A “short and easy” arms trade treaty, or a focused and effective treaty to protect people at risk?

July 14 2011, 4:40 PM  by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will
As planned, this third PrepCom for an Arms Trade Treaty is more about
means than about ends. Of necessity, much time is going into papers
and discussions of technical issues about implementation and “Final
Provisions” of the future treaty and into states’ concerns regarding
political, economic and logistical implications of an ATT.Yet when the world’s five biggest arms exporters tell the PrepCom the
treaty will need to be ‘simple, short and easy to implement’, one
wonders how well the ‘means’ are stacking up against the ‘ends.’

by Jonathan Frerichs and Daniel Pieper, World Council of Churches

Let’s take a look back at why civil society pushed so hard for an Arms
Trade Treaty in the first place. A global ATT was and is seen as a
mechanism that would curb the use of illicit weapons to commit human
rights abuses, kill, injure or intimidate innocent civilians. It
would protect civilians at risk and enhance risk-management in the
arms industry. As an international trade agreement, it would make the
illicit trade in arms more difficult for the sake of the common good.

With that said, the ATT in design will not stop all illicit transfers
of weapons or violations of national laws or build-ups of illicit
arms, nor will it dole out punishments for those found to have
illegally obtained arms. Rather, a robust Arms Trade Treaty will
monitor and regulate the licit movement of arms, and in so doing will
make it significantly more difficult for illegitimate and dangerous
transfers to take place. This is not a panacea to end the illegal
trade in arms. The ATT along with other UN registries and treaties,
regional agreements and the Programme of Action Small Arms and Light
Weapons can all work together and be a more effective framework than
the piecemeal measures in place now.

One way to assess the balance between means and ends is to ask three
questions about the public good and the arms trade: (a) What are the
legitimate goals of the world’s trade in arms? (b) What is the actual
impact of the world’s current unregulated trade in arms? (c) How much
of the gap between ‘a’ and ‘b’ will be closed by the ATT?

A fair and adequate assessment here requires that national security
concerns are treated as a subset of human security broadly defined. An
ATT today has to live with the fact that few of the 21st Century’s
security challenges will yield to the force of arms while many will be
solved cooperatively—and without weapons—or not at all. The issues
surrounding – national sovereignty and the national right of
self-defence recognized in the UN Charter become more manageable—not
less—with an ATT that covers all conventional weapons including small
arms and light weapons, parts and ammunition.

In fact, the more inclusive the trade treaty is, the more it will
defend the pursuit of broad and resilient forms of security. This
year’s World Development Report notes that 1.5 billion people live in
areas affected by “fragility, conflict, or large-scale organized
criminal violence” and that no low-income fragile or conflict-affected
country has yet to achieve a single Millennium Development Goal. The
World Bank report identifies the remedy in terms as “security, justice
and jobs”, a trio that can inform the ATT debate.

Another way to assess the balance between means and ends is to
remember the issues that will determine whether the ATT has a role in
protecting communities and saving lives: human rights, international
humanitarian law, and sustainable development; including all types of
arms transfers as well as the full scope of weapons;
gender-sensitivity and survivor assistance provisions; and
enforceability, monitoring and accountability in a legally binding
instrument. Each of these issues is mutually reinforcing of the public
good. A treaty that addresses gender cannot credibly exclude the small
arms used in gender-based violence. A treaty that includes human
rights cannot exclude the projectiles that maim, terrify, and kill
innocent human beings.

At this ATT PrepCom the main task is to bring to the surface elements
of a treaty that will have little to no problem making consensus, and
what elements of the treaty will be more challenging during the
drafting and consensus-building negotiations.

But a simple treaty that sets modest standards for a lethal trade is
hardly a consensus goal. It would be better understood as yet another
sign of current dysfunction in the international community and in its
ability to deal convincingly or comprehensively with arms controls.
While discussions over the technical issues are critical at this stage
of the game, debate about the means cannot be used, or allowed, to
obscure why the ATT is needed. The ends it will serve are the issue of
greatest concern to the peoples of the United Nations—those who are
represented this week in New York by most civil society organizations
and by governments that are demonstrably public-minded when it comes
to an ATT. What exactly is happening here that could make a difference
for them?