The global arms trade is more than two trillion dollars. A UN conference this week aims to bring more surveillance on this deadly industry.

Australia is one of the five largest importers of arms globally. In 2021, Australia spent the equivalent of US$1. 235 billion on legal imports of weapons, making the peaceful nation the world’s number one importer of lethal potential, according to an assessment by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In the exercise of its sovereign right and responsibility to provide security, Australia may lawfully obtain and use a wide variety of weapons. These include weapons designed for warfare such as submarines, battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers.

These also include small arms and light weapons. Weapons are traded around the world in eye-watering numbers. In 2021, world military spending reportedly reached US$2.113 trillion. The constant demand for weapons has resulted in a huge global arms economy.

The United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Russia were the five biggest spenders on their military in 2021, accounting for 62 percent of total spending.

In the 2017-21 period, the five largest exporters were the US, Russia, France, China and Germany, accounting for 77 per cent of all arms exports.

Besides Australia, the five largest arms importers during that period were India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and China, which collectively accounted for 38 percent of total global arms imports.

In addition to the so-called ‘white market’ related to the legitimate trade in arms, a large and profitable black market has developed for official and informal ‘non-state actors’ to avoid compliance with international and domestic arms embargoes.
The arms trafficking contributes to, among other things, armed conflict, destabilizing governments, the refugee crisis, organized crime and terrorism, and it has a significant impact on civilians in war-torn areas.

Weapons enter the illegal realm through their ‘diversion’, i.e. through their transfer from an authorized to an unauthorized user.
Diversions can occur through weak inventory controls, weak or unenforced regulation, corruption, negligence, theft, etc., and can occur at various points in the supply chain.

Small arms and arms, and their ammunition and parts, are particularly prone to diversion, due to their portability, ending up in the hands of terrorists, criminals, armed groups and other illegal users.

The small arms trade is the least transparent of all weapons systems. Experts estimate that there are hundreds of millions of small arms around the world, about three quarters of which are in civilian hands.

In the 1990s, a process began towards creating an international treaty to regulate the arms trade culminating in the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by the United Nations General Assembly on 2 April 2013.

As of March 2022, 111 nations, including Australia, are parties to the treaty, 30 are signatories (which are not yet state parties), and 54 nations have not yet joined the treaty.

Notably, the United States and Russia (the world’s largest exporter of weapons) and India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the world’s largest importer of arms) are among those absent. 30 countries have signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, but have yet to ratify it.

The main objective of the ATT is not to restrict the legitimate trade in conventional weapons, but to establish standards to regulate the trade, and to prevent and eradicate the illegal trade.

This applies only to the weapons mentioned above when they are carried in export, import, transit, trans-shipment or brokerage, collectively referred to in the treaty as ‘transfer’. The ATT assigns regulation of ammunition, munitions and spares to individual nations.

The ATT prohibits the transfer of weapons if it would violate a country’s obligations under the United Nations Security Council, or if the transfer would violate other international agreements, or if states know that the use of weapons is genocide, a crime against humanity. or in other wars. Crime.
Otherwise, countries must make their own assessment as to whether the relocation will undermine peace and security.

This risk assessment is in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 16 relating to peace, justice and strong institutions, as the ATT also deals with the promotion of international peace, security and stability.

Although the ATT represents a significant step forward in regulating the arms trade, several factors leave an undesirable level of interpretive freedom for individual nations.

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