- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

GENEVA Washington Times special correspondent John Zarocostas interviewed John Stewart Duncan, Britain’s ambassador for arms control and disarmament and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, here recently about efforts to rally support for United Nations talks on a global Arms Trade Treaty to regulate exports, imports and transfers of conventional weapons.

Question: The United Kingdom is one of the proponents of an initiative to begin negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on conventional weapons. What’s the thrust of this idea?

Answer: Well, the history of an ATT goes way back to the 1930s, so, the idea has been around a long time. The question is why we have decided to put our support behind this process, and it comes from a variety of different perspectives. Clearly, there are problems in terms of arms trade. There’s certainly no architecture internationally in the same way as there is for weapons of mass destruction. Conventional weapons have a whole series of different arrangements, but nothing that’s global. And in an increasingly global marketplace, that does not seem to us to be the right way forward. The effects of a lack of proper controls of the arms trade are abuse of human rights, exacerbation of conflicts, and we think that something ought to be done about it.

Q: In December, 153 countries indicated they supported this idea, 24 abstained [including China and Russia] and one country the United States opposed it in a vote of the U.N. General Assembly. Are you hopeful that you can get the skeptics on board?

A: Yes, we have started a process — we are at the beginning of a process — the secretary-general has asked states to give their views on the feasibility of an arms-trade treaty, its scope, what it should cover, and what parameters should be in the treaty itself, and we hope that everyone will respond to that.

We are actually engaged in quite detailed discussions with the various major arms producers in the agnostic camp, but also with the United States, which probably has the gold standard of export controls. But the question is not changing U.S. export controls, but bringing everybody else up to a standard which we can feel confident in.

Q: This issue also brings in the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), an area that has been kept at arm’s length largely from national-security criteria, with a lot of the human rights reviews and inquiries that we have seen in other industrial areas. Is this a path-breaking initiative here?

A: I think it is. It’s interesting that many people have commented that the United Kingdom is one of the co-authors of this initiative.

France, Spain, Germany, other major producers of weapon systems and weapons have joined in and are among the co-sponsors of the resolution of the U.N. Why is that? We’re not going to stop being arms manufacturers, but what we want is a responsible arms trade, and it is very clear from our discussions that the U.K. industry also wants to be responsible.

So, as you say, CSR is something which not only applies to the lumber and coffee industries — it applies to all parts of industry, and their ability to leverage finance for future investment cannot be solely dependent on government financing. They’re beginning to realize there’s something in it for them.

The submission of the U.K.’s response to the U.N. secretary-general’s request for views was worked up together with U.K. industry. So, they’re very much part of the process, and see positive benefit for themselves. …

Q: What are some of the “must not do’s” that an executive or a government would have to adhere if this treaty materializes?

A: Well, these things would have to be discussed in meetings that will take place in January 2008. But generally, the resolution talks about human rights and sustainable development, the U.N. arms embargoes. Terrorist acts, for example, we think might fall into it — commissioning violent crimes. There are a whole series of issues touched upon in the resolution setting the framework of the sort of issues we want to talk about.

Sustainable development is a particularly interesting one. Even such large countries as China and Russia are beginning to realize that it might be better in the long term to be able to sell more sophisticated weaponry, rather than to flood a country with low-cost weaponry which then leads to the market being destabilized.

I’m not suggesting they do that, but they do see the problem and the importance of having responsible arms trade so one can actually be sustaining economies rather than undermining them.

Q: The United States has one of the toughest arms-export control regimes. What is your response that they think by signing on to something like an ATT, it’s a sort of lowest common denominator. In other words, they don’t want to see trickle down to a lower standard, but want a higher standard. Can they have both? Be part of an ATT and have a U.N. plus?

A: I’m here not to answer for the U.S., but our view is yes: We do need both. We need global standards, and we need high standards. As I said earlier, the U.S. probably has the gold-plated standard. Many countries might not be able to gear up to that level — in terms not of their willingness but their capacity to come up to such a level. And we believe that we can start now establishing global standards which are clear, easily understood and continue the capacity building which allows countries [that] are now becoming part of the supply chain for all industries, including the arms trade — and allow them to raise their standards.

Yes, indeed, the U.S. perhaps considers that standard may not high enough, but let’s get into the debate and see if we can get a standard that suits everybody.

Q: This is a multibillion-dollar industry worth annually between $300 billion and $400 billion, yet it’s outside the normal global trade rules, and some observers have suggested it’s not subject to the same stringent guidelines that concern subsidies and export credits for other merchandise trade. Is there a possibility some disciplines on these might be envisaged in such a negotiations?

A: It’s clearly something that has to be discussed. If one looks at the EU context, the EU has some exemptions to some of its directives for matters of national security. But that has not prevented the EU from coming up with its code of conduct, which governs the export of weapons and arms from EU countries. And although we’re not suggesting that what we want is an EU code worldwide, the model of having discrete measures for creating a responsible arms trade is not incompatible with having separate series of measures for governing general trade.

It is a specific part of the trade environment, and we believe something needs to be done urgently — better regulation — and that would mean a better and more responsible trade.

Q: Would that also mean “a level playing field” in terms that some competitors don’t have the edge by undercutting others in the market through subsidized schemes or dumping?

A: Well, this is something for discussion, but clearly the problem of dumping in terms of the arms trade is very serious indeed.

It can cause, as I said earlier, real destabilizing of economies, but it’s an issue which we need to discuss — level playing fields. The lack of arrangements to ensure level playing fields is something quite a lot of countries feel aggrieved about. But we’re harnessing something that can have a positive outcome.

Q: Such a treaty would allow a country to bear arms for self-defense and national security. It is not a treaty to ban the trade or the arms nations can hold, correct?

A: Absolutely right. The U.N. Charter allows the right to self-defense. It’s not about banning the arms trade; it’s about establishing a responsible arms trade. It is certainly not about private ownership. We don’t see this as something that will govern how states decide on their national regulations on covering how people should bear arms. It’s about the arms trade between states.

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