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Regulating the Arms Trade - The Potential of International Criminal Law

Research output: Book/ReportReportpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
PublisherTMC Asser Press
Number of pages22
EditionInternational Crimes Database (ICD)
Published30 Dec 2015

Publication series

NameInternational Crimes Database


King's Authors


Existing transnational regulation of the arms trade fails to adequately control the conduct of individual State officials, corporate officers and sole-trading shipping agents and brokers, who supply arms that assist in the commission of international crimes. The limitations of existing regulation are manifold. At the domestic level, arms export regulations vary greatly between different States, they tend not to address “Third State Brokering”, and often lack harsh criminal penalties to deter individuals from acting in this extremely lucrative trade. The Arms Trade Treaty of 2013 (ATT) might have ameliorated some of these problems, but ultimately it grants States a large degree of interpretive space and its implementation remains to be seen. Arms embargoes of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have a declaratory power, but have often failed to halt the flow of arms, due in part to a lack of enforcement mechanisms. The principles of State responsibility provide a theoretical basis for liability, but only in relation to State-to-State trades. Meanwhile, international criminal law (ICL) offers a novel basis for regulation of individual conduct in the arms trade based on principles of accomplice liability, whether through universal jurisdiction as a means for national courts to bring prosecutions, or through international criminal tribunals including the International Criminal Court (ICC). The distinctive aspect of ICL, as far as the arms trade is concerned, is its potential to establish criminal responsibility for the arms trade conduct of individuals at an international level, as a form of expressive justice and deterrence.

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