Corruption and the arms trade

This post has been written by Tobias Bock, Project Officer with Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme.

The one hundred and ninety two states of the United Nations spent last week negotiating a UN treaty to regulate the international arms trade. The Treaty’s purpose is “To elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.”  Two members of Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme were in New York for the negotiations, pressing governments to support strong anti-corruption provisions in a robust treaty.  We are working with nations and with a wide range of NGOs to achieve this objective.

The impact of corruption in the arms trade is severe. Corruption in the arms trade costs lives—because of the high level of secrecy in arms deals, weapons can and do end up in the hands of criminal s and violent dictators. It also impedes the ability of states to defend themselves, as the cost of weapons is inflated by kickbacks and bribes, and the quality of weapons diminished. TI believes anti-corruption provisions are key to any treaty’s robust implementation and, along with other mechanisms, will allow governments to keep track of the weapons they buy to ensure they are not used illegally or sold on.

So far seven countries, Argentina, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran and Syria have spoken out against including anti-corruption provisions in the ATT.

The good news is that many states want to see corruption addressed.   During this week’s Preparatory Committee and its predecessor in July 2010, these included the European Union on behalf of its 27 Member States, ECOWAS on behalf of its 15 Member States, as well as the governments of Austria, Australia, Costa Rica, Colombia, France, Finland, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and the UK. In addition, other states have emphasized the need to include corruption and bribery in the ATT as early as 2007. These states are: Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina-Faso, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire, Iceland, Japan, Liberia, Mali, the Netherlands, Niger, Spain, Togo, and Zambia.

This support is encouraging. Yet countries need to act now to keep anti-corruption provisions on the agenda for the ATT. Supporting nations must pressure the seven hold-out nations to include strong anti-corruption and transparency measures in the ATT.

Contact Tobias Bock (tobias.bock at for more information on the Arms Trade Treaty and the impact of corruption. To learn more about how individuals can influence the Arms Trade Treaty’s final outcome, visit

Photo credit: Controlarms:  A tank is a tank, irrespective of the size of its gun…

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