The landmark treaty opened for signing in June and is designed to regulate the 70 billion dollar global business in conventional arms, from tanks and warships to rifles and hand guns.
But after a flurry of initial support, only 14 countries in Asia have signed on, and none has yet ratified.
Presenter: Tom Maddocks
Speakers: Leonard Blazeby, Head of Mission, International Committee of the Red Cross Australia; Sharon Riggle, Director, United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Dr Stephanie Koorey, Visiting Fellow, 'fragile states project' at The University of New South Wales, Canberra
MADDOCKS: When the landmark treaty opened for signatures in June, more than 60 nations signed up on its first day alone. To date however, 115 states have signed on worldwide, only eight have ratified. In Asia, 14 countries have signed on, none has ratified. So has the enthusiasm waned and why is Asia a laggard?At the regional meeting in Manila is Sharon Riggle. She's the head of the UN's Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific.
RIGGLE: I would say that judging from my experience in the treaty realm of a non-proliferation and disarmament issues, that actually I find that having this many signatures, this soon after it opened for signature and certainly very soon after the end of negotiations is actually quite good and I think it's actually moving quite quickly. It's a very comprehensive, it's a very complicated treaty, it involves many agencies, within each country and that fact that we already have 115 signatures, 8 ratifications, and many, many others on the way. I think it bodes well for the treaty and I think that it shows that there's a concerted global effort.
MADDOCKS: The treaty hopes to stem the flow of illicit weapons to conflict zones and extremists around the world. The broad and complex agreement covers large arms like combat aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as the trade in small arms. The idea is that states have to register all cross-border transfers of these arms and to refuse to export arms to countries likely to use them to violate human rights. At the time, Australia's ambassador to the UN Peter Woolcott, who chaired the negotiations, described it as a "treaty with teeth". China and India are two key omissions from the treaty but Sharon Riggle says both Asian powerhouses have shown a willingness to review their position. And she holds even more hope for the Pacific region.
RIGGLE: It's definitely the feeling there, I can be even more positive that there's a definite positive sense that from the Pacific, there is a willingness to join and there's just some assistance that maybe required to help them down the process, but in terms of political will, they're completely on board.
MADDOCKS: So why aren't many Asian countries getting on board? Leonard Blazeby is Head of Mission at the International Committee of the Red Cross Australia.
BLAZEBY: The difficulty with a number of countries is that a signature can be done at executive level, so you could have a cabinet or even the head-of-state that decides to go and sign the treaty. But ratification often takes quite a bit longer. The reason for that is that certainly in states that have a Westminster or a common law system of law, they actually have to have their legislation approved and in place before they can ratify. So you have a number of states that have quite a number of steps that they have go through before they can actually ratify the treaty. So it's not surprising that the number of ratification is still relatively low.
MADDOCKS: Dr Stephanie Koorey from the University of New Wales researches the relationship between arms control and non-state entities. She says the ratification process can be cumbersome and there's often a host of domestic stumbling blocks.
KOOREY: In this region you will have countries not wanting to sign or sign up quickly, because they're not sure of the scope of the treaty and it's a hybrid treaty. It's arms control, but it's for humanitarian reasons largely. So I think countries would be looking at it very closely, because it really cuts to the core of they're ability to enact their national defence in the way they would want to in terms of can they import the particular platforms they want or the weapons they want, will there be restrictions on that, will there be accountability mechanisms. So they're being cautious and I think that's not unreasonable. So I think we'll continue to see it hiccupping along and sometimes international law and international treaties just take an enormous amount of time before they enter into force, before all countries are on board. I mean look at Kyoto process, and other processes. When it comes to international law, it's difficult to implement. Countries have they're own national reasons for wanting to either join up or not. They'll be domestic audiences as well as internationally, but something like that really is very much to do with national interest and national security. I think we're going to continue to have, not so much stalling, but real consideration of what it actually means for those countries.