UN arms trade conference fails | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 29.07.2012
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World

UN arms trade conference fails

The United Nations conference to make new arms trade standards has failed - after six years of preparation and a month of negotiations. Human rights activists fear the situation could be intractable.

Die blaue UN-Fahne weht am 01.06.2012 hinter der Statue Non-Violence (Gewaltlosigkeit) von Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd vor dem UN-Hauptquartier in New York. Bei den Vereinten Nationen beginnt am Montag (02.07.2012) eine internationale Konferenz, mit der der Waffenhandel begrenzt werden soll. Durch Schusswaffen sterben nach UN-Angaben jedes Jahr 200 000 bis 400 000 Menschen. Foto: Chris Melzer dpa

UN-Konferenz Waffenhandel

It's the "worst possible result," said Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, leader of the French negotiation team. The UN's attempts to draw up a worldwide agreement on the weapons trade ended in failure in New York on Friday.

However, Robert Lindner of Oxfam Germany, who watched the negotiations, said he has not given up hope.

"We don't know whether the whole process has failed," he told DW. "Only the conference has failed for now."

Ninety countries, including Germany, have said they want to continue negotiating and bring a treaty to the UN General Assembly.

"There is a very broad movement both in society and among the states to see more regulation," said Lindner. "The conference was a chance, but it wasn't used. There wasn't enough time."

The positive side of failure

Journalist Andrew Feinstein, who has reported on the international weapons trade for 12 years, even welcomed the failure of the talks - at least from one point of view. He said he believes ending up with no contract was better than desperately patching together the woolly one under discussion on Friday.

Such a contract would have been no more than "a legal framework for the weapons industry as it exists now," Feinstein said.

A US weapons salesman

The weapons industry employs three million people in the US



He called for strict and unambiguous rules that control the weapons trade effectively. But Feinstein added that at the moment, the political will to achieve that is lacking.a

"The fact that they couldn't even agree on the soft text they had shows how deep the lack of political will is," he said.

Difficult circumstances for talks

The fact that a new agreement had to have unanimous consent from 193 different parties somewhat weakened participants' will.

Further, many jobs depend on the $60 billion (49.9 billion euros) weapons industry - three million in the US, and another 80,000 in Germany.

The upcoming US presidential election in November also posed a problem. The weapons lobby in the US, especially the National Rifle Association, has exerted heavy pressure on the government.

On Thursday, 51 US senators from both parties signed an open letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, threatening to oppose any agreement that limited the constitutionally enshrined right to own guns.

China and India, to name just two other countries, also refused to sign an agreement. China was only prepared to let regional organizations like the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States take part in the treaty if the EU agreed to lift its weapons embargo on China.

India, meanwhile, demanded a special exemption for defense alliances that would allow partners to continue dealing with each other regardless of their human rights situation. That would leave the current defense alliance between Russia and Syria untouched by the treaty.

"Everyone wants their own special regulations," said Lindner.

Leopard 2 tank

Germany sells tanks to Saudi Arabia

The usual profiteers and victims

Feinstein said the failure of the talks is good news for major weapons companies and individual dealers, as well as states. In no other branch of industry are state and private interests so closely intertwined.

"The most obvious victims are those people who find themselves at the other end of the rifles," he said. About 750,000 people die every year as a result of the illegal trade in weapons. "Another victim is democracy in all these countries."

Feinstein argued that economic interests and the corruption associated with the weapons trade did not just undermine any hope of a binding treaty. Those factors damaged international law itself.

The UN has been trying to draw up a weapons trade treaty since 2006. In 2009, the UN General Assembly agreed to begin working on a treaty that would meet "the highest possible international standards."

But since then, two sides have remained utterly irreconcilable - national sovereignty, opposed to international law and human rights. As long as national interests are deemed more important than human rights, it seems doubtful there will ever be an arms trade treaty.

Author: Rodion Ebbinghausen / bk
Editor: Shant Shahrigian

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