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UN Historic Arms Trade Treaty – Why didn’t this already Exist?

Arms Trade Treaty

For those of you who don’t already know: the UN just passed a milestone arms trade treaty. This treaty bans states from selling weapons to arms-embargoed countries, or to entities that would use them in the intention of genocide or other crimes against humanity.

This sounds great – and it is great – but it brings up a pretty heavy question: why was this allowed so far? The existence of this treaty means that, prior to the ratification of the treaty, countries were allowed to sell weapons to arms-embargoed countries, or countries that would use them for genocide. If you think about it, it’s ridiculous that the UN didn’t already have a rule that it’s members were to not sell weapons to countries that the UN itself embargoed.

While I had always thought something to the effect of this treaty had already existed, I’m not so naive as to have not realized these things already occurred. Where else would rebel groups and countries with underdeveloped militaries (and questionable motivations) be getting such quality weapons.

Mali Coup

A soldier from Mali


This recent event has really sparked an interest in the UN for me. Up until now I thought countries were just doing sneaky stuff that was against the rules of the UN, but in reality they’ve been doing sneaky stuff that they were allowed to do all along. Of course they’re being sneaky to maintain political face, but that’s besides my point.

The UN has a notorious rule in which members of the Security Council can veto any substantive resolution – but just imagine if this was vetoed. It would cause an uproar, and would be equivalent to saying, “Hey, we’re selling weapons unethically and this is inconvenient to us so we don’t want it”. Sounds ridiculous to me (well, I wrote it to sound ridiculous). I guess there’s no point in using a veto when you can just continue to do this stuff in secrecy anyways.

Now, while this treaty did pass with a resounding majority (and 23 abstainers), it would be interesting to take a look at the few – 3 in exact – countries that voted against it: Syria, Iran, an North Korea. Big surprise. I’m going to ignore North Korea; I liken North Korea to a rebellious teenager that must oppose everything that comes their way. Iran’s reason was simple: they claim the treaty is riddled with loopholes.

What’s really interesting here is the issue that Syria brought up – the treaty did not address the arming of non-state entities. Understandably, Syria is worried about the arming of the rebel groups in the Civil War that continues to rage on. Russia has also raised concerns over this, and this all leaves the question: why was a clause addressing non-member states not implemented? This treaty has been through negotiations for ages , meaning this was sure to have come up. It’s likely not present because a country with large political weight was opposed to it – makes you wonder who it was.

In conclusion, I think the signing of this treaty can be described as “better late than never”. I’m wondering  what will be done, if anything at all, regarding the ability to arm non-member states. If you’ve got any ideas feel free to leave them below!