The U.S. and Russia disagree on a lot of things: the Syria crisis, European missile defense and proposed U.S. legislation to bar Russians involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering American territory. But when it comes to selling weapons, the two nations speak with one voice.
Despite European Union pressure, Russia and the U.S. both oppose language in the proposed United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty, which would ban the sale of conventional weapons and small arms to countries where there is a “substantial risk” of serious human rights violations.
The Guardian reports that the treaty would force Russia to stop selling weapons to Syria. But the U.S. wants the treaty to be revised so that nations must only “consider” human rights when making arms sales.
A double standard?
What’s going on here? The Russians make big money selling guns, bombs and fighter jets to nations with poor human rights records like China, Syria and Venezuela. In fact, on Monday President Vladimir Putin announced that Russian arms exports had doubled from $6 billion in 2005 to more than $13 billion in 2011.
But isn’t the U.S. supposed to be the good guy in international affairs, punishing regimes who oppress and murder their own people, not selling them weapons?
Maybe not. America is the world’s largest arms dealer. This year, our government expects to authorize international sales of more than $60 billion worth of military aircraft, armored vehicles, communications equipment, guns and other weapons, a record haul, according to Reuters. Among the beneficiaries of this largesse are several nations cited by the State Department for human rights violations in 2011, including Honduras, Israel, Peru and Saudi Arabia.
You say “Syria”, I say “Bahrain”…
Perhaps America’s most controversial weapons buyer is Bahrain, where an uprising against the ruling monarchy has raged since last year. In May, after a seven-month suspension, President Obama renewed arms sales to the tiny Gulf nation, an important U.S. ally. His decision angered Bahraini activists and human rights groups and led to Russian charges of hypocrisy on Syria.
In The Moscow Times, Mark Katz of George Mason University has written an opinion piece with a title that is now common currency in Russia: “Your Syria is My Bahrain.”
The treaty is mainly concerned with limiting the availability of small arms and ammunition in humanitarian crisis zones. The UN estimates that, of the 300,000 people who die annually in violent conflicts around the world, 90 percent are killed by small arms fire.
Also opposing the bill are China, the world’s fifth biggest arms exporter, and Zimbabwe. Germany, France and the UK — ranked third, fourth and sixth, respectively, on the list of the world’s biggest arms dealers — all support it. UN member nations have set aside one month to conclude treaty negotiations, which began in New York on Monday.