An unusual combination of forces including Iran, North Korea, Syria and even the National Rifle Association succeeded last week in stifling a proposed United Nations treaty seeking to monitor and furnish the world more information about the international arms trade.
Years of discussion of such a treaty have been driven by the many conflicts around the world made worse in terms of human carnage by the uncontrolled, unmonitored global trade in weapons. The commerce amounts to more than $70 billion annually. This year's illustration of what has been occurring is the civil war in Syria, which has produced not only the deaths of an estimated 70,000 but also the displacement as refugees of perhaps a million people.
The United States is the largest arms exporter, at $66 billion in 2011, a figure it makes public. The treaty would have covered conventional weapons from AK-47s to tanks. Biological, chemical and nuclear weapons are dealt with in other treaties. The price paid in human rights terms is incalculable. It was thought that requiring reports on the trade, along with monitoring, could reduce some of the worst aspects of it.
Broadbased support was sought by the treaty's supporters at the United Nations. Other major arms exporters such as China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom favor the accord. The United States' position, under strong pressure from the National Rifle Association and the U.S. arms industry, was one of only qualified support, which was achieved by the treaty's sponsors by putting loopholes in the agreement. The NRA planned, if it were approved, to prevent ratification by the U.S. Senate through the use of campaign contributions and other lobbying tools.
In the event, its pressure was not necessary since consensus at the United Nations was blocked by the opposition of Iran, North Korea and Syria, unusual partners for the NRA.