ATT 1st PrepCom: Conclusions

July 24 2010, 2:36 PM  by Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW)

Friday marked the end of the third leg of this year’s disarmament trilogy at UN headquarters. For over two months, diplomats have wrestled over diverse and daunting tasks that are all highly relevant to the pursuit of a more secure world – enhancing provisions of the NPT, fulfilling the promise of the Program of Action on Small Arms , and developing elements, principles and parameters that will become the basis for 2011 and 2012 deliberations towards a formally binding ATT.

As the ATT Prep Com came to a conclusion on Friday, diplomats seemed more energetic, fair-minded and generous than what we might otherwise have anticipated, especially given that some diplomats had participated in all three major events as well as hundreds of side meetings and conversations over many weeks.  The same, of course, can be said for ODA officials who have done so much to ease pathways to progress for delegations.  For their part, NGOs have been a consistent and often welcome presence inside and outside of meeting rooms chronicling debates, conferring with key policymakers and distributing resources to help guide deliberations.

On the final day of this Prep Com, there was much praise for Ambassador Moritan and his facilitator ‘Friends,’ as well as gratitude for their willingness to facilitate discussion through the provision of common texts on ‘elements’ and other key treaty matters.  There were expressions of determination from delegations to continue national and regional discussions on preferred ATT elements – with a special emphasis on those elements most likely to achieve consensus in future deliberations.  And there was general agreement on the need to continue dialogue and engagement.  As Nigeria noted to both laughter and nodding heads, “With many hands, the lion can be captured.”

While several statements were issued urging delegates not to ‘pre-judge’ the elements that would eventually be adopted in a final Treaty, there was nothing to indicate that this Prep Com had in any way compromised longer terms Treaty prospects.   Some delegations, clearly, see this ATT as primarily a means to regulate a business and are concerned first and foremost with the preservation of territorial integrity and the ability of states to conduct arms transfers with other states without excessive international interference.  Other delegations (and many NGOs) see this ATT as a way of making a strong, normative statement to the international community about our human rights obligations as well as creating the means for robust regulatory coherence in an industry in which so many of its products have previously found an illicit market — diverted to criminality, terrorism and insurgency, and used to commit atrocity crimes.    

Part of our task is to listen for the nuance embedded within the definitive, the possible explored within the feasible.  While there is much to discuss in February, including items of compelling interest to NGOs,  we see delegation differences at this point as more rhetorical than terminal.  Nevertheless, we recognize that consensus on elements will require delegations to give up some of what they cherish for the sake of more of what they can live with.

The following ideas were some of the many good proposals put on the table by delegations and are among those of special interest to much of civil society and many global constituents:

  • Treaty Coverage of Small Arms and Light Weapons:  While the threat that these would be left out of the final scope of an ATT does not seem great, it would be a grave disappointment to many delegations, NGOs and global constituents if this somehow were to happen.  Other efforts to broaden the scope were intriguing, important and might well be feasible, but this inclusion within the scope, for many, is simply essential.
  • Cooperation and Assistance:  A robust ATT will create heavy regulatory burdens on all states, but those burdens are likely to be felt most acutely by smaller states.   Sufficient legal and technical capacity to support potential state activities as diverse as ‘national transfer control systems’ and ‘victim assistance’ is of great potential significance.
  • An ATT Secretariat:  Many potential tasks for the international community germane to Treaty objectives were shared by delegations – including ‘licensing,’ ‘authorizations and denials,’ ‘information sharing,’ ‘record-keeping,’ ‘enforcement,’ and even determining the extent to which Treaty violations constitute criminal acts.  An administrative structure that can both work closely with ODA and provide oversight of these and other critical, Treaty-related tasks seems indispensible.
  • End-use Certifications/Assurances:  This priority can practically reinforce what many delegations and NGOs affirm as the Treaty’s core human rights aspirations.  It also addresses other important issues of ‘divergence’ raised by many delegations.    The more assurances that can be provided by exporters and importers of arms regarding their intended uses, the easier the process of verification and the more trustworthy the Treaty will likely be seen through the eyes of the global public.
  •  Marking and Tracing:  As many delegations acknowledged, standardization in this area would greatly assist overall transparency as well as allow us to be able to follow weapons throughout their full life cycle in addition to focusing on their initial transfer. 

In the end, an ATT will hardly solve all of our weapons-related problems.   It will do little or nothing to dry up stockpiles of existing weapons that wreck havoc on our communities, to trace weapons that have already been diverted to illicit uses, or to convince states to act more convincingly on the UN Charter principle of security at the least possible levels of armament.   Nevertheless, regulatory control of this industry and the resulting transparency are seen by many as an important step towards helping states end their over-reliance on weapons as the means to guarantee national security.   This is an opportunity that states, NGOs and the global public know we cannot waste.

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