IN 1988, a bronze sculpture of Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s knotted gun was placed outside the United Nations headquarters in New York. As Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary general and Nobel Peace laureate, remarked at its unveiling, the sculpture isn’t just a cherished piece of art, but a powerful symbol that encapsulates in a few simple curves the greatest prayer of humanity: not for victory, but for peace.
Inside the U.N. building is a mosaic representing all the nations of the Earth, accompanied by Jesus’ words, “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” For many seasoned peace campaigners, myself included, this prayer was partly answered when the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Arms Trade Treaty in April.
The treaty seeks to regulate the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to tanks, combat aircraft, and warships. It aims to foster peace and security by putting a stop to the destabilizing flow of arms to conflict regions. This process cannot, however, be only a matter of negotiation and numbers. What needs to undergird the treaty is protecting humans, made in God’s image. What needs to motivate the treaty is ensuring the possibility of what philosopher Hans Jonas called “the permanence of an authentically human life on Earth.”
The statistics are frightening. Globally, one person dies every minute from armed violence. This treaty will help halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition that fuels wars, atrocities, and rights abuses. The devastating humanitarian consequences of the two-year war in Syria, a war fueled in part by the irresponsible export of arms, underline just how urgently this treaty is needed.
What the conflict in Syria has exposed, as elsewhere, is the direct relationship of the arms trade to violation, rape, and murder, particularly of women and girls. Sexual violation has become the concomitant weapon to rockets, bombs, and guns.