Momentum building for an arms trade treaty

A recent survey, conducted in countries that together represent just over half the world's population, found strong public support for a strengthened United Nations, including strong majority support for a standing UN peacekeeping force, UN regulation of the international arms trade, and UN authority to investigate human rights violations.

The survey was conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.Org, in cooperation with polling organizations in the countries surveyed,[i] and its findings of significant public support for UN regulation of the international arms trade has particular relevance for current efforts at the UN to negotiate an international arms trade treaty.[ii]

Last fall the General Assembly passed a resolution directing the Secretary-General to survey and report on the views of member states on such a treaty, and mandated an experts group to study "the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms."[iii]

The survey of member states will soon be completed and Canada has already submitted its views, welcoming a "single comprehensive universal instrument guiding the trade in conventional weapons."[iv] Canada 's submission focused on the parallel rights and obligations of states:

"Existing treaty obligations and customary international law includes the right of states to meet their own defence and security needs, and needs relating to their participation in international peace support operations, both through domestic production and through the responsible importing of arms. The export of arms to help other nations meet their defence and security needs is also valid in Canada 's view.

"Against this, however, are countervailing considerations that need to be addressed. These include the need to prohibit arms transfers that breach international sanctions regimes, exacerbate and prolong conflicts, destabilize countries, allow arms to flow from the legitimate to illicit markets, support terrorism, undermine sustainable development and in the commission of serious human rights abuses.

The survey results are welcome news for those promoting the arms trade treaty. Readily available arms are the most obvious means by which political conflict is transformed into war. The ongoing flow of arms encourages communities and governments already at war to resist compromise in negotiations and to press instead for redoubled efforts to win a military victory.

[i] The complete report is available from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at

[ii] See earlier commentary on "New Action to Control the Arms Trade," newactio.

[iii] General Assembly Resolution A/Res/61/89, December 18, 2006.

[iv] Canadian Submission on the Arms Trade Treaty (resolution 61/89).

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