Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Report


Arms trade treaty

349. On 26 October 2006 the United Nations General Assembly First Committee adopted a resolution to begin a UN based process to take the initiative for an international arms trade treaty forward. The resolution was co-authored by the UK, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan and Kenya, and co-sponsored by a total of 115 countries. In a vote it was passed with 139 countries in support, 24 abstaining, and one (the USA) voting against. The resolution called on the UN Secretary General to:

a)  seek the views of Member States on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms, and to submit a report on the subject to the General Assembly at its sixty-second session (2007), and

b)  to establish a group of governmental experts, on the basis of equitable geographic distribution, commencing in 2008, informed by the report of the Secretary-General submitted to the sixty-second General Assembly, to examine the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms, and to transmit the report of the group of experts to the General Assembly for consideration at its sixty-third session (2008).[466]

350. The deadline for States to send their views on the proposed treaty to the UN Secretary General was April 2007. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had circulated the UK's submission in draft in February and then submitted it in March,[467] in order for it to provide both a stimulus to, and model for, other countries. The UK co-ordinated its approach with Germany which held the EU Presidency during the first six months of 2007 and the basic principles behind the submission had been agreed by the States of the EU. But in order to maximise impact there had been 27 submissions from the States of the EU, rather than a single EU submission, although the European Commission drew the Secretary General's attention to the EU Code on Conduct on Arms Exports. The submissions will inform the work of the Group of Governmental Experts who will formulate the terms of a draft treaty in 2008.

351. The Department for International Development (DFID) explained that it was working closely with the FCO and Ministry of Defence (MoD) to promote an Arms Trade Treaty, and was focusing in particular on building support among developing countries. DFID said that the UK Government had worked hard to secure support for the UN General Assembly resolution of December 2006 and the resolution establishing a Group of Governmental Experts in 2008 to examine the scope, feasibility and parameters of a treaty. DFID looked forward to working with other government departments, with civil society, and with its developing country partners, in working towards a treaty.[468] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr Gareth Thomas MP, added

    I think to reduce dramatically the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons we are going to need a comprehensive arms trade treaty. Frankly, that is the single biggest priority internationally for making progress on controls of those types of weapons.[469]

352. The UK Working Group said "whether it is the [arms trade treaty] that we all want will depend on whether or not the supporters of the treaty grab the metal right now and say, 'We have a massive opportunity to turn this treaty into a reality which will actually make a difference for millions of people on the ground'".[470] This view was echoed by the then Foreign Secretary: "I suspect that like a lot of these things there will turn out to have been more support for the general principle of trying to make progress of this kind than there will be for the detail when we come to contemplate that".[471]

353. EGAD made the point in its evidence that the 2002 legislation while strengthening international regulation of the arms trade in the UK had not strengthened it globally. This, in its view, was due to the sheer diversity of export control policies, systems and procedures which were in place around the World, and which had been "developed entirely egocentrically by each nation".[472]

354. We were grateful to receive a briefing from the FCO on the UK's submission on the scope and contents of the treaty. We fully endorse and support the UK Government's submission. We commend the Government, and the FCO in particular, for its energy and skills in encouraging other countries to support the treaty. The next stage in the process is going to be crucial and we hope that we shall be able to report next year that a comprehensive and wide-ranging treaty is in prospect.


355. One of the key provisions which we consider should be included in the prospective treaty is the regulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW). The United Nations estimates that since 1990, SALW have been used to kill more than five million people and force 50 million to flee their homes. Millions more have lost their property and their livelihood.[473] The SALW trade is estimated to be a $1 trillion market and there are more than 1,300 arms companies in almost 100 countries competing to sell 8 million new weapons every year. The United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China collectively account for more than 85% of the global SALW sales. But since 1990 the number of new firms in the top 100 manufacturers has more than doubled. India and South Korea now have three companies each on the list, Israel four and Singapore one. Data on Chinese producers are not released, but at least three or four state-owned corporations are believed to be of this scale.[474]

356. We conclude that an international arms trade treaty regulating the trade in small arms and light weapons provides the best prospect to curb the death, destruction and disruption caused by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. We recommend that the Government press for the inclusion of provisions in the arms trade treaty to regulate the trade in small arms and light weapons. We recommend that the Government provide a report on progress on the treaty in responding to this Report.


357. Transparency International (UK) drew attention to UN resolution L55 which noted that "the absence of a common international standard on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms is a contributory factor to conflict, the displacement of people, crime and terrorism". Transparency International (UK) argued that the absence of such standards undermined "peace, reconciliation, security, stability and sustainable development" and believed that anti-corruption had to be at the core of the arms trade treaty".[475] It put forward a package of proposals which would require

export licensing to be strictly conditional on presentation by exporting companies of rigorous contract-specific no-bribery warranties; These would be reinforced by clear evidence that companies had in place sufficient internal compliance systems capable of detecting corruption-risk and preventing the payment of bribes.

where material was being exported to very high corruption perception countries, additional controls would be required as a condition of the export license.[476]

358. We recommend that the Government press for the inclusion of provisions in the arms trade treaty to promote good governance and combat bribery and corruption in arms transfers.


359. In our Report last year we recommended that the Government expand its programme of overseas outreach.[477] In reply the Government welcomed the Committee's comments on the value of overseas outreach programmes. It said, however, that there was little prospect of any expansion of this programme in the short term due to resource constraints. But in the light of these constraints the Government had made a priority of ensuring effective EU outreach.[478] When she gave evidence to us in March we pointed out to the Foreign Secretary that, if there were an international arms trade treaty, the UK would need to give considerable assistance to developing countries to be able to implement the enhanced export control systems. We asked her how the UK would respond to requests for resources. The Foreign Secretary said:

    What we are trying to do is work with people now and in the future to build up understanding and acceptance of the kind of standards that might be useful, to learn from best practice and so on. So I do anticipate that we will do what we can to assist others with the process of enforcement, compliance and so on, but I am not envisaging there will be some kind of big push as we come towards a point of a treaty being considered.[479]

360. We consider that, if the Government takes its commitment to the arms trade treaty and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) non-proliferation seriously, then it is going to have to put resources into international outreach and, in particular, to ensure staffing levels are such that UK licensing, technical and enforcement staff can participate in EU outreach missions. We conclude that, if a comprehensive treaty is secured, its full benefit will only be realised if countries across the world put into operation export control systems capable of implementing the provisions of the treaty as well as with non-proliferation requirements under UN Security Council Resolution 1540 of 2004 and other treaties and that countries with fully developed systems will have to assist those without. In the UK this will include providing licensing, technical and enforcement staff to participate in outreach missions.

Multilateral Export Control Agreements

361. The UK is one of the leading proponents of the non-proliferation regime, which includes the Chemical Weapons Convention,[480] the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention[481] and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,[482] and of the export control regimes including the Missile Technology Control Regime,[483] the Nuclear Suppliers Group,[484] the Wassenaar Arrangement,[485] the Australia Group,[486] the Zangger Committee,[487] the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty[488] and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 of 2004.[489] Whilst progress had been made in some of these areas, such as the Additional Protocol, Miss Kidd and Dr Hobbs considered that other areas might be going backwards and that the non-proliferation regime itself was under increasing pressure internationally and seemed to be weakening. They cited the following evidence:

Slow progress in expanding the membership and effectiveness of the various multilateral export control groups and arrangements: the Wassenaar Arrangement had a membership of 40 and did not include key states such as India and China; membership of the Zangger Committee stood at 36 members, but did not include Pakistan, Brazil, the UAE or India; and participation in the Australia Group stood at 40 but Russia, Israel, China, Brazil, the UAE, Pakistan and India were not participants.

The unchecked acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, India and North Korea and the current nuclear activities of Iran.[490]

362. While we consider that the Government ought to give top priority to the international arms trade treaty, there is a risk that it may distract support for the non-proliferation regimes. We recommend that the Government bring forward proposals to extend the non-proliferation regimes.

Cluster bombs

363. The Ministry of Defence defines cluster munitions as follows:

364. During the debate in Westminster Hall on the Report we produced last year and subsequently in questions to both the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary we raised the Government's policy on cluster bombs. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State explained that the Government had "always made clear that we want progress on the elimination of particularly the so-called "dumb" cluster munitions".[492] The Foreign Secretary said that

    We are happy to work with the Oslo Declaration but our objective is to work through the CCW [Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons] process to try to get agreement. There is nothing wrong with the Oslo process and that is why we were happy to go along and to be part of it and encourage it, but engaging those countries who are producers and users of cluster bombs seems to us to be a more productive way forward and that is why we are seeking in parallel to work through the CCW process.[493]

The Foreign Secretary confirmed that the Government's objective was to phase out the use of "dumb" bombs and to encourage others to phase them out and to work for a treaty that bans them.[494]

365. We also asked the Government what it was proposing to do with its own stock of cluster bombs, and in a memorandum in March 2007 the Government explained:

    On 4 December 2006 we stated in a Written Ministerial Statement the UK position on cluster munitions and that we would withdraw dumb variants by the middle of the next decade. On 15 December, in debate in the House of Lords, we explained that we were examining the possibility of bringing this date forward. We have now completed our assessment and, as we stated in a Written Ministerial Statement on 20 March 2007, we will now withdraw our dumb cluster munition variants with immediate effect.[495]

366. On "smart" bombs the Government said that it would retain the 155mm L20A1 artillery round, which contained the M85 sub-munition and which it did not consider to be a "dumb" cluster munition due to each sub-munition having a self-destruct mechanism. The Government explained that "this will remain in service until approximately the middle of the next decade (although this date is subject to review). Consequently, the Government does not consider it possible to work for an early international agreement to ban all cluster munitions."[496]

367. "Dumb" cluster bombs have a failure rate which is estimated to be between 25% and 30% and even "smart" cluster bombs may have a failure rate which may be between 5% and 10%.[497] In other words, even in cluster bombs which have a relatively sophisticated self-destruct mechanisms, up to one in 10 bomblets (or ejected sub-munitions) that do not explode will lie live on the battle field. The potential to inflict death and injury on innocent non-combatants entering the field after the engagement is therefore substantial.

368. We congratulate the Government on its support for a ban on "dumb" cluster bombs and on its commitment to withdraw the UK's stocks of "dumb" cluster munitions with immediate effect. We note that the Government has excluded any commitment to ban "smart" cluster bombs. We recommend that the Government also withdraws "smart" cluster bombs, provided that an operational alternative is available for military use to counter massing troops in formation on the battlefield.

466   Ev 83, para 8 Back

467   HC Deb, 2 July 2007, cols 895-96W Back

468   Ev 71, para 37 Back

469   Q 126 Back

470   Q 31 Back

471   Q 206 Back

472   Ev 57 Back

473   UNDP Human Development Report, Human rights and human development, 2000, p 36 Back

474   Arms Without Borders, Amnesty International, iansa (International Action Network on Small Arms) and Oxfam, October 2006 See also SIPRI Yearbook 2006: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2006) Back

475   Ev 128, para 1 Back

476   Ev 128, paras 3-4 Back

477   HC (2005-06) 873, para 74 Back

478   Cm 6954, p 14 Back

479   Q 208 Back

480   The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was signed in 1993 and entered into force in 1997. It augments the Geneva Protocol of 1925 on chemical weapons. It does not cover biological weapons. The convention is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which conducts inspection of military and industrial plants in all of the member nations as well as working with stockpile countries. Back

481   The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction-more commonly known as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)-was simultaneously opened for signature in Moscow, Washington and London on 10 April 1972 and entered into force on 26 March 1975. The Convention bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, in types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. It also bans weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. The actual use of biological weapons is prohibited by the 1925 Geneva Protocol. As of November 2001, 162 states had signed the BTWC and 144 of these had ratified it. Back

482   The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT or NNPT) is an international treaty, opened for signature on 1 July 1968 to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. There are 189 states party to the treaty. Only four states are not. Two (India and Pakistan) out of eight confirmed nuclear powers (i.e. those who have openly tested nuclear weapons), and one presumed nuclear power (Israel) neither signed nor ratified the treaty. One further nuclear power, (North Korea) ratified the treaty, violated it and later withdrew. Back

483   The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was established in April of 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the United States. The MTCR was created in order to curb the spread of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons, specifically delivery systems that could carry a minimum payload of 500 kg a minimum of 300 km. The scope of the MTCR was expanded in 1992 to include non-proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles for all weapons of mass destruction, making the payload/range threshold much less rigid than the original 500kg/300km. Back

484   The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multinational body concerned with reducing nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials that may be applicable to nuclear weapon development and by improving safeguards and protection on existing materials. Back

485   The Wassenaar Arrangement (or more fully "The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies") is an arms control convention with 40 participating states. It is the successor to the Cold war-era Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), and was established on 12 May 1996, in the Dutch town of Wassenaar. A Secretariat for administrating the agreement is located in Vienna, Austria. Back

486   The Australia Group is an informal group of countries (now joined by the European Commission) established in 1985 to help reduce the spread of chemical and biological weapons by monitoring and controlling the spread of technologies required to produce them. The name comes from Australia's initiative in the 1980s to prevent proliferation, and it manages the secretariat. The group maintains a common list of technologies that could be used in chemical and biological weapons programs which have export restrictions placed upon them. Delegations representing the members meet annually in Paris. Back

487   The Zangger Committee, also known as the Nuclear Exporters Committee, is derived from Article III.2 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which came into force in 1970. Each State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to provide: (a) fissionable material, or (b) equipment designed for the processing, use or production of fissionable material, to any non-nuclear-weapon State for peaceful purposes without safeguards. Between 1971 and 1974, a group of 15 nuclear supplier states held a series of informal meetings in Vienna chaired by Professor Claude Zangger. The group, which became known as the Zangger Committee, decided that it would be informal and that its decisions would not be legally binding upon its members. The Committee maintains and updates a list of equipment that may only be exported if safeguards are applied to the recipient facility (called the "Trigger List"); and (b) allows members to coordinate on nuclear export issues. Back

488   The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the IAEA complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. A principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites. Back

489   United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) adopted by the Security Council on 28 April 2004. The Resolution requires States to implement a wide range of legislation to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Back

490   Ev 130 Back

491   HC (2006-07) 269, Q 58 Back

492   Q 78 Back

493   Q 237 Back

494   Q 238 Back

495   Q 34 Back

496   Cm 7127, para 29 Back

497   Evidence submitted by Chris Clark at UNMASS in Lebanon to the Foreign Affairs Committee, 11 May 2007; communicated by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 19 June 2007 under the provisions of Standing Order No. 137A (Select committees: power to work with other committees) to the Defence, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees Back

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