UNITED NATIONS (AP) - More than 65 countries signed the landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade Monday and the United States announced it will sign soon, giving a strong kickoff to the first major international campaign to stem the illicit trade in weapons that fuel conflicts and extremists.
The announcement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. - the world's largest arms dealer - will sign is critical, but the treaty's ultimate strength rests on support by all major arms exporters and importers. While the treaty was overwhelmingly approved on April 2 by the U.N. General Assembly, key arms exporters including Russia and China and major importers including India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt abstained and have given no indication yet that they will sign it.
Signatures are the first step to ratification, and the treaty will only take effect after 50 countries ratify it.
Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, a key treaty backer, predicted that there will be 50 ratifications "within slightly more than a year - but the real test is, of course, getting those who still have doubts or who have not made up their minds, to sign on and ratify."
The treaty will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but it will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country. It prohibits the transfer of conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, and if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
What impact the treaty will have in curbing the global arms trade - estimated at between $60 billion and $85 billion - remains to be seen. A lot will depend on which countries ratify it, and how stringently it is implemented once it comes into force.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special event marking the signings that the treaty shows that "the world has finally put an end to the "free-for-all' nature of international weapons transfers."
He urged all countries - especially major arms-trading countries - to sign and ratify the treaty saying "the eyes of the world are watching arms traders, manufacturers and governments, as never before."
At the morning session, 62 countries signed the treaty, and in the afternoon five more signed, bringing the total to 67, about one-third of the U.N.'s 193 member states which U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane called "impressive."
The seven co-sponsors of the treaty - Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom - issued a joint statement Monday saying they were "heartened" that on the first day the treaty is open to signature so many countries were signing.
The treaty 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.