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The Arms Trade Treaty’s doubters

The Arms Trade Treaty’s doubters

Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the National Rifle Association are grabbing all the headlines for opposing an Arms Trade Treaty that is designed to prohibit the delivery of weapons to countries accused of committing gross human rights violations or subject to an international arms embargo.

But they are not the only ones with misgivings about a new global arms trade treaty. In all, 23 governments cast abstentions, a gesture designed to show discomfort, if not open hostility, to the new arms accord. It would have been 24, but Venezuela, which has not paid its U.N. arrears, is barred from voting in the U.N. General Assembly.

China and Russia, two of the world largest arms exporters, abstained. Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, registered his disapproval by noting that while the draft had some "positive elements" it also suffered from " a number of other shortcomings." Chief among them: the lack of an explicit prohibition on the supply of weapons to non-state actors that would, for example, restrain the ability of Syria’s armed opposition from building up its stockpile.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the opposition to the treaty, not only by Syria, Iran, and North Korea, but also by Russia, was politically motivated. "It’s no surprise these countries are not supporting the treaty. There is no surprise that Russia expressed qualms about this. Bashar al-Assad‘s regime is depending on Russian and Iranian military aid and that assistance would be prohibited if this treaty were in force today."

But those arming the Syrian opposition were no happier with the arms treaty than Russia. 

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Persian Gulf powers reported to be arming the Syrian opposition, were among the 23 U.N. members who cast abstentions on the vote for the landmark treaty in the U.N. General Assembly. Others included their Persian Gulf allies, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen. The United Arab Emirates was alone in the region voting in favor of the new arms pact.

India, a major arms importer, had complained before today’s vote that the draft treaty was "tilted" in favor of the world’s leading arms exporters. That was after New Delhi extracted a concession that explicitly guaranteed that the treaty would have no impact on defense cooperation agreements between governments. But during today’s General Assembly meeting, India’s chief negotiator, Sujata Mehta, said the text "falls short of our expectations." Among its shortcoming, he said, it "is weak on terrorism and non-state actors."

While support for the treaty was widespread in Latin America and Africa, there were notable pockets of resistance. Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua — countries that frequently vote against the United States and its allies — cast abstentions. A Bolivian diplomat denounced the treaty as the product of a "death industry" that cares more about "profit" than "human suffering.

In Africa, where support for the treaty was strongest, a handful of countries — Angola, Egypt, Sudan, and Swaziland — cast abstentions.  There were reports, however, that Angola supported the treaty but accidentally hit the "abstain" button during the vote.

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