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Chinese Power and Arms Control

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Message Jason Sibert

President Joe Biden certainly has his work cut out for him if he wants to pursue a foreign policy where security is achieved through mechanisms like multilateralism, arms control, and diplomacy.

He is following up the policies of President Donald Trump whose rejection of multilateralism made China more powerful in both multilateral forums and throughout the world. In turn, the United States became less powerful. The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty will play a role in our relationship with China in the coming years. China has signed the treaty, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed it in 2013, but the Senate did not ratify it. Therefore, it is not law for our country.

The ATT regulates the sale in conventional weapons. It aims to support responsible arms trade. International weapons commerce has been estimated at $70 billion a year. The treaty also brings order to arms trade by promoting international cooperation, reporting, international assistance mechanisms, and institutional meetings. Although we still live in a world of dangerous arms - nuclear, conventional, and space - the treaty has made progress. State-parties have established a treaty secretariat and are meeting regularly at conferences and working groups. The ATT is growing, as nation-states from all over the globe have joined. The most notable positive point is the international regulatory framework of international arms transfers, as stated by writer Tobias Vestner in his story "The New Geopolitics of the Arms Trade Treaty." The treaty's provisions are tampering the behavior of China, the world's fifth-largest arms importer and exporter.

ATT's success made it a wonderful soft power (non-military) tool for China, a totalitarian country that shows no progress toward becoming a democratic nation-state at this time. Article Six of the treaty prohibits arms sales that contribute to international crimes. China's decision gives other countries the impression that it supports international law on arms transfers.

The only conventional arms treaty the U.S. participates in is the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms, a 1996 treaty. Wassenaar seeks to promote transparency and responsibility in the transfer of arms and dual use technologies, civilian technologies that can be turned into weapons, to prevent the destabilizing impact of the technologies. The U.S. considered the treaty the best in terms of conventional arms transfers and saw ATT an opportunity to bring other countries close to it.

The result of two different power blocks (U.S. and China) promoting two different treaties is the weakening of international law around the issue of conventional arms transfers. With the ATT including more states, it is possible that Wassenaar, which includes 42 percent of arms-exporting states, will lose its appeal.

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Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area as a staff writer for a decade. His work has been published in a variety of publications since then and he is currently the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.
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