Arms Trade Treaty

Today, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favour on a resolution adopting a draft for an International Arms Trade Treaty.  The result of over a decade of campaigning, at last there will be some control over one of the world’s least regulated trades.  It shall apply to small arms, tanks, attack helicopters, warships and missiles, among other weapons.  This is the first ever global treaty of its kind and there is, understandably, much jubilation and optimism among the treaty’s supporters.  Here’s a map of how the countries voted:

Arms Trade Treaty UNGA Vote
(blue = ‘yes’, red = ‘no’, grey = abstention and white = didn’t vote)

Unsurprisingly, Syria, Iran and North Korea voted against the resolution, no doubt fearing a threat to their ability to use such weapons upon their own uncooperative citizens.  What is surprising is that countries such as China, Russia and, most of all, the USA, did not vote against it.  The majority of the abstentions cited a lack of provisions for arming non-state entities as a reason for not voting in favour.  With such comments voiced by more, shall we say, ‘respectable countries’ like Indonesia or India, it’s clear that there are flaws in the treaty.  However, rights groups including Amnesty International appear mostly happy with the treaty, and  I’m happy to go along with their judgments.

Clearly, there will not be changes overnight.  The treaty still needs to be ratified by UN member states, due to happen sometime in June, I believe, and once 50 states have done so it will enter into practice after another period of time.  Bureaucratic reasons will halt its effectively but also, inevitably, the lack of will among certain countries.  Russia and China, two of the world’s largest arms exporters, abstained on the vote and therefore may not immediately ratify the treaty.  The world’s largest arms exporter, the USA, still must get the treaty through Congress which may prove a challenge as the National Rifle Association will put up fierce opposition, believing the treaty to be a contravention of the country’s 2nd constitutional amendment.  North Korea, Syria and Iran will have no obligation to curb their arms sales.

Despite these limitations, today is a landmark day.  In the long run, most commentators are agreed that it will have a beneficial effect in reducing arms-related violence around the world and prevent the fueling of wars.

World Languages

So I’ve decided to start learning French again.  From the ages of 10 – 15 I was taught the basics of the language in school, and actually somehow managed to get a Grade 1 in Standard Grade French (roughly the equivalent of an ‘A’ GCSE – I think).  I decided to drop the subject when choosing my Highers, because I always found it an uphill struggle and, frankly, wanted as good grades as possible to place me in better stead for university.  I think I regret that decision, now.

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Click for a larger picture.

My main reasons are, again, pragmatic.  If I desire to be a journalist, and if I desire to actually find stories about interesting things around the world (rather than: “Local Cake Festival attracts 200 People! 13% increase!!”), then at least being able to speak the basics of a second language will be absolutely essential.  I figured that, with English, French is the language I’d be most likely to encounter around the world.  For fun, I rushed together the map to the left of languages you’d be guaranteed to find around the world.  There’s a European bias, because, for me, these are more realistic to be learned.  I think the combination of English, French and Spanish would be the best choices, as they would open up virtually all of the Americas (I believe Portuguese and Spanish have some mutually intelligibility), Western Europe, Africa, India and Oceania.  Although, of course, armed with these languages you would be very likely to find a speaker of at least one wherever you go.

Because I have a basic understanding of French already, learning it now is easier than it would be from scratch.  My main methods for learning is the highly useful http://www.duolingo.com as well as the news websites, http://www.lemonde.fr and http://www.bbc.co.uk/afrique .  I’m aware that these methods won’t do much to help my speaking of French, which is something I could probably only improve my being in a French-speaking country.

Hopefully this will go well, and not end up abandoned after a few weeks!