Campaign for an Arms Trade Treaty: USA
The United States is by far the world’s largest arms trader, accounting for around 30 per cent of conventional arms transfers in terms of value. Its position on the ATT is therefore key.
The USA supplies arms to more than 170 countries and has a mixed record of suspending arms supplies on human rights grounds. For example, it has restricted arms transfers to Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in addition to countries subject to UN arms embargoes. However, it has supplied arms to other countries, for example Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen, where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit of facilitate serious human rights violations.
As the main arms supplier to Egypt, the US authorized the sale of small arms, millions of rounds of ammunition and chemical agents for riot control, despite the security forces’ violent crackdown on protesters. Yemen was also supplied with small arms, chemical agents and armoured vehicles, and Bahrain with small arms. It provides Colombia’s security forces with arms, military aid and training, despite their persistent violations of human rights.
Position going into the ATT negotiations
Since October 2009, when the Obama administration reversed previous opposition to an ATT, US support has been crucial in getting to the current negotiation stage. The US has said it wants the treaty to raise the international standard for export control of armaments as close as possible to that of the US. However, the US position is weaker on human rights protection in the treaty than many of its allies. For example, US officials have not wanted to include obligations on states to prohibit transfers of arms even where there is credible evidence of their potential use for serious violations of human rights. US officials have also argued against including ammunition under the scope of the treaty, claiming it is too sensitive and would pose technical problems of implementation. Overall, US officials would prefer a short loose document that spells out general principles to “take into account” rather than strong binding measures.