That the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (CATT) ended without an agreement after a month of negotiations should come as no surprise. After all, the countries that benefit most from the current unregulated arms trade are the five UN Security Council members with a veto power. When something is not in the interests of the superpowers, it tends not to happen. It appeared that the CATT would be successful but, at the last minute, the US said it needed more time to consider the proposed treaty, with Russia and China quickly following suit. In doing so, these countries have essentially scuttled the treaty for the foreseeable future.
The treaty proposed at the CATT would have outlawed the sale of arms in case there was a good chance that they would land up in the hands of terrorists or regimes that violate international human rights standards. In theory, this sounds unobjectionable. But the truth is that all major powers in the world, despite their high-sounding rhetoric, actually rely on selling arms to dubious actors to sustain this multibillion dollar industry. China and Russia, for example, are currently arming the violent Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, while the US is the biggest supplier of arms to a host of unsavoury governments in the Middle East. This includes Israel, which is engaged in a brutal war against the Palestinian people, the Egyptian military currently undermining democracy in the country and a Bahraini monarchy at war with its majority Shia population.
Pakistan, too, would have been a beneficiary of a treaty regulating the global arms trade. We are currently engaged in a war with well-armed militants who receive their weaponry from wealthy individuals in the Arab states and from the international black market. A treaty that is strictly enforced would make it harder for such non-state actors to have easy access to conventional arms. At the CATT, money won out over common sense. After a short period of reflection, everyone needs to get back to the negotiating table and finally sign this treaty.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.
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