UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the first U.N. treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar international arms trade Tuesday, a goal sought for over a decade to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.
The resolution adopting the landmark treaty was approved by a vote of 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions. As the numbers appeared on the electronic board, loud cheers filled the assembly chamber.
A group of treaty supporters sought a vote in the 193-member world body after Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its adoption by consensus at the end of a two-week final negotiating conference last Thursday. The three countries voted "no" on Tuesday's resolution while Russia and China, both major arms exporters, abstained.
Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports. But there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade.
Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, who chaired the negotiations, said the treaty will "make an important difference by reducing human suffering and saving lives."
"We owe it to those millions — often the most vulnerable in society — whose lives have been overshadowed by the irresponsible and illicit international trade in arms," he told the assembly just before the vote.
The treaty will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components and to regulate arms brokers.
It covers battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons. A phrase stating that this list was "at a minimum" was dropped, according to diplomats, at the insistence of the United States. Supporters complained that this limited the treaty's scope.