Turn the page on poverty

Arms and Human Security in depth

  • Support the development of an international arms trade treaty
  • Develop an integrated government strategy for using a human security approach to support vulnerable and fragile states

Why should New Zealand support the international arms trade treaty?

One thousand men, women and children die every day as a result of armed violence, and hundreds of thousands more are left injured, disabled, traumatised and bereft. Without tougher controls, arms will continue to fuel violent conflict and state repression, and to perpetuate war, human rights abuses and poverty worldwide.

Armed violence – whether in the form of community conflict, gang warfare, or domestic abuse – seriously limits people’s ability to earn a living, grow crops, or benefit from education. Years of development are rapidly undone by war and conflict, while billions of dollars that could be spent on health and education are instead poured into arms.

So what’s the solution? An international Arms Trade Treaty would create legally binding arms controls and ensure that all governments control arms to the same minimum international standards. In short, it would help stop weapons, regardless of where they are made, from falling into the hands of indiscriminate killers and human rights abusers, and being sent to places where they fuel conflict and undermine development.

In 2006 New Zealand co-sponsored a new United Nations resolution led by the United Kingdom, backing the establishment of a treaty to regulate trading in conventional arms. Since then a UN group of government experts have been studying the details required to develop this treaty. They finished their work in August 2008. So now is the time for New Zealand to take a leading role to ensure that the treaty is finally concluded.

Why should the New Zealand government develop a strategy on human security?

Arms control is only one important part of making the world safer. Every day people all over the world face a relentless combination of ongoing daily threats including hunger, disease and repression as well as the more dramatic shocks of war, conflict, political and economic turmoil and natural disaster.

When World Bank researchers interviewed 64,000 poor people in 24 countries as part of its Voices of the Poor exercise in 2000, it asked them to reflect on how their most pressing problems had changed over the course of the past decade. In their responses, people particularly mentioned far greater insecurity of livelihood than in the past. Physical insecurity also emerged as a major concern. With only a few exceptions poor people reported feeling less secure and more fearful than they did ten years earlier.

No one’s life is free of risk. One way or another, we all suffer from, and have to cope with insecurity. While richer people and societies can manage some risks and avoid others altogether, poor people cannot. As a result, the lives of most poor people are built around coping with and dealing with catastrophe.

But most of these catastrophes can be avoided through a combination of protection (by the state or the international community) and empowerment of the individuals concerned, a combination known as ‘human security’. Often referred to as 'people-centred security' or 'security with a human face', human security places human beings — rather than states — at the centre of security. The primary goal of human security is the protection of people.

Taking a human security approach, for New Zealand, means investing in human development, not in arms It requires a consistent approach across all the areas of the New Zealand government that are involved in poor or fragile countries. This action would require the Ministry of Defence, NZAID and MFAT, for example, to work together to develop a people-centered approach to New Zealand’s role in Afghanistan or East Timor (Timor Leste).