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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

4th April 2013

We should all support the Arms Trade Treaty

British Foreign Secretary William J Hague

2013 sees the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s great encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), addressed “to all people of good will”. In the encyclical, Pope John called on states to reduce arms stockpiles – nuclear and conventional – and for “a general agreement … about progressive disarmament and an effective method of control”. He also expressed the hope that the UN “may become ever more equal to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks”. In 1994, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace urged the international community to ensure that: “arms transfers [are] effectively controlled and radically reduced”. More recently, Holy See diplomats have reiterated the primary importance of the rule of law in the international system.

While the context of such pronouncements changes, the reality that conventional arms, in the wrong hands, remain the world’s greatest non-natural killer, does not. Which is why the announcement on 2 April that the UN had voted for a global Arms Trade Treaty – after seven years of hard effort in which the UK played a critical role – is such an important one. When the Treaty enters into force it will require States parties to: control arms exports; prohibit the export of arms that would be used for genocide or crimes against humanity; assess all exports of arms for their impact on peace and security and the risk of misuse (for example violations of human rights); and not authorise exports that pose unacceptable risks. 154 countries voted in favour, and only 3 – Iran, Syria, and North Korea – against. The Treaty puts law and human rights at the heart of global arms export licensing and represents a significant addition to the rules-based international system.

More importantly, it will save lives, reduce human suffering, impede terrorist access to weapons, and support development. Access to weapons needed by states for legitimate self-defence will be protected. As the NGO Saferworld commented, the Treaty “will make a real difference to the thousands of people who live in fear of armed violence”.

This has been an international effort. I would like to commend in particular those countries – Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan and Kenya – which along with the UK co-authored the original UN Resolution in 2006; and which alongside New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Mexico and the US tabled the UN General Assembly Resolution to adopt the draft Treaty. The Holy See also supported the passage of the Treaty at the UN, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has called it “an excellent result”, in particular through the introduction of clear juridical criteria for regulating the arms trade.

There is much work to do to see the Arms Trade Treaty implemented. We count on the Holy See to continue to use its influence and work alongside us in this endeavour. Ultimately, the vote in the UN is a great victory for the common good, which will protect people and make the world a safer place. It is a further step to the goals outlined by the author of Pacem in Terris. It deserves our full support.

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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