UNITED NATIONS — American officials say Secretary of State John Kerry will sign a landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade during the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week.
The officials said Kerry will sign the Arms Trade Treaty on Wednesday, initiating an uncertain ratification process in the U.S. Senate. Some lawmakers have expressed strong opposition to the United States becoming a party to the treaty. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be identified as the source of information about Kerry's plans.
The U.S. is the world's largest arms dealer and its accession is seen as critical to the treaty's success, although many of the world's other top arms exporters and importers have not signed the document.
The treaty will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but it will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country. It prohibits the transfer of conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, and if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
What impact the treaty will have in curbing the global arms trade – estimated at between $60 billion and $85 billion annually – remains to be seen. A lot will depend on which countries ratify it, and how stringently it is implemented once it comes into force.
More than 85 countries have signed the treaty to date, but it will not take effect until 50 nations have ratified it.
The Obama administration announced it would sign the treaty in June over the objections of critics who fear it will undermine constitutional rights.
The treaty covers battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
In considering whether to authorize the export of arms, a country must evaluate whether the weapons would be used to violate international human rights laws or be employed by terrorists or organized crime elements. A country must also determine whether the weapons would contribute to or undermine peace and security.
In addition, the treaty requires countries to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market.