The state of Arms Trade Treaty negotiations

Jul 19 2012
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament
Edward Perello, London
The Arms Trade Treaty is being negotiated this month under the auspices of the United Nations in New York. The first of their kind, they mark a culmination of multilateral efforts to develop a legally binding instrument of common international standards for the transfer of conventional weapons. What has happened so far, and with only 6 days of negotiation left, can any real progress be made?

A characteristically scorching July in New York has seen the start of historic international negotiations on an even hotter commodity. Kicking off on July 2nd and set to wrap up on the 27th, the negotiations to establish an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are the first of their kind and mark a culmination of multilateral efforts to develop a legally binding instrument of common international standards for the transfer of conventional weapons.

According to Oxfam International, inadequate and loophole-ridden national regulations on international transfers of conventional weapons – including (but not limited to) small arms, artillery, missiles, tanks, aircraft and naval vessels – result in the violent deaths of around a third of a million people (with hundreds of thousands more maimed) every year. Every minute, one person is killed by armed violence while 15 new arms are manufactured. Such poor regulation is a problem that needs solutions and in December 2006, 153 governments voted in favour of coming together to develop those solutions in 2012. Although many NGOs continue to emphasise the urgency of an ATT within the timeframe of present negotiations, there is much to discuss and the proceedings have not yet yielded ideal results.

Threatening to collapse the negotiations on day one, US-Israeli-Arab disputes over Palestine’s status in the negotiations saw the cancellation of Ban Ki-moon’s opening speech and subsequent postulations by each that the issue was a stalling tactic by the other. Even though this issue continued to heavily mar the proceedings, the UN Secretary General noted on day two that the international community has not kept pace with conventional arms issues in the same way as it has with WMD issues.

The first week saw the principles of transparency, inclusivity and NAUEA (nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed) which were suggested by President of the negotiations—Ambassador Moritán of Argentina—going down well, albeit with significant opposition against the establishment of two Principal Committees by Iran, Algeria and others. Passing a vote, the first Committee is to address goals and objectives of the ATT, while the second focuses on its scope, implementation and final provisions.

Nonetheless, the very existence of the talks is promising, particularly with the Obama administration’s reversal of American opposition to participation. However, states’ positions vary significantly and complicate efforts to arrive at a decision. The UK, Germany, France, Sweden and Norway call for a comprehensive treaty that includes munitions, small arms, light weapons, related technology and parts. The U.S., China, Syria and Egypt push to exclude ammunition on the basis that adequate monitoring would be difficult. China also wants to exclude small arms, while some Middle Eastern states oppose using human rights records as a criterion for arms trade authorizations; something vehemently disagreed with by Switzerland and participating NGOs.

Japan argued for flexibility on transit and brokering weapons deals, while Russia argued that national implementation of the specifics of the treaty should be left to each state to decide, an approach echoed by a P5 statement from the UK. China further commented that the treaty should help states to implement their obligations without interfering with the legitimacy of the state to acquire arms.

Intriguingly, Pakistan has emphasised the need to address supply and demand issues, specifically manufacturing; a valid point considering the potential for covert trafficking to occur under the auspices of a limited ATT. Additionally, in an attempt to minimise creative interpretation of the treaty, some have called for a ban on transfers to non-state actors or the provision of “know-how” assistance to states.

Overall, it is fair to say that the noble aspirations of the ATT and its delegates are to be lauded by all, but some positions appear so far apart that negotiators face a challenging few days ahead if they are to secure an agreement by the end of the meeting.


Last changed: Jul 19 2012 at 9:52 PM