The problem: Conventional weapons are sold to the highest bidder, destabilizing countries, harming civilians, and undermining the rule of law. (Heard of Viktor Bout, for example?)
The opposition: despots and terrorists, the NRA, US Senate and a few others.
But after two weeks of intensive negotiations — already in overtime after bartering last July failed — participants said the prospect for unanimous consensus among member states remained uncertain. Without that, negotiators would probably seek approval by winning support from two-thirds of General Assembly members at a vote next week.
Some states, like Iran and Syria, have consistently raised objections — evidently because the treaty could well endanger the legality of arms transfers to Damascus given the heavy civilian toll in Syria’s civil war.
India had wanted language stating that the treaty could not be used to suspend weapons transfers under existing defense cooperation agreements. The compromise language states that the treaty should not be used to break such agreements, but that any transfers must meet with its criteria.
Big arms exporters, like Russia and China, initially raised questions about the provisions tying sales to human rights criteria that might be subject to interpretation. Last summer, the Obama administration raised objections to the treaty that helped to force postponement of the talks.
The National Rifle Association, along with its allies in Congress, has long opposed the treaty, asserting it would impinge on the constitutional right to bear arms, an argument that treaty proponents dispute.
So this is what consensus looks like: Lots of disagreements to lay on the table, then discussions–usually in the corridors, lobbies and receptions–and an agreement emerges (or doesn’t). This is how diplomacy works, not too dissimilar from politics.