New Treaty, Same Old Gangster Politics

Since the United Nations General Assembly voted 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions to approve the Arms Trade Treaty, ostensibly for the purpose of regulating and limiting international arms trade, US media has made much of the fact that those 3 nations voting against the treaty were North Korea, Iran and Syria, though New York Times did mention that those nations “are” – and not just feel – “ostracized”. The Times went on to point out that among those abstaining were “many from nations with dubious recent human rights records like Bahrain, Myanmar”, though it chose not to remind us that Bahrain which has “dubious” (or more truthfully one of the worst) human rights records, gets its arms, which it uses on its people, including on doctors and nurses who treat those wounded by government forces, from the US, which as Times correctly pointed out is the “biggest arms exporter”.

The human rights organizations that were hoping to get the biggest exporter to vote for it got their wish. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement after voting for it: “It will help reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. Of course, it’s for the US and its allies to decide what is or is not terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Explaining why the treaty is needed, Anna MacDonald of Oxfam International, one of the rights groups that pushed for the treaty, cited the fact that Russia is currently permitted to sell arms to Syria as one reason why the treaty is needed.

Such organizations often avoid stressing cases that embarrass the US in order to get it to vote for the treaty, apparently because its vote somehow has more weight than others and gives the treaty more legitimacy and efficacy. If a nation unfriendly to the US violates a treaty, the US can use that as the justification for punishing it by bombing or imposing sanctions on it. So, the treaty is not all that useless and ineffective, after all, since it can be used to discourage a select group of nations from acquiring arms, namely, those who become the target of the wrath of the Empire. If that one-sidedness makes you raise an objection, then you’re just splitting hair and are expecting perfection. One-sided enforcement is better than no enforcement, according to the logic of some of these rights groups. Never mind that those who can’t be held to account and can’t be stopped by the treaty happen to be the ones who commit most of the wars, war crimes, terrorism and crimes against humanity.

Times goes on to point out that there are “significant loopholes” in it. “The treaty focuses on sales, for example, and not on all the ways in which conventional arms are transferred, including as gifts, loans, leases and aid”. So much for having the treaty include “the biggest arms exporter”. But, that doesn’t even matter. Treaty or not, the US and its imperial allies will do as they please. There are also Geneva Conventions and we see how much difference they have made on US war policies. In a world run by Mafia type gangsters where might makes right, treaties only matter for weaker nations who refuse to play by the rules of the boss. For nations that the US chooses to ostracize, the treaty is every bit as real and serious and has real and serious consequences. North Korea, Iran and Syria didn’t vote against it just to be disagreeable. The last thing the governments of these nations need is to be known as more disagreeable. A ship carrying arms to Iran from North Korea will give the US the legitimacy and legal footing to punish both the supplier and the buyer.

As Ms.MacDonald pointed out, the treaty will put additional pressure on Russia, too, to end its arms shipments to Syria, without similar pressure on US about its arms shipments to Israel or Bahrain or Yemen, among others. Is it any wonder Russia abstained? Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy to the United Nations, pointed out the ambiguities in the treaty, “including how terms like genocide would be defined”. The civil war in Syria, brought about by US, Saudi Arabia and others aiding the so-called rebels, may be categorized as genocide, while the genocide taking place in Palestine is just Israel defending itself against terrorists. So, yes, despite all its loopholes and absence of enforcement mechanism, the treaty may be able to regulate and control transfer of arms and can be enforced, as long as the enforcer is the US and its allies and the target nation is among those considered “unfriendly” to it. Congratulations people! We have a new treaty!

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