The truth about the international Arms Trade Treaty
by Geoffrey Van Orden
We should focus diplomatic efforts on ensuring that countries such as China and Russia are signed up to the highest possible standards, rather than wasting time harmonising European positions that are already very similar and responsible – claims MEP
Over the past six years, following a 2006 United Nations General Assembly resolution, a group of governmental experts has been negotiating an international Arms Trade Treaty. The aim is to complete it at a UN Conference in New York, in July. Of course, the Arms Trade Treaty is just that - a trade treaty and not a disarmament treaty. Over recent years, I have been much involved in the campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines. That was different in that it was about eliminating a certain, very specific weapon - often used indiscriminately and with terrible consequences; mainly by terrorist and insurgent groups.
There were those that constantly sought to widen the scope of the resultant Ottawa Treaty into other fields. So it is important that we be clear about the limited purposes of this Arms Trade Treaty, which would not interfere with the right of a state to decide nationally on its arms export controls in compliance with internationally agreed criteria. We must also ensure that it is not hi-jacked by those with a different agenda.
The United Kingdom has a special interest in these matters - it is Europe's leading arms exporter. It was also one of the co-authors of the UN General Assembly Resolution of December 6, 2006, that called for an internationally agreed arms trade treaty to be drawn up. I am disappointed that, through an amendment, the resolution no longer refers to the important role that defence industries play in terms of national security - and in our economies. Clearly, in discussing such matters we are entering into important and sensitive areas of national sovereignty.
The European Union is constantly on the prowl for ways of extending its competences and trying to establish a 'state-like' presence at international meetings. The European Parliament, in spite of the presence of groups such as the European Conservatives and Reformists and Europe of Freedom and Democracy that oppose European political integration, is largely made up of federalists who work hand in hand with the European Commission and other EU institutions to push for deeper integration.
Almost every resolution of the EP almost inevitably includes some language to this effect. It is no surprise then to find that the parliament's resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty "calls on member states to openly and unequivocally declare their full support to the EU delegation taking part in the negotiations," and curiously "a united, coherent and consistent EU approach is crucial for such a treaty to be adopted and effectively implemented at a global level". It is unclear why this should be so.
Instead, what is actually important is that we put diplomatic effort into ensuring that countries such as China and Russia are signed up to the highest possible standards, rather than wasting effort harmonising European positions that are already very similar and responsible. We need to ensure that attention is focused on abuse. Too often - and I saw this over the Ottawa Treaty negotiations - we in the democracies indulge in debilitating self-flagellation while the real abusers just carry on. Only today, we hear that shipments of helicopter gunships are on their way from Russia to bolster the Assad regime in Syria. This is the sort of abuse that has to stop. It remains to be seen whether what emerges from the UN in July will have this effect.
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP is vice-chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group and Conservative Party spokesman on defence and security
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