Europe needs 'bold ambition' to secure arms trade treaty
by Natalia Alonso
The globalised nature of the arms trade means a UN treaty being negotiated next month could be ground-breaking – and millions of people trapped in conflict are looking to Europe to lead the way in the talks, says Oxfam International
For too long the poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition has fuelled conflict, poverty and human rights abuses. Every day, we see the devastating consequences of irresponsible arms transfers in conflicts where Europe is investing much in trying to find a solution, such as Syria, Sudan and Congo.
The good news is that world leaders will negotiate next month in New York the United Nations arms trade treaty – a potentially ground-breaking humanitarian agreement to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. Since European Union countries account for about 30 per cent of all arms exports and are among the world's leading arms manufacturers, Europe should step up as a leader in the talks. When they meet next week in Brussels, EU foreign ministers must ensure that Europe goes to the negotiation table with the highest ambition.
Globally, armed violence kills over 2,000 people every day. Shockingly, we have the most strict rules on all sorts of products from cucumbers to iPods, but no global rules for trading tanks, machine guns and bullets which cost lives. While existing national and regional controls of the arms trade are important, the increasingly globalised nature of the industry requires an international deal to prevent unscrupulous governments and arms dealers from exploiting gaps and legal loopholes in order to trade. When these arms end up in the wrong hands, a profit for the dealer comes at the expense of thousands of innocent lives. Strikingly, armed conflicts are estimated to have cost Africa $18bn a year – about the same as global aid to the continent.
The European Parliament recently voted in favour of a resolution that sent a strong signal to the rest of the world that bold ambition is needed to stop the trade flows of arms going into the wrong hands. However, MEPs failed to propose legally-binding criteria for the future global deal to make sure that every single arms transfer does not have a negative impact on the socio-economic development of the recipient country. They clearly missed the opportunity to highlight what EU governments had already considered for many years.
It is now up to EU foreign ministers to remind global leaders that Europe is in favour of an arms trade treaty by which all arms transfers guarantee socio-economic development, prevent corruption, and preserve regional peace and stability. Europe has actually been at the forefront of regional arms transfers control mechanisms and should be proud of what it has accomplished so far. Millions of people trapped in conflicts across the world are looking to Europe. The EU must not let them down by compromising on weaker international norms than the ones it has set for itself. The world needs a global arms deal that helps save lives, prevent human rights abuses, and protect the livelihoods of women, men and children.
Natalia Alonso is head of Oxfam International's EU office in Brussels