September 26

The countdown to a new reality

Written by Anna Macdonald, Control Arms

Yesterday, eight more states ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, triggering the 90-countdown to entry into force. Here, Anna Macdonald, director of Control Arms, reflects on what reaching this landmark moment actually means.


The countdown has now started. We have just 89 days to go now before the Arms Trade Treaty becomes a reality – and international law.

Seeing more than 50 states ratify the Arms Trade Treaty in just 15 months since it opened for signature has been an incredible experience. Iceland got the ball rolling in July 2013, just a month after the treaty had opened for signature. Mexico, a leading champion of the treaty, ratified in September last year and it was a massive boost when some of the world’s biggest arms exporters including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK ratified earlier this year. And then yesterday we saw eight states ratify, taking the overall total to 53. The race to the first 50 was over.

So many people around the world have campaigned tirelessly for the ATT over the years. I have been to many countries torn apart by conflict – Cambodia, Kenya, Mali, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo – and have met many people who have lived through horrific experiences and lost a lot, and who now demand that the international community to do something that will stop other people from suffering the way they have.

We definitely still need to see more states sign and ratify the ATT. We must continue beyond the race to 50 – and get to 100 – and then 150 and more. All states should sign and ratify the ATT as soon as possible. But ratification is not the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning of a new one. The 53 states that have ratified the treaty so far have a big task ahead. They have shown immense leadership in ensuring the treaty becomes international law but now, the biggest challenge they face is to answer the question ‘Will it make a difference?’.

There is only one way this treaty will make a difference and that is if it is implemented to the highest standards. This is a normative treaty whose effect will be far reaching beyond its signatories. A new, very strong, global standard must be established that makes it extremely clear that arms transfers that violate the Treaty’s provisions are unacceptable.

Without bullets, the guns can fall silent. Without a constant flood of arms, then peace efforts have a chance to gain traction. The most powerful argument for the ATT continues to be the call of the millions who have suffered from armed violence around the world.

Imminent entry into force of the ATT presents a chance for real change. A chance to change the arms trade and the chance to change the unconstrained flood of arms and ammunition into the world’s worst conflict zones. The chance to change the culture of “if we don’t sell them, someone else will”.

It is going to take time to put the practicalities in place to make sure the treaty can be robustly implemented. Mexico, and other governments, are already working hard to ensure an effective first Conference of States Parties is held. That meeting needs to make effective decisions, to agree how to support those States who do not have the capacity yet to ratify and implement. We’re also calling on all states in a position to do so to provide assistance, both technical and financial, to support those states with less resources as they work to ratify and implement the treaty.

None of us can change the arms trade alone. But yesterday’s ratifications were a reminder of the power of people working together. States, civil society, armed violence survivors and the many ordinary people around the world who said ‘enough is enough’. The ATT can reduce human suffering, promote development and help tackle the inescapable link between poverty and armed violence.

Civil society will continue to play an active role in the fight to reduce armed violence around the world. The many members of the Control Arms Coalition, from all regions of the world, will continue to hold governments to account, to contribute research and analysis, and work to support implementation of the treaty.

We have shown collectively that change can happen – that a vision and an idea can become a reality through campaigning, tenacity and partnership. But this is just the first step. Now we must make it work.

It is too important not too.