Arms Trade Treaty

Last updated 20 September 2021

An international arms trade treaty was adopted at the United Nations in New York on 2 April 2013. The treaty text recognised the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interests … in the international trade in conventional arms.

A year later, on 2 April 2014, the UK ratified the treaty. It entered into force on 24 December 2014, 90 days after the fiftieth state ratified on 24 September 2014.

CAAT was sceptical

There is no such thing as a responsible arms trade, so, while other organisations campaigned for an arms trade treaty, CAAT was always sceptical. While those working for a treaty thought it would do much to prevent the devastating impact of the arms trade, CAAT was unclear how this would happen. CAAT also worried that it would be used to legitimise arms sales. The UK government, one of the most supportive of the treaty, approves licences which would be refused under any commonsense interpretation of the UK’s current guidelines. Like the arms trade treaty, these latter include provisions on human rights.

That CAAT was right to be sceptical was confirmed by a letter from the Arms Export Policy Department of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This says that the treaty recognises states’ legitimate interests in producing, exporting, and importing weapons. International industrial collaboration in arms production will be promoted through the introduction of common standards. The arms companies, which were represented on the UK delegation negotiating the treaty, could not have asked for more.

Sales always the real priority

Nothing will change while governments, including that of the UK, continue to support and subsidise the arms companies as they go about their deadly business. The real UK government priority is the promotion of arms exports. It pushes and approves sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt despite existing controls supposedly banning exports where there is a clear risk of internal repression. If the UK, and other, governments seriously wanted to do something to end the devastation caused by the arms trade they should stop this promotion. The UK government should shut its arms sales unit, currently UK Defence and Security Exports .

There needs to be a change from the mindset that puts helping companies secure lucrative (for them, not the taxpayer) deals before all else. That is why CAAT concentrated its efforts on revealing and opposing Government military export promotion, not campaigning for an arms trade treaty.

Further information

Legitimizing liberal militarism: politics, law and war in the Arms Trade Treaty, by Anna Stavrianakis, 2016.

Analysis of An historic and momentous failure by then CAAT staff member Kirk Jackson, 29 April 2013

Wendela de Vries of Stop Wapenhandel in the Netherlands says We have an Arms Trade Treaty; and asks What difference does it make? 23 April 2013

An article by George Gao for the Inter-Press News Service summarises diverse reactions to the adoption of the arms trade treaty, 2 April 2013

A blog by CAAT explains: Why an arms trade treaty won’t stop the arms trade, 18 March 2013.

An analysis by Dr Neil Cooper: The Arms Trade Treaty in the Context of Post-Cold War Conventional Arms Trade Regulation, 10 July 2012

Control Arms, which includes Oxfam and Amnesty International, coordinated the campaign for an arms trade treaty.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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