Firm regulations needed for arms trade

by Yumi Kanazaki, Editorial Writer

A number of Japanese expatriates lost their lives in the hostage crisis in Algeria. Watching newsreel footage of the incident, I was shocked to see how heavily armed the terrorists were, with machine guns, mortars, and rocket launchers. These weapons are believed to have arrived in their hands from Libya during the chaos that followed the collapse of the Gaddafi regime.

Looking more broadly at the world, an estimated 500,000 people are killed with weapons each year in conflicts and violent incidents. The influx of arms fuels these conflicts, and the survivors face becoming refugees. Such conditions also serve as a hotbed for the breeding of child soldiers in Africa and other parts of the world.

This state of affairs poses serious humanitarian concerns. While the people of Hiroshima have been active in their appeals for the elimination of nuclear weapons, we should demonstrate more concern over conventional weapons. Measures of some kind must be taken to prevent weapons from flowing across national borders into the hands of terrorist groups and leaders who make use of these arms to suppress their own people.

Today, though, there is almost a complete lack of legally-binding rules governing international trade when it comes to conventional weapons like guns, bombs, and tanks.

The lack of regulation spurred international NGOs to spearhead a movement seeking to put new rules in place, which resulted in the start of negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations last year. How these negotiations unfold from here will now be watched closely. After breaking down in July of last year, the talks will resume on March 18 for the final round of discussion.

Along with issues involving nuclear weapons, the Arms Trade Treaty was on the agenda last week at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues, held in the city of Shizuoka. Diplomats, experts, and journalists exchanged their views at this international conference sponsored by the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and Pacific.

While there were calls for enacting the treaty, concerns were also raised that the final negotiations will produce further compromises.

Complicating the negotiations for the Arms Trade Treaty is the “unaminity rule,” whereby unanimous agreement must be reached. Although an overwhelming majority backs the treaty, how the final talks turn out cannot be predicted. With this situation in mind, an assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia stressed that the success of the talks will depend on the degree to which the nations adopt a positive approach.

During the negotiations that took place last July, countries such as Iran, Egypt, and North Korea expressed strong opposition to the treaty. The United States, responsible for approximately 40 percent of the world’s total arms exports, raised objections to toughening regulations on ammunition, which is a vital provision of the pact. As a result of this pushback, the definitions of weapons that are subject to regulation were made increasingly vague. Even so, on the last day, the United States blocked the treaty’s adoption, and the negotiations broke down.

If all the parties agree, the treaty will gain more signatories. But if the agreement is riddled with loopholes, it will lack any significance. Some people predict that the negotiations will collapse again and that talks will be held at a general meeting of the U.N., then settled by a majority vote.

Some aspects of the Arms Trade Treaty may be hard to realize. One of the participants in the U.N. disarmament conference, Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, pointed out that many of the weapons which move through legal transactions end up in the hands of a third person or country, where they are used illegally. This has implications for Japan, as well, which exports sporting guns, hunting guns, and gun parts. Because of this dilemma, nations promoting the treaty are not in monolithic unity. While nations, including Norway, argue for strict regulations, Japan is considered a country willing to make compromises.

The Japanese government has decided to ease the nation’s three principles covering arms exports to allow the export of parts for the next-generation F-35 fighters. Measures must be taken, though, to prevent Japanese products and technology from ultimately being abused in conflicts.

Some international NGOs are critical of the draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, contending that it is already a product of compromise. The role of citizens has become increasingly important in urging all nations to take part in the talks in good faith and in calling for stronger regulations involving the arms trade.

How can Hiroshima contribute to this aim? Hiroshima has extensive experience in international cooperation through Mayors for Peace and the dissemination of A-bomb accounts, among other efforts. With the issue of conventional weapons in mind, we should begin pondering a call for lasting peace in the world.

(Originally published on February 7, 2013)