control, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the start of negotiations on a treaty to control the arms trade. The goal of the agreement should be to check arms deals to determine whether human rights violations may be committed with the supplied weapons. It also aims to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists and organized crime. More than 500,000 people are killed in armed conflict every year.

Germany belongs to the vast majority of countries that are in favor of such an agreement. "The German government has thrown its support behind a strong arms trade treaty. Legally binding rules on trading in weapons would make an important contribution to peace and regional stability," a Foreign Office spokeswoman told DW.

Amnesty International campaign billboard (Photo: DW/Evan Romero)

Amnesty International says there are more regulations for bananas than for guns

Weapons inspections have too many loopholes

Human rights activists complain that the treaty that has been negotiated leaves too many loopholes and provides too few controls to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

"There must be an agreement that specifies that certain arms sales are prohibited and is binding under international law," Robert Lindner of Oxfam said.

Lindner has observed the present negotiations in New York. In an interview with DW, he called for a clear ban "on arms sales, where it is clear that they are to be used for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and systematic human rights violations."

For seven years the United Nations has tried to regulate the global arms trade.

Germanyalready argued for comprehensive controls in the preliminary negotiations. "The arms trade treaty should cover all conventional arms, especially small and light weapons and ammunition," the Foreign Ministry told DW last year.

But negotiations on a control treaty failed in July 2012 due to the opposition of the United States, Russia and China.

Negotiations have not brought progress

Lindner said the draft treaty the international community will vote on this Thursday (28.03.13) in New York leaves large gaps when it comes to precisely the topics of weapons and ammunition: "There are hardly any regulations for checking ammunition. The same applies to weapons components and spare parts. There will essentially be controls only for large weapons - weapons of war, tanks, fighter planes and ships." But small arms are excluded from a systematic inspection and acquisition. "And these are the arms that kill and injure the most people on a daily basis."

Almost 900 million small arms are in circulation worldwide, one for every eight people, including children. According to Amnesty International, one person is shot dead every minute by pistols or rifles. Every year over 60 billion euros ($77 billion) change hands in weapons sales.

The USS Shiloh docked in Busan. (Photo: EPA/Yonhap)

As it stands, the treaty will cover large weapons but not small arms or spare parts

Economic interests are at the forefront

No state openly rejects an agreement to control the arms trade. But many governments are demanding exceptions to protect their economic interests. This "environment of divergent interests," as the German Foreign Office describes it, is largely the responsibility of Russia, the US and China, which have strong reservations, especially against export controls on ammunition and spare parts.

But there is also resistance from emerging countries, Lindner said: "India, Brazil and South Africa themselves want to build up a defense industry. They are concerned that they will be cut off by restrictive checks on supplies." These countries likewise oppose strict export controls. Lindner made no secret of his disappointment with this attitude: "These countries are now poised to water down this treaty to the point that it would make almost no difference whether there is a treaty or not."

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