Syria casts shadow over arms trade talks

2012-07-02 07:43

New York - Delegates from around the world gather in New York on Monday for the start of month-long UN-hosted negotiations to hammer out the first-ever binding treaty to regulate the global weapons market, valued at more than $60bn a year.

Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies as a result of armed violence around the world and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fuelling wars and atrocities.

Most UN member states favour a strong treaty.

If they get their way, all signatories would be charged with enforcing compliance to any treaty by companies that produce arms and with taking steps to prevent rogue dealers from operating within their borders.

They say conflicts in Syria and elsewhere cast a shadow over the talks, reminding delegates of the urgency of the situation.

"In Syria, Sudan and the Great Lakes of Africa, the world is now once again bearing witness to the horrific human cost of the reckless and overly secret arms trade," said Brian Wood, international arms control and human rights manager at Amnesty International.

Unanimous approval needed

"Why should millions more people be killed and lives devastated before leaders wake up and take decisive action to properly control international arms transfers?" he said.

There is no guarantee the 2-27 July negotiations will produce a treaty, let alone a good one. In February, preparatory talks on the ground rules for this month's talks nearly collapsed due to procedural wrangling and other disagreements.

In the end, the United States and other countries succeeded in ensuring the treaty must be approved unanimously, so any one country can effectively veto a deal.

But the treaty may not be doomed if that happens. Wood said nations that support a strong pact could bring a treaty to the 193-nation UN General Assembly and adopt it with a two-thirds majority vote if there is no consensus in July.

There are deep divisions on key issues to be tackled in the treaty negotiations, such as whether human rights should be a mandatory criterion for determining whether governments should permit weapons exports to specific countries.

Arms control advocates say a strong treaty is long overdue.

Russia's supply to Syria

"It is an absurd and deadly reality that there are currently global rules governing the trade of fruit and dinosaur bones, but not ones for the trade of guns and tanks," said Jeff Abramson, director of Control Arms.

Abramson, Amnesty's Wood and Anna Macdonald of Oxfam spoke with reporters on Friday about the negotiations.

Much of the discussion revolved around Russia's arms supplies to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's 16-month assault on an increasingly militarised opposition has killed over 10 000 people. Russia is Assad's top arms supplier.

Wood said Russia is not the only culprit in Syria, one of many conflicts fed by unregulated arms deliveries. Western nations have also helped Assad. There are tanks on Syrian streets, Wood said, that come from Slovakia, upgraded by Italy.

Oxfam's Macdonald said: "From Congo to Libya, from Syria to Mali, all have suffered from the unregulated trade in weapons and ammunition allowing those conflicts to cause immeasurable suffering and go on far too long. In the next few weeks, diplomats will either change the world - or fail the world."

One senior Western diplomat said the Syrian conflict has led to a "polarisation" within the arms trade talks, with Russia becoming increasingly defensive about arms supplies to its ally Damascus that it says have nothing to do with the conflict.

Risk assessments

The campaigners outlined what they want to see in the treaty. Governments should be required to regulate the sale and transfer of all weapons, arms, munitions and equipment used in military and domestic security activities, ranging from armoured vehicles, missiles and aircraft to small arms and ammunition.

Governments should also be required to make risk assessments before authorising arms sales, make public all authorisations and deliveries and track their use. Trading without permission or diverting arms should be made a crime, they said.

One of the reasons this month's negotiations are taking place is that the United States, the world's biggest arms trader accounting for over 40% of global conventional arms transfers, reversed US policy on the issue after Barack Obama became president and decided in 2009 to support a treaty.

But US officials say Washington insisted in February on having the ability to "veto a weak treaty" during this month's talks, if necessary. It also seeks to protect US domestic rights to bear arms - a sensitive issue in the United States.

The other five top arms suppliers are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Wood, Macdonald and Abramson said some of the top arms trading countries have been joining other nations in an attempt to weaken the treaty. They said the United States, China, Syria and Egypt were pushing to exclude ammunition.

China, they added, wants to exempt small arms, while several Middle East states oppose making compliance with human rights norms a mandatory criterion for allowing arms deliveries.

  • Richard - 2012-07-02 08:29

    We always hear about Russian weapons supply to the government of Syria... what about the supplies that the US and its puppet states in the region are supplying to the rebels? Russia is transparently fulfilling legally binding contracts signed long before the rebellion... the world knows exactly what and to whom Russia is transferring weapons to ... the world will know exactly how and on whom those weapons will be used on. As for the US and its secretive transfer of arms to shadowy armed gangs in Syria... the world does not know what weapons and to whom the transfers are being made... the world does not know when and at whom the weapons are being used... all the world knows is that hundreds are dying in Syria and a disturbing number of so-called journalists are trying to convince it that all the killing is being done by Russian supplied weapons.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 15:33

      The US is not supplying arms to the opposition. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are. The US is monitoring these supplies, to make sure they get into the right hands. Some Al-Quaida elements are now active in Syria. Journalists don't need to convince anyone about Russian supplies to the Syrian army. It's an open fact. Add to this the Iranian regime's open assistance to Assad, plus the fact that Assad has control of that military, the opposition is at a massive disadvantage. You're also downplaying the number of people dying. It's thousands, more than 15,000 actually. Why you would want to do this, and play out your dumb anti-US obsession while Syrians are being slaughtered by an illegitimate, unelected dictator is deeply worrying. Assad himself has told you he's the bloody surgeon of Syria. And Kofi Annan has said Assad is not complying with the peace-plan and is committing atrocities across Syria.

      Richard - 2012-07-02 18:43

      Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are US stooges. The US is playing safe. It does not have the conviction of Russia on the moral and legal rightness of its position and wishes to have deniability should their plot against Syria go wrong. Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have no credibility to lose but have much to gain from cultivating the favour of the US and sections of the EU. The US is in to its neck in this.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 19:18

      Sad that you support the arming of the unelected dictator of Syria by Russia.

  • Richard - 2012-07-02 08:48

    And why is it that the report claims that it is Syria which is casting a shadow over the trade talks when it is clear from reading it that it is actually the US and its Arab client states that are throwing spanners into the works? It is clearly stated that the US, which is the world's greatest weapons supplier, is blocking the treaty because it wants it and its clients to be exempted from it. Like in the case of the ICC the US wants to be exempted from a treaty and at the same time enjoy using its provisions against countries that refuse to kowtow to its whims.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 15:35

      The Syrian port city of Tartus hosts a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance base, under a 1971 agreement with Syria. The base was established during the Cold War to support the Soviet Navy's fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. Since Russia forgave Syria of three-fourths, or $9.8 billion, of its $13.4 billion Soviet-era debt and became its main arms supplier, Russia and Syria have conducted talks about allowing Russia to develop and enlarge its naval base, so that Russia can strengthen its naval presence in the Mediterranean. Amid Russia's deteriorating relations with the West, because of the 2008 South Ossetia War? and plans to deploy a US missile defense shield in Poland, President Assad agreed to the port’s conversion into a permanent Middle East base for Russia’s nuclear-armed warships. Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the Tartus naval base and dredging the port to allow access for its larger naval vessels.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 15:35

      Syria for the past few years has reached out to Russia to obtain modern weapons that included many modern anti-tank and anti-air missile systems that will further improve its combat capabilities. In 2008, Syria agreed to purchase MiG-29SMT fighters, Pantsir S1E air-defense systems, Iskander tactical missile systems, Yak-130 aircraft, and two Amur-1650 submarines from Russia. Russia's foreign minister said his country's sale of weapons to Syria would not upset the balance of power in the Middle East. The sales he stated are "in line with the international law" and "in the interests of strengthening stability and maintaining security" in regions close to Russian borders, Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to the United Nations in New York.[7] As of 2011, Syria's arms contracts with Russia were worth at least $4 billion.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 15:36


      Richard - 2012-07-02 19:20

      My point exactly, Fraser. Russia is supplying the government of Syria with arms in a transparent and legal manner under fully disclosed contracts. Russia is confident that these weapons are not going to be used against unarmed civilians and is willing to stake its reputation on that. You cannot, however, say the same for the US and its lackeys. There is absolutely no disclosure on the nature of the arms they are supplying to the rebels. Infact, the US has absolutely no trust in the rebels that they are not willing to stake their reputation and are hiding behind their Arab puppets. Most people would not recognise this, given the hold western media has these days, but Russia has always armed the right side historically. In Africa, the Russians have armed Frelimo, ZIPRA, SWAPO, and Umkonto Wesizwe while the US has armed Renamo, Unita and Apartheid South Africa. The Russians defended a secular socialist government in Afghanistan in the eighties while the USA armed the Mujjaheden later to evolve into the Taliban and Al queda. Up to now there is no country in the world that truly owes its independence and democracy to the US. In Southern Africa, Russia and its ally Cuba are regarded with warmth in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia while the US can only count on little confused Botswana. Regardless of all those Hollywood movies it is the Red Army that saved the world from the NAZIs. Despite the partisan demonisation of the Western Press, Russia is not a pariah .. it has always stood with justice and truth throughout its modern history.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 19:49

      Talk about living in the past, distorting reality and unwittingly supporting oppression.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-02 20:44

      Richard, ""In Southern Africa, Russia and its ally Cuba are regarded with warmth in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia while the US can only count on little confused Botswana. Regardless of all those Hollywood movies it is the Red Army that....."" Where the heck do you get this CRAP from ?? You live in a silly little world that radicals and extremists have created for themselves, far away from the real world !! Yes, the Russians SOLD weapons to various liberation movements, but does that mean they give a damn about Africa ??? Maybe in your silly dream world. There is no doubt that the Russians cannot stand Africans , and listening to Black African students in Moscow , the Russians are the biggest racists in the world. But more important, the Russians have NEVER EVER invested one roebel in Africa, and have NEVER EVER created ONE JOB in Africa. In contrast the Americans and Europeans have invested Billions of US and Euros in Africa, and created directly tens of thousands of jobs, and indirectly hundred of thousands. Maybe you don't know, but you cannot eat bullets !!! But carry on entertaining your radical friends, thats all you extremists are good at !!!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-02 20:47

      @Richard "Regardless of all those Hollywood movies it is the Red Army that saved the world from the NAZIs." The west made movies, but the real fightIing was done by the Red Army.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-02 21:33

      Fidel, And history ? What a waste of time, this has been, as you make up your own!!!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-02 22:03

      Not that it has anything to do with the current topic, but it was the Russian weather that defeated the Nazis.

      Richard - 2012-07-02 22:34

      These are historical facts, Fraser. You can google them the same way you did with the information on Russian military sales to the government of Syria. The US has always been historically in the bad guys' corner and they have never won in the long term because all of their interventions have always been based on lies and deception. Ask the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya whether they are better off now than before they were liberated by the glorious US of A.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-03 00:08

      You're on the dark side of humanity, upside down on the facts, another bellwether for wrong-thinking.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-03 08:21

      Africans never asked their oppressors(Europeans) for employment, we asked for our continent back and Moscow helped us with that.

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