The Arms Trade Treaty
The Arms Trade Treaty


A global arms treaty has long been debated amongst the United Nations countries, yet many doubted it would actually happen. On April 2, 2013, the UN voted overwhelmingly to create an international arms trade treaty that imposes new limits on the sale of conventional weapons to governments and other armed groups that commit war crimes, genocide or any sort of mass violence (Lynch 2013).

The UN member assembly voted 154-3 to adopt the treaty (out of 193 members). There were 23 abstentions including major arms traders such as China, India, Saudi Arabia and others. While, the treaty does not contain an enforcement mechanism, signatories of the treaty will be expected to create new legislation governing arms trade and national authorities will be held accountable for their enforcement (Lynch 2013).

What the Treaty Will Do

Although almost all international trade in goods is regulated to some extent, there has never been a globally agreed standard for the appropriate and adequate guidelines for arms trade. For the first time, the Arms Trade Treaty will force sellers to take into account how customers will plan to use weapons and in turn, make that information public.

The goal of the treaty is to cut back on the sale of weapons that kill tens of thousands of people every year. It reflects the growing international consensus that the multi-billion dollar weapons trade industry must be held to some sort of moral and humanitarian standard. The treaty hopes to end, or at least greatly diminish, the sale of weapons used for genocide, organized crime and terrorism (MacFarquhar 2013).

Anna MacDonald, head of arms control at Oxfam International, a global movement focused on diminishing injustice and poverty, argued that the Arms Trade Treaty should be deemed a success, despite some of its weaknesses. “This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syrias,” she said. “It will help to reduce armed violence. It will help to reduce conflict” (Taylor 2013).

The Treaty establishes an international forum of states that will review published reports of arms sales and then publicly call out the violators. Even without strict punishments, the Treaty serves as a place for states to discuss the arms trade and recognize and ally against those countries that are consistently violating its agreements (MacFarquhar 2013).

Arguments Against the Treaty

While many countries are thrilled about the outcome of the treaty, others feel it creates an unfair disadvantage to certain countries.

During negotiations, the NRA insisted that the treaty would be another step in weakening 2nd amendment gun rights in the U.S. The pro-gun lobby insists that it will fight the treaty’s ratification in the Senate. “What we really object to is the inclusion of civilian firearms within the scope of the treaty,” said Tom Mason, executive secretary of the NRA. Defendants of the treaty claim it has nothing to do with civilian firearms, and this is just an invention of gun lobbyists in their protests (Villarreal 2013).

In response to the claims of NRA officials, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment” (Charbonneau 2013).

The agreement came only days after Syria, Iran and North Korea blocked an attempt to adopt the treaty by consensus. These countries, which are most likely to be affected by the new measures, believe that the treaty is extremely unfair to them. Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari claims that the Syrian government opposes the treaty because it does not block arms trades to non-state actors and terrorists who continue to prolong the Civil War (Charbonneau 2013). These complaints are certainly valid; the challenge is defining “terrorists.” Who has the right to make that call, while Syria might consider the rebels terrorists, others might disagree with that label. Balancing sovereignty vs. multi-lateral actions is clearly a major issue for critics of the agreement.

Amnesty International’s Frank Januzzi said, “Iran, Syria and North Korea blocked consensus at the U.N., while the NRA cynically, and ultimately unsuccessfully, tried to erode the U.S. government’s support through a campaign of lies about the treaty” (Charbonneau 2013).

Implications for the United States

The United States is one of the biggest supporters and pushers of the Arms Trade Treaty. While the Arms Trade Treaty may have some significant impact on other countries, not much will change here in the United States. The Treaty is completely in line with United States’ foreign policy goals, moral standards and business interests. Many are blinded by the myth that this treaty is secretly a “domestic gun control” treaty, with hidden regulations infringing upon the Second Amendment. The truth is that the Arms Trade Treaty will in fact impose nothing new on the United States or American companies. This is because arms manufactures already comply with such a system of regulations, so nothing really needs to be changed at home (Stohl 2013).

The passing of this treaty in the UN is just the first step. There will undoubtedly be continuous discussion as it reaches Congress and other countries protest its passing. However, perhaps this first is one of the biggest steps of all. With all the differences occurring between the UN member countries, the Arms Trade Treaty represents the implementation of a moral standard that the world holds itself to. The countries of the UN are working together to help stop violence and cooperating in finding a mechanism to do so. This, alone, says a lot about the future of our world.

Works Cited

Charbonneau, Louis. (2013, April 2). U.N overwhelmingly approves Global Arms Trade Treaty. Reuters. Retrieved from:

Lynch, Colum. (2013, April 2). U.N approves Global Arms Treaty. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

MacFarquhar, Neil. (2013, April 2). U.N. Treaty is first aimed at regulating global arms sales. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Stohl, Rachel. (2013, April 11) Tell the truth about the Arms Treaty. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Taylor, Jerome. (2013, April 3). UN approves Global Arms Trade Treaty – but how effective will it be? The Independent. Retrieved from:–but-how-effective-will-it-be-8558664.html

Villarreal, Ryan. (2013, March 22). Hands off our guns! NRA blasts UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. International Business Times. Retrieved from:

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