Good news for arms regulators and for the U.N.: as of the most recent General Assembly, over 20 more governments had signed the body’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Said treaty is an ambitious attempt to regulate “the international tradein conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships,” as explained in the website of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs.
Since the U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter of weapons, much hype and media attention was given toSecretary of State John Kerry, who signed the treaty in the name of the U.S. government. However, it is important to highlight that an increasing number of Latin American and Caribbean nations have also signed this treaty — and some have also ratified it.
The ATT has been open for signing since June 3, and so far, 113 U.N. member states have signed it. Many of these nations come from Latin America or the Caribbean. For example, Brazil signed the treaty on June 3 –an important development considering that Brazil has a growing and vibrant military industry (via Brazilian companies like EMBRAER, which produces the renownedSuper Tucano military aircraft). The governments ofPeru and Colombiasigned the treaty during the UN General Assembly, while the small Caribbean island of Dominica is the newest signatory as it signed on October 1.
However, signing this arms treaty is only half of the job, as 50 U.N. member states have to ratify it before ATT’s provisions can be implemented. According to the U.N., onlyseven nations have so far ratified the ATT: Antigua & Barbuda, Costa Rica, Guyana, Iceland, Mexico, Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago – in other words, a solid majority come from the Americas.
Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Antigua & Barbuda are not known for being military powerhouses. Costa Rica lacksa military(though it does have well-trained police forces) and has shaped its foreign policy and international image to become a continental “champion of the peace.” Mexico, however, is a Latin American military powerhouse, with a robust defense budget and a military which has been used for internal security in the past and it is a significant development that Mexico City has ratified the ATT.
But the treaty evoked some big-name “nays”, as well. The three countries that voted against it are Iran, North Korea, and Syria, with 23 other countries abstaining (tacitly implying that they have some reservations, to put it mildly, about the treaty). And Latin America had some prominent abstentions as well: Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela. These countries have protested the treaty, stating that it aids nations that export weapons (i.e. the U.S., various European states, Russia or China) and that the ATT could be“politically manipulated.”
The acquisition of 113 signatures and seven ratifications in less than six months is a promising start for the ATT, but the ratification of treaties is a slow and potentially divisive process, and we will not see the 50 required ratifications achieved anytime soon. The negotiations of what to put in the ATT took several years, and the result was still not regarded as satisfactory by several nations, best exemplified by the number of abstentions and “no” votes.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting the general support from Latin America and the Caribbean for this treaty. Even more so, given that most Latin American states have growing defense budgets and have been carrying out major military purchases in recent years thanks to a regional economic boom. Recent signatories Peru and Colombia are also carrying out important acquisitions of military hardware, ranging fromColombia’s purchase of drones from Israelto Peru currently testing theRussian T-90S tank(Lima has been trying to select a tank to modernize its tank fleet for years).
It is encouraging to see that nations of the Western Hemisphere recognize the necessity for a global treaty regulating the sale of conventional weapons. While Latin America has not sufferedmajor inter-state wars in over close to a century, the concern that inter-state tensions and random incidents could spark an arms race is alive and well among for Latinamericanists. The ATT, even in its embryonic phase, serves as a potential damper there.