Assisting and implementing: a symbiotic relationship

March 2 2011, 1:25 PM  by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will 

by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War

Wednesday’s ATT discussions centered upon the issue of international cooperation and assistance. As such, there was much emphasis on the necessity of assisting states in making an arms trade treaty implementable. Most Member States accepted the notion that if an ATT is to be successfully put into action, adequate assistance provisions must be included in the treaty language. There were caveats, of course, in which some Member States sought to clarify, limit, or redefine what is meant by assistance. The United States was the most explicit in its limitation of the term by choosing to define international assistance as only that which is directly related to arms transfer, which excludes technological transfers and other more peripheral modes of assistance. Contrastingly, the most liberal interpretation of “assistance” was touted by several small, developing states, including Papua New Guinea representing 11 Pacific small island states. Other states expressed support for provisions of international cooperation and assistance, including CARICOM, which underscored the critical role of the international community in assistance, including technical assistance, personnel training, and stockpile management. The European Union, represented by Hungary, called for exchange of information as to facilitate national assessment of transfers, while the Chinese delegation went so far as to call cooperation and assistance an “obligation”.

While this positive view of assistance, albeit varying levels of assistance, was shared by many delegations, there were those who expressed ambivalence in accepting an assistance provision without further clarity as to where this ‘cooperation’ would lie. The Egyptian delegate posed the question, “Is it international cooperation to promote adherence to the treaty or for treaty implementation?” It seems that these two forms of assistance are indivisible insofar as adherence to the treaty, for many states will require cooperation and assistance from the larger international community in order to implement the treaty. Adherence and implementation are really different sides of the same coin, so to speak. Furthermore, implementation is a prerequisite for adherence, while genuine adherence to the treaty cannot be accomplished without proper implementation.

The issue of incentives, for both states needing assistance as well as those providing it, arose during the conversation. The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran noted that offering assistance to states would undoubtedly encourage developing countries to join the treaty and effectively implement it. Likewise, Trinidad and Tobago noted that assistance would enable the full realization of the treaty for all signatories, which would thus have a positive impact on those providing the assistance. From a practical standpoint, these arguments perhaps carry the most weight. Incentivizing an ATT for both assisting and assisted Member States will serve to better control the global arms trade through wider participation.  One of greatest benefits of the UN system is its universal representation on which its strength and legitimacy are also largely based.

Beyond technical assistance, information transfers, and scientific exchange, it is important to focus on national capacity-building as the long-term goal for state parties. As was pointed out by the delegation of Japan, the most important assistance that could be provided is national capacity-building in developing laws, regulations, and enforcement agencies. Such capacity-building provides the bridge between discrete acts of assistance to the insurance of practical and sustainable treaty implementation. At this nascent stage of discussions, it is appropriate to discuss how international cooperation and assistance is to be defined in a broad context with perhaps only passing mention of longer-term goals of structure and long-standing implementation. However, in looking ahead, it is imperative that Member States take steps forward with an eye towards greater international assistance and cooperation through next steps. These would include, as already identified by a few delegations, identification of a national liaison and point of contact, adoption of a national action plan, and establishment of an international Secretariat to monitor implementation of the treaty.

Agreement on a global arms trade treaty will require some degree of cooperation and assistance from which there are many levels to choose. The range varies from the sharing of discrete pieces of information to the establishment of an international Secretariat. Nonetheless, no matter a Member State’s stand on the degree of assistance required, explicit provisions addressing such assistance must be part of the final treaty language.