The first international treaty regulating the $70 billion global arms trade was approved today in a lopsided vote at the United Nations General Assembly, days after it was delayed by a handful of countries led by Iran.
The treaty was approved by a 154-3 tally, more than two- thirds of the 193-member General Assembly. Iran, Syria and North Korea voted against the pact and 23 countries abstained.
Hammered out after years of negotiations, the agreement seeks to stop cross-border shipments of conventional weapons — from small arms and missile launchers to tanks, warships and attack helicopters — that could enable war crimes, terrorism or human rights violations.
The next step is for member states to sign and ratify it. When at least 50 countries have done so, the treaty will go into force. Iran, North Korea and Syria had temporarily blocked approval at a March 28 meeting in New York, where the accord could have been adopted by unanimous agreement after nine days of negotiations on its final terms.
While the U.S. supported adoption, the treaty faces an uphill fight in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed for ratification. On March 23, senators voted 53-46 for a symbolic measure opposing U.S. participation in the pact. Eight Democrats and all 45 Senate Republicans opposed the treaty.
The National Rifle Association, a gun-rights lobbying group based in Fairfax, Virginia, has fought the UN rules, saying they would impinge on the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, though domestic gun sales were excluded from the proposed treaty.
Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, who led the U.S. delegation to the treaty negotiations, said last week the agreement would reduce worldwide violence by cracking down on black-market arms sales.
The U.S. already has the highest standards in the world for regulating weaponry and the treaty would bring the rest of the world closer to meeting those standards, Countryman said.
After years of discussions about a multilateral international arms sales agreement, it wasn’t until 2009, after President Barack Obama took office, that the U.S. reversed long- standing opposition to a treaty, which would have little impact without endorsement by the largest global arms exporter.
To attract U.S. backing, ammunition, parts and components were left out of the broad scope of the treaty. Instead, countries would be required to “maintain a national control system to regulate” those exports.
The five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council – – China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. — account for about 60 percent of the global arms trade.
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