International Media and the Arms Trade Treaty

22 Mar

The final round of the arms trade treaty negotiations (18-28 March 2013) has been attracting global attention, expressed by numerous press outlets worldwide, mainstream as well as alternative, signaling a growing and strengthening awareness process throughout the world and revealing a justified sense of urgency. An awareness of the illicit arms trade’s mortal consequences has manifested itself as a comprehensive matter of conscience, a situation that is as a result calling for global provisions now. It also shows the willingness to publicly negotiate and back a legal framework that has the strength and capability to regulate a global, $70 billion business. An idea that was initiated by a group of Nobel peace prize laureates in the mid-1990’s seems to have come to fruition.

The level of awareness demonstrates political will that affects the everyday citizen, who might not be part of a politicized environment via an organization or institution, but has the option to vote, donate, and maybe down the line, organize in a political fashion. Just as diverse in national interest and approach as are member states and civil society, so are media outlets that position themselves as voices in the process.

The Financial Times granted a forum to the foreign ministers of Denmark, Germany, Mexico, The Netherlands, UK, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Finland to call for an effective arms trade treaty, defining the negotiations an “historic opportunity” and appealing to the aspect of “common responsibility.” One paragraph explicitly addresses the fact that the treaty has no intention to “obstruct the legitimate trade in arms.” Furthermore it points out that the treaty is meant to “fully recognize every state’s right to legitimate self-defense.” Additionally, “Neither does the treaty set rules for domestic arms regulation nor laws on the possession of arms; this is categorically a matter for national authorities to determine.”

Despite national sovereignty on domestic arms regulation, the US based National Rifle Association (NRA), which promotes the rights of citizens to bear arms, made it a tradition to claim that the UN is trying to end private gun ownership in the US. This strategy is primarily geared towards fundraising from NRA constituents. Not only has fear proven to be a hot seller, the US Constitution’s second amendment is an extremely sensitive and emotionally charged topic.

UK journalist Karen McVeigh focuses on NRA rhetoric in her story “NRA accused of stirring ‘anti-UN panic’ in campaign against Arms Trade Treaty,” from 17 March 2013in The Guardian. “For years, the NRA has painted the UN as a bogeyman figure, claiming in its literature and fundraising drives that there is an international conspiracy to ‘grab your guns’. Last July, when negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty broke down – in part because of US resistance to global regulations on gun sales – the gun lobby group claimed victory for ‘killing the UN ATT’.” Rick Gladstone from the New York Times states in the context of an ATT and the NRA, that in February of this year, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights published a report describing that the ATT, as currently drafted, “did not exceed the scope of American trade statutes that already regulate the import and export of weapons.” Gladstone points out that the study clearly outlines, “U.S. ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” In the Huffington Post, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane pointed out, “This absurd but often-repeated claim requires a strong rebuttal.”

The German media outlets Deutsche Welle and die tageszeitung focus on the fact that the current ATT text from July last year would undercut not only European, and particularly existing German regulations, as they relate to the arms trade and therefore describe the need of stronger language.

This year’s ATT host country, Australia’s media outlets have been vocally promoting the process back home, at times lending media platforms to civil society. National Director of Amnesty Australia, Claire Mallinson,took the stage with an op-ed piece for The Australian on 18 March. Here she describes the ongoing illegal arms transfers from Russia to the Assad regime in Syria and the failure of the UNSC to impose an arms embargo. Mallinson continues, “This strong evidence and the indiscriminate nature of conflict shows that even with the best of intentions, as it currently stands, Australian organizations and individuals that sell weapons and defense technology have no way of controlling where these devices end up.” Meanwhile Dr. Helen Szoke of Oxfam Australia is urging her government on ABC TV to “help close off any loopholes” in the existing draft.

The African news network AllAfrica named, in the article “Africa: Curbing the Arms Trade?” from 19 March, a few grave obstacles to a “strong treaty without major loopholes.” Firstly there is, “The fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are among the largest exporters of conventional arms,” which impacts decision making and ultimately the strength of a treaty framework. Secondly, the concern that, “In the United States, the powerful National Rifle Association is campaigning against the treaty.” It is a legitimate concern, since the author is referring to a non-profit that, according to the Washington Post, was able to spend $32 million in 2012, lobbying their one and only objective.

Obviously, press coverage often reflects or opposes national interests of individual member states, and therefore might individually pursue/back different levels of regulation or at times lack diversified, technical policy details at all. However, the nearly unanimous, international media echo in favor of a treaty does not only once more put the UN on the map as a global hub for political decision making, but reflects a strong, global concern that reaches far beyond a plea for arms business as usual.

 

—Lia Petridis Maiello

 

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