UNITED NATIONS (TheBlaze/AP) -- 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. Iran, North Korea and Syria voted "no," while Russia and China, both major arms exporters, abstained.
As the numbers appeared on the electronic board, loud cheers filled the assembly chamber.
"This is an historic day and a major achievement for the United Nations," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "The world wanted this treaty and would not be thwarted by the few who sought to prevent the introduction of robust, effective and legally-binding controls on the international trade in weapons."
What impact the treaty will have in reining in the estimated $60 billion global arms trade, however, remains to be seen.
In this Sept. 13, 2005 file photo, the flags of member nations fly outside the General Assembly building at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (AP File Photo)
The treaty will take effect soon after 50 countries ratify it - but a lot will depend on which countries ratify and which don't, and how stringently it is implemented.
According to The Hill, a majority of U.S. Senators called on the administration not to sign on to the treaty last month. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association has also long opposed it, saying in an address to the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty Conference last July: “Neither the United Nations, nor any other foreign influence, has the authority to meddle with the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.”
Ted Bromund of the Heritage Foundation elaborated on TheBlaze contributors page:
But it’s not a bad idea because it’s a gun grab. It’s a bad idea because it will restrain the democracies, not the dictatorships. It’s a bad idea because it cannot work.
Above all, it’s a bad idea because, when it fails, its supporters are going to do what comes naturally to them: blame the United States and demand a new treaty that imposes even tighter, supranational controls.
The ATT, in other words, is not an event: it’s a process. That is one reason why calling it a gun grab is wrong and unhelpful. The U.N. is an incompetent organization, and many ATT supporters are remarkably naïve in their belief that a treaty will stop human rights abuses around the world.
Delegates to the United Nations General Assembly April 2, 2013 applaud the passage of the first UN treaty regulating the international arms trade. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the approval of "a strong, effective and implementable Arms Trade Treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade." He stressed that the treaty only applies to international trade "and reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate arms within its territory."
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.
The treaty prohibits states that ratify it from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It also prohibits the export of conventional arms if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings, or could undermine peace and security.
Delegates to the United Nations General Assembly April 2, 2013 after the passage of the first UN treaty regulating the international arms trade. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Ammunition was been a key issue in negotiations, with some countries pressing for the same controls on ammunition sales as arms, but the U.S. and others opposed such tough restrictions.
The final text calls for each country that ratifies the treaty to establish regulations for the export of ammunition "fired, launched or delivered" by the weapons covered by the convention.
"The world has been waiting a long time for this historic treaty," Brian Wood, Amnesty International's head of arms control and human rights, said after the vote.
"Despite Iran, North Korea and Syria's deeply cynical attempt to stymie it, the overwhelming majority of the world's nations have shown resounding support for this lifesaving treaty with human rights protection at its core," he said.
The treaty will open for signatures from member states on June 3 and its supporters said they will continue campaigning to get all countries to sign and then ratify it.
This is a breaking news story. Updates will be added.