The fast and not-that-furious?
By Rob Perkins, ATT Monitor, Researcher for Control Arms
I’ve clocked up enough hours in airless basements to know that many meetings held in the United Nations and its margins could stand to be a lot more efficient and decisive. Like many others, I’ve sat through countless, seemingly endless meetings that drag on into the small hours as tempers fray and coffee supplies dwindle. So if you had told me before attending a day-long planning meeting for this year’s conference of the ATT that it would only last three hours instead of the scheduled six, I would have waved my annotated programme of work in celebration, assuming that was a result of focused discussion and laser-sharp decision-making.
A full agenda for discussion was blown through by lunch. In fact, we had a slightly early lunch, as the conversation (I hesitate to call it a debate) didn’t quite fill the three hours of the morning session.
It took me by surprise. Details matter here and even the smallest decision can become a bone of contention that takes hours of careful negotiation to resolve. Instead I had barely fired up my laptop before we had covered the first two items up for consideration, including agreeing a programme of work for the upcoming annual conference in August.
What conclusions can be drawn from the fact that things were so smooth?
Well in truth, this wasn’t the first time that we were discussing this programme of work. This was the third consultation in as many months, so States had already had plenty of time to think through what they wanted to achieve at the annual conference.
But troublingly, it felt like there was a lack of will among some participants to tackle the more-challenging questions ahead. Two working papers had been prepared for discussion, detailing how the annual conference of States Parties to the ATT can push forward on critical national implementation of the Treaty’s obligations, and on getting more States to join the Treaty. These two papers cover the actions that will decide the impact and success of the Arms Trade Treaty.
Yet despite every State that spoke agreeing on the central importance of these issues, there was a disappointing lack of substantive engagement in how to demonstrate adherence to the Treaty, and show that it is having an impact in regulating the international trade in conventional arms, saving lives and improving security around the world.
I feel my expectations were realistic going in. I didn’t foresee fireworks. I wasn’t anticipating some ‘Game of Thrones’-style plot twist. I was, however, expecting substantive engagement, and planning to actually tackle- at least through discussion – some of the most problematic arms flows that continue throughout the world.
Instead I find myself questioning a lack of momentum as we head into the Second Conference of States Parties. The first Conference, by necessity, was focused on matters of administration, laying down the building blocks for the future. Now though, States must turn their minds to the actual substance of making this still quite new Treaty actually work. Progress on this point has been far too slow, with States getting bogged down in procedure and avoiding asking the real questions, holding each other to account, and making sure States are doing what they promised to when they signed up to the ATT.
I hold out hope of a substantive Conference in Geneva this August. It really matters that States tackle the thorny topics with urgency and commitment. We need see a swing from discussion of paperclips to tackling the flows of bullets and tanks that continue to kill civilians and destroy communities around the world.
Lovely though a lakeside walk is in Geneva in August, I hope the meetings there aren’t done by lunch.