In landmark vote, UN forges first global arms treaty

North Korea, Iran, and Syria oppose new restrictions

The UN assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including from major arms traders.
The UN assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including from major arms traders.

UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to create the first international treaty regulating the global arms trade, a landmark decision that imposes new constraints on the sale of conventional arms to governments and armed groups that commit war crimes, genocide, and other mass atrocities.

The UN vote was hailed by arms-control advocates and scores of governments, including the United States, as a major step in the global effort to enforce basic controls on the $70 billion international arms trade. But it was denounced by Iran, North Korea, and Syria for imposing restrictions that prevent smaller states from buying and selling weapons to ensure their self-defense.

The treaty covers a wide range of conventional weapons, including battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles, and small arms. These items could not be transferred to countries under UN arms embargoes or to states that promote genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.


The United States, which cosponsored the treaty, said several US agencies will conduct a review before the accord is presented to President Obama for signature. The treaty would require ratification by the Senate.

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The National Rifle Association contended during negotiations that the treaty would weaken Second Amendment gun rights in the United States. The powerful gun lobby has pledged to fight the treaty’s ratification in the Senate.

US officials and several nongovernmental organizations, including the American Bar Association, have argued that the treaty would have no impact on American gun rights.

Its specific language recognizes the ‘‘legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities.’’

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the approval of the treaty, describing it as a ‘‘strong, effective, and implementable’’ tool that can ‘‘strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade.’’


The United Nations’ 193-member assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including from major arms traders including China, India, and Russia, as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are supplying weapons to opposition groups in Syria. The treaty will not go into force until 90 days after it is ratified by 50 states.

The vote came four days after Iran, Syria, and North Korea — governments that are likely to be targeted by the new measures — blocked an attempt to adopt the treaty by consensus. They argued that the treaty is unfair to them and riddled with deficiencies. Iran and North Korea are under arms embargoes.

Some countries had broader misgivings. India, Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan were among the countries that said the treaty would grant an unfair advantage to the world’s largest arms exporters.

India’s chief negotiator, Sujata Mehta, explained her government’s decision to abstain, saying Tuesday that the treaty ‘‘is weak on terrorism and nonstate actors.’’ She previously objected that the ‘‘weight of obligations is tilted against importing states.’’

Iran, meanwhile, protested last week that the treaty had provided specific protections for American gun owners and failed to provide protections for people living under foreign occupation.


The treaty would require governments to establish a national record keeping system to track the trade in conventional arms.

Secretary of State John Kerry called the treaty a ‘strong, effective, and implementable’ tool that can ‘strengthen global security.’

They would also have to ensure that weapons are not illegally diverted to terrorist organizations or other armed groups. In addition, governments would conduct risk assessments to determine the likelihood that arms exports were being used to abuse human rights, particularly against women or children.