The arms trade is big business. Some governments spend more on military expenditure than on social development, communications infrastructure and health combined. Every country has the right to defend itself and to trade legitimately in weapons for this purpose, however anyone looking at the conflicts raging throughout the world can see that arms are ending up in the wrong hands. A poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition is fuelling conflict, poverty and human rights abuse.
The USA, Russia, China, France and the UK are among the world’s largest arms traders. Within the EU Germany, Italy, Sweden, Spain and Belgium also trade heavily in armaments. In 2013, the EU accounted for more than a quarter of the global share of arms exports.
Leaving regulation of the arms trade to individual countries has failed. Despite having common EU rules on arms exports we still see European arms ending up in the hands of repressive regimes. Added to this nearly one million of the 7–8 million firearms produced every year are lost or stolen and corruption in the defence industry is estimated to cost $20 billion per year.
While existing national and regional controls are important, they are not enough to stop the irresponsible transfer of arms and ammunition, especially when components can be sourced from across the world and assembled in different countries with little or no control. Labour MEPs believe current events, including Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and the terror threat from returning jihadis means a tight, well-regulated EU arms export policy is essential.
The UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) sets out to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. It took ten years to negotiate and came into effect almost exactly one year ago (December 2014). I was proud to have been the ‘rapporteur’ (lead legislator) on the Treaty for the European Parliament, and drafted the report that saw the Parliament vote in favour of giving parliamentary consent to all 28 EU Member States ratifying the Treaty. It is the first global agreement on the trade in conventional weapons aimed at eradicating the illicit trade of weapons to areas where there is a possibility for genocide or abuse of human rights.
When my Report was passed in the European Parliament I argued that the EU had an important responsibility to try and ensure the Treaty is properly implemented. A year has passed but still we see the unregulated trade in arms having a devastating effect on peace and stability around the world. Proper implementation starts with a coordinated approach to ensure a tight, well-regulated EU arms export policy with stricter risk assessments for granting export deals. Last month (December), exactly a year since the treaty came into existence, Labour MEPs voted in Strasbourg to call on Member States to tighten up EU rules and practices on arms exports. It is time to stop the double standards. Human rights and humanitarian law, not profit, must be at the heart of our policy decisions on arms sales.