Peter MacKay and the Arms Trade Treaty

Conventional Weapons, News

In early June Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay delivered a speech in Singapore to an international conference on security.1   Although the speech received little attention, it had important things to say about “whole-of-government” approaches to security, the link between security and development and state-led governance. One section in particular is worth quoting verbatim:

I believe it is imperative that we all recognize the growing need for governance regimes based on commonly accepted and internationally recognized norms and behaviours to help guide our decision-making, increase predictability and transparency and improve confidence among neighbours in the interests of shared security.

Canada is a strong believer in a rules-based society, and the regimes that constitute such a society, and build predictable norms of behaviour on a global basis—regimes like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, as well as other equally-important regional initiatives like nuclear weapons-free zones.

These collective understandings and commitments help us all govern in increasingly dynamic and challenging times.

Such regimes, in addition to preventing and resolving sources of potential conflict between states, provide the additional benefit of better harnessing diverse international efforts and capabilities in addressing the persistent and emerging security issues that affect us all.

I believe we need to build on successes like these by strengthening and adapting instruments where necessary, and by establishing new norms and understandings in areas where they do not yet exist.

MacKay did not mention it, but an instrument that should establish “new norms and understandings where they do not yet exist” is the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) under negotiation next month in New York. If negotiations are effective, the treaty will become an important new rules-based governance regime to increase international (and human) security by tackling irresponsible and illegal conventional arms transfers. We need look no further than the current crisis in Syria to recognize why the ATT is crucial. A treaty must establish new global norms to prevent states like Russia from dismissing their arms supplies to a criminal regime as perfectly legal arms transfers.

Canada has been actively involved in international efforts to end the slaughter in Syria, to date with limited success. Perhaps Canada can draw on this difficult experience — and the principles in MacKay’s speech — to prevent future Syrias by doing its utmost in July to ensure negotiation of a robust and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty.

1. The speech was published in the June 4 edition of Embassy magazine.

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