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No treaty will ever control the global arms trade if it fails to address corruption

Written by Tobias Bock on Wednesday, 13 March 2013

There are international treaties to control the sale of goods from dinosaur bones to postage stamps and bananas, but no such treaty to control the trade in weapons worldwide. Why is this needed?

There are international treaties to control the sale of goods from dinosaur bones to postage stamps and bananas but no such treaty to control the trade in weapons worldwide. Why is this needed?

In December 2012, six employees of Finnish defence group Patria were charged with bribery and corporate espionage in connection with a Slovenian defence contract for armoured vehicles. Slovenia’s Prime Minister is also being investigated as part of this case. According to the Finnish Prosecution service the alleged bribes were 10 per cent of the value of the sale, which exceeded 160 million Euros. In September 2012, Slovenia reduced its initial order of 135 vehicles to only 30.

Also in December, an Iraqi MP and member of a committee investigating a planned arms deal with Russia concluded that “There is a major legal breach in the deal, as the quoted price does not meet the real cost of the weapons to be imported”. He pointed out that a second Iraqi delegation that went to Russia “concluded the same deal at a 30% lower cost,” amounting to a difference of more than one billion USD. Other reports confirm that the deal, which would make Russia Iraq’s second-biggest arms supplier after the US, is currently being renegotiated. More recent accounts also claim that the deal for Russian attack helicopters and missiles is back on.

These corruption scandals—which are not of the obvious “dodgy dealer” kind but between governments and using your tax money—could be prevented if a robust Arms Trade Treaty with strong anti-corruption provisions was in place.

Now, the 193 UN member states have a new opportunity to get it right when it comes to regulating the global trade in arms. From March 18 to March 28, they are meeting in New York for the Final Conference on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). States have endorsed a UN resolution to negotiate a legally binding treaty with “the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”. While it is positive that the existing ATT draft text addresses corruption, the current wording needs to be strengthened, and make it part of mandatory risk assessment when governments consider exporting arms, ammunition, or parts and components.

Our Government Defence Anti-corruption Index and Defence Companies Anti-corruption Index show that two-thirds of the largest arms importing governments and half of the biggest arms exporters have weak anti-corruption controls and that companies from all of the ten largest arms exporting nations, who between them are responsible for over 90 per cent of the arms sales around the world, provide insufficient public evidence about how they fight corruption.

This is why we emphasise that an Arms Trade Treaty must have strong anti-corruption mechanisms if it is to be robust and effective. Even if states were to agree an ATT that introduces stronger controls, without strong anti-corruption mechanisms these controls are likely to be undermined by and circumvented through corruption. We are part of the global Control Arms coalition, together with its long-standing partners such as Oxfam and Saferworld. They understand that many of their goals, such as strong human rights standards or sustainable development measures, will simply not be achieved through an ATT if corruption is not addressed.

Support has also come from the private sector, as 21 large institutional investors— collectively representing assets over USD 1.2 trillion, an amount larger than the total volume of the global arms trade—issued a statement supporting the inclusion of anti-corruption mechanisms in an ATT.

In July 2012, the inclusion of anti-corruption in an ATT received support from more than 60 UN member states and international organisations, but consensus was prevented and the negotiations failed. The principle of negotiating by consensus allows any one of the 193 UN member states to prevent agreement. This was the case in July last year. If this happens again, member states need to take a robust and strengthened treaty text to the General Assembly and agree an ATT by majority vote.

It is vital that a robust ATT is agreed upon as soon as possible. It will only be robust if strong anti-corruption controls are included. Otherwise, all the other goals the ATT is trying to achieve will be undermined, and further corrupt arms transfer scandals worth billions of taxpayer’s money will continue hitting the headlines.



Read 11359 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Tobias Bock

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