This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
After a month of negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations in New York, the discussions came to an ignominious end last Friday when, first the United States and then Russia and China, pulled the plug on any agreement.
Clearly there were more important considerations than any serious attempt top control or halt the trade in ‘conventional’ weapons that wreak enormous damage on the innocent all over the world, whether in the hands of dictatorial regimes or ‘unofficial’ groups which have no respect for human rights.
Certainly, no argument can be made that there wasn’t enough time to prepare for the failed talks. It is all of six years since Resolution 61/89 was adopted at the UN General Assembly which was entitled, ‘Towards an arms trade treaty establishing common international standards for the import, expert and transfer of conventional arms.’
Resolution 61/89 said it recognised. ‘that the absence of common international standards on the import , export and transfer of conventional arms is a contributory factor to conflict, the displacement of people, crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, reconciliation, safety, security stability and sustainable development.’ The intention was to achieve a, ‘legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.’
Just how pathetically inadequate this aspiration is can be graphically seen in the awful suffering, death and destruction which the large scale use of weapons inflict in conflicts of different kinds around the world. One estimate says that 1.000 people on average are killed each day at the hands of forces equipped by the international markets in arms.
The arms trade is replete with hypocrisy and double standards at many levels. When the people in the Arab world began to mobilise en masse against their repressive governments and demanded reforms, freedom and democratic rights, it emerged that these regimes which had been holding entire nations in chains while torturing and killing any who dared to fight for change, were armed to the teeth by western countries which claim to be models of democracy. Thus the combined sales of weapons from Sweden, Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia make the European Union into the biggest supplier to this dictatorship. Saudi Arabia sent troops and tanks to help the regime in Bahrain crush movements for democracy.
In 2011 while the Egyptian government was viciously trying to repress a powerful movement for democratic, social and economic rights, the United States delivered 45 military tanks part of a much larger consignment to come later. it emerged also that US companies were supplying tear gas to the Egyptian government with US government permission, while US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, was calling on that government to use ‘restraint’ in dealing with the opposition. Little wonder then that the US criticism of the Putin government in Russia for arming the criminal regime in Syria carries no moral authority.
As breathtaking is the hypocrisy displayed by the political leaders in Germany and France in the context of the massive debt crisis in Greece and the appalling suffering being inflicted on the Greek working class to bail out the European financial markets system. Over the last decade Greece has been a huge importer of arms, spending a higher proportion of GDP on military expenditure that many other much wealthier countries. Much of these resources have gone to France and Germany for weapons.
While military expenditure has been cut back more recently, as part of the austerity regime, incredibly large amounts of arms are still being imported. it is said that Chancellor Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy, when President of France, put huge pressure on the Greek government to complete lucrative contracts for weapons from their countries while Greek children attend their classrooms suffering from hunger.
With this shameless hypocrisy what hope is there that the United Nations will deliver any kind of treaty that would effectively limit indiscriminate arms sales around the world. The answer is none. The UN is often spoken about as a kind of saintly entity that is raised above the real world of politics and class interests and acts only in the name of humanity. Of course it is the creature of the mostly right wing governments which make it up and its actions are decided by the naked self interest of these governments which act hand in glove with the massively profitable military/industrial complexes in their countries.
What is needed really are massive mobilisations of the ordinary people in both the supplier and recipient countries demanding an end to the trade in weapons of destruction and the transformation of the arms research and manufacturing industry into one that benefits humanity itself and would continue to employ the millions of ordinary workers who currently depend on this dreadful trade for a living.