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Alistair Burt MP: A significant moment, as the UN passes a Resolution to deliver an Arms Trade Treaty

AbAlistair Burt is Member of Parliament for North East Bedfordshire and Minister for Counter Proliferation at the Foreign Office.

Within the last couple of hours, the UN has overwhelmingly adopted a Resolution bringing into effect an Arms Trade Treaty. It is a significant moment which deserves note.

Every minute of the day someone, somewhere – usually a civilian – is killed by some form of arms or munitions, the trade in which has been less regulated than that of bananas.

Since 2006, when the UK co-authored the first UN General Assembly resolution on the issue, we have been heavily engaged in trying to do something about it. It has not been easy. There are many varied interests, including those which are wholly legitimate. States have a need for self-defence, and to deter aggression. A defence industry is necessary for providing such nations with the means to protect themselves, but we also need to prevent the passage of arms to those who would use them for illicit purposes. Finding a way to pull together all these interests, and obtain something worthwhile at the end, has required the highest diplomatic skill – and our representatives have delivered.

After the election of 2010, the present Government determined to carry through the initial efforts to conclusion, and a range of ministers have been actively engaged. The UK has a long had some of the strongest arms control legislation and practice in the world. With that, and working closely with representatives of industry and also NGOs, who campaigned with a passion for many years prior to 2006, the UK has produced a remarkably effective lobby at many different levels. Despite setbacks and disappointments, it finally achieved its goal this afternoon.

For the first time, we have a legally binding set of global commitments on national arms export controls. The treaty will require national governments to assess all arms exports against criteria including human rights and to deny an export if it poses unacceptable risks. Authorisation of exports will be reported, and arms brokering regulated. The legitimate trade in arms will be protected and international collaboration promoted through the introduction of common international standards.

This treaty will not solve everything. It sets a floor not a ceiling, and some major exporters and importers will still have work to do to abide by its provisions. But it makes the world just that little bit safer – and that's something worth noting tonight.


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