Alexander Harang, activist: "The ultimate goal for an Arms Trade Treaty is to spare lives"

Before attending the Prep Comm on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) the Control Arms coalition met to have a campaigners conference. This meeting brought together 75 activists from around the world all campaigning for a “bulletproof” ATT. It was a chance for us to solidify our messages and to plan our tactics for the final campaign push between now and the main Diplomatic Conference in July.

This is where I met Alexander, a peace campaigner from Norway. Alexander intrigued me, a policy specialist with a PhD in Peace Research and active member of his local gun club. Alexander has written countless reports on different aspects of the arms trade ranging from ammunition to Norwegian military exports to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and similar regimes. He also makes his own ammunition; but check this out – using ‘civilian ingredients’ so as not to support the weapons industry!

Part of the Arms Trade Treaty movement since the 1990’s, Alex helped launch Control Arms in Norway in 2003. He has an incredible knowledge level and some really interesting insights into the arms trade and pressing need to bring it under control. 

Alexander Harang, activist of the Norwegian Peace Association

Interview with an Activist - Alexander Harang, Norwegian Peace Association 

What do you see as the goal of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)? What are the main obstacles?

The ultimate goal for me is to spare lives and prevent human rights abuses by making it harder for aggressors to go to war and to sustain warfare. An Arms Trade Treaty should address the enormous corruption stemming from the arms trade, and illegalize all today's arms transfers that hinder socioeconomic development and fuel serious human rights abuses.

The main obstacles to such a treaty are the big arms exporting powers and the tyrants of the world who depend on importing military equipment. I want an ATT that makes war profiteering through the arms trade a lot harder than it is today. 

You own guns for hunting and sport and also make your own ammunition for these purposes - is this not a contradiction?

Not at all! I have never felt that my great interest for hunting and sports shooting could be threatened by an ATT. On the contrary; the more responsible the arms industry gets, and the more control the states attain of their arms exports and imports, the better off I am as a legal gun owner.

The US debate on this seems extremely off track. As ATT activists, we are often referred to as “gun-grabbers” by members of the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, implying that an Arms Trade Treaty intends to take hold of their civilian held firearms. This is so far fetched. The ATT resolution passed in 2009, Resolution 64/48, clearly acknowledges “the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within their territory.” This means, that whether you are a legal gun owner in Norway or the US, you should not feel that your hobby is threatened by an ATT. 

What do you think are the most important things for this treaty to cover and why?

The basic principle here should be that all transfers of all conventional weapons should be covered. In the current Arms Trade Treaty scope debate I am particularly worried that states will leave out major weapons not part of the UN register’s seven categories, such as drones. It does not make any sense to leave out the Predator drone of the treaty at the same time as we keep the Hellfire missiles they're firing in. Military unarmed vehicles technology is developing very rapidly today, and armed drones are becoming more important to modern air-power. In effect, the drone technology is becoming a very central part of the states military industrial complexes. This is the main reason why we should be much more aware of this up and coming military technology, and seek to regulate the trade in it much more progressively than today.

This also leads me to a second element I´m afraid will be left out of the ATT scope, which is the transfer of military technology. Licensed military production, and transfer of know how and technology in this regard, must be included in the ATT. In the globalized arms industry, cooperation through joint ventures makes it all too easy to transfer war technology to the people that should not have this available. 

What are your hopes and fears for the negotiations in July?

I still hope for a strong ATT that can help prevent the suffering of war, contribute to development and ultimately save lives. The greatest fear I have is that we will end up with an ATT that legitimizes irresponsible arms trade. This could make the situation worse rather than better, and must be avoided at all cost. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are those of Alexander Harang and do necessarily reflect the views of Oxfam. Do you have any hopes or fears for the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in July?

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