Scant progress in UN arms talks
16 July 2012, 13:10
Geneva - Talks among UN member states on a
conventional arms treaty are halfway through but little progress has
been made, prompting fears that a deal will not be reached by the 27
The month-long session was delayed for a day due
to a flap over Palestinian participation - delegates joined the
negotiations as observers in the end. Progress has since been slowed by
what diplomats call the "sceptic states".
These countries -
Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and Syria, among others - want
any eventual treaty to be limited to the fight against arms trafficking,
diplomats and activist groups say.
Western and African nations
meanwhile want a more sweeping treaty to regulate the conventional
weapons trade, which experts estimate to be worth more than $70bn a
Under such a scheme, each country would be asked to
determine if arms sold were at risk of being used to commit human rights
violations, to destabilise a government or aggravate a regional
"We're at the halfway point and in 15 days, practically nothing has been done," said Aymeric Elluin, a campaigner for Amnesty International focused on arms issues.
the moment, there is no agreement on anything, including on what should
and should not be in the treaty - munitions, technology transfers,
spare parts, light arms, et cetera."
The United States - which
produces six billion bullets a year - wants to exclude munitions from
the treaty, while China doesn't want it to cover small arms, which it
exports en masse to developing countries.
Experts however say
Beijing could give ground in order to assuage its allies in Africa,
where such weapons are used in rebellions and civil wars.
nations meanwhile have been pushing for a wide-ranging, binding treaty,
while South Korea does not want to hinder technology transfers.
Nicolas Vercken said he believed that pressure to reach a deal would
mount, as "there is not one country - even Iran and North Korea - that
is ready to bear the political responsibility of making these talks
But as the UN member states must reach a decision by
consensus, any of the 193 countries involved could upend the
negotiations. Once the treaty is concluded, a sufficient number of
countries must sign and ratify it.
One Western diplomat put the chances of success at 60%.
talks have just begun. They are moving forward slowly and with
difficulty," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. Negotiations
are split between two committees focusing on the key contentious points.
of the main players have not even joined the talks yet. China's chief
negotiators will only arrive at UN headquarters in New York in a few
days, and Russia's top negotiator will only attend the final week of
"Many countries are not unhappy about letting Egypt or
Algeria do the dirty work," said Elluin, adding that the treaty should
be "a short text, spelling out major principles".
In the meantime, observers are looking at all possible outcomes - from a mixed success to total catastrophe.
diplomat said the conference could produce a text that has the backing
of a large number of countries, with the exception of the so-called
"sceptic states" like Iran and North Korea.
The UN General Assembly could then take up the text at its annual meeting in September and put it up for signature.
the wheelings and dealings are not over yet. The issue of Palestinian
participation could be raised again, as they were looking to fully take
part in the negotiations.
"It's a sword of Damocles," said
Oxfam's Vercken, adding that Israel and the United States could walk out
of the talks if the "sceptics" push them on the Palestinian issue.
diplomat also said the issue could throw a spanner in the works,
despite a pledge by the Palestinians not to disrupt the negotiations.
leader Ban Ki-moon has demanded strict standards for arms exports and
national legislation, though he acknowledged that "the global arms trade
touches on core national interests".
The United States is by far
the world's biggest arms trader, accounting for more than 40% of
conventional weapons sales. Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia