1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Landmark treaty

Mirjam Gehrke / jrb, dbJune 3, 2013

Germany is one of the first countries to sign a new UN treaty regulating the global arms trade. The treaty takes effect once it has been ratified by 50 states - a process that could take up to two years.

male hands holding rifles c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

As one of the first national representatives to do so, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle signed the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in New York on Monday (03.06.2013).

Westerwelle recently welcomed the landmark arms treaty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in April, as a "milestone in global efforts to ensure arms controls and security."

Negotiations had failed twice before, due to resistance from countries including North Korea, Syria and Iran, as well as Russia, China and the United States.

Subject to strict rules

The treaty will subject trade in conventional weapons, from guns to tanks, to strict rules. It prohibits the export of weapons if such trade violates arms embargoes or if the weapons could be used in genocide, crimes against humanity, by violent extremists or organized crime gangs. It calls for the establishment of national control systems to regulate the import and export of conventional arms, ammunition and weapon parts. It also controls arms dealers.

When, after the fall of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, it was discovered that German assault rifles has got into the hands of his troops, it would have been easier to trace how they got there had such rules existed then.

UNO assembly Waffenbehoerde zu Demonstrationszwecken eine grosskalibrige Handfeuerwaffe, einen halbautomatischen Revolver des Kalibers neun Millimeter, in den Haenden (Foto vom 09.02.11). Bundesinnenminister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) stellt am Montag (19.11.12) Plaene fuer ein neues Nationales Waffenregister vor. In der Datenbank beim Bundesverwaltungsamt in Koeln sollen bis Ende des Jahres Informationen von rund 550 lokalen Waffenbehoerden zusammengefasst werden. Damit soll es moeglich werden, erlaubnispflichtige Schusswaffen kuenftig schneller konkreten Personen zuordnen zu koennen. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Axel Heimken/dapd
The UN General Assembly approved the treaty with an overwhelming majorityImage: Timothy a. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Germanyplans to ratify the ATT ahead of parliamentary elections in September. Ratification by 50 countries is required before the treaty can come into effect.

More transparency

But, as well as the enthusiasm, there was some disillusionment when the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted in April. "I would have liked to have seen see more content and more restrictions," Rolf Mützenich, the foreign affairs spokesman of Germany's center-left Social Democrat parliamentary group, told DW. In particular, he said, the licensing process for arms exports, which remains in the hands of national governments, and verification of the controls were not fully clarified. "These are things that would have made such a treaty much stronger."


Amnesty International defense expert Matthias John agrees there's room to improve the control mechanisms. "We need better measures for transparency and better reporting, and we would need to impose sanctions if the treaty is violated," he said, adding that that now is the time "for states to adapt their own rules." The ATT does not interfere with countries' domestic legislation. The UN members are to issue an annual report on all processes and progress they have achieved in arms control.

'In the spirit of the agreement'

The provisions do not restrict German arms exports. Existing EU export regulations and national German rules go further than the new international agreement. Yet Matthias John argues that Germany "has a duty to tighten German arms export practices in the spirit of this agreement."

After the United States and Russia, Germany is the world's third-largest arms exporter, with a global market share of 7 percent. But, according to government figures, Germany exported 76.2 million euros worth of small arms in 2012 - twice as much as the year before. Among the recipients were Saudi Arabia, Lebanon or Iraq.

"Human rights must be given a greater priority," John said. "Other criteria, such as the notorious new 'Merkel doctrine' that stresses foreign and security issues, seem to be more important." If Germany acts in the spirit of this agreement, however, that should no longer be the case.