Beyond the ATT

February 28 2011, 7:13 AM  by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

The international arms trade is big business. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that the value of the annual global arms trade as of 2007 was about 50.5 billion USD. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), account for about 76 per cent of arms sold each year. Most sales are made to developing countries.

Despite the global economic crisis, global military expenditure has continued to increase, totaling an estimated 1.5 trillion USD in 2009. And just like personal wealth has become increasingly concentrated among a few rich elites in countries around the world, the arms industry has become increasingly concentrated, nationally as well as internationally. The share of the top five companies in the total arms sales of the “SIPRI Top 100” increased from 22 per cent in 1990 to 43 per cent in 2005. Companies are getting bigger and growing richer while the arms they produce hasten the disintegration of societies and economies around the world.

As the “commodities” and products of militarism (weapons) grow and spread, so does their use. Armed conflict, war, terrorism, occupation—and the threat of all these—are cause and consequence to the ever increasing levels of militarism and military spending around the world. While military expenditure increases every year, investments in conflict resolution, peace building, and development lags far behind, making clear the links between military spending, the arms trade, violent conflict and the reduction of available resources for social and economic development and gender equality.

Armed conflict and excessive militarism prevent economic stability and sustainable livelihoods and absorb vast amounts of funding that could otherwise be spent on human security, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Funds reserved for development initiatives are increasingly spent on emergency relief and rehabilitation operations to clean up after violent conflict. The high level of militarism is also inextricably linked to the reported human rights violations and the failure of peace processes.

This is why the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) believes that an arms trade treaty (ATT) should not be limited to proscribing procedures to authorize arms transfers, nor should it be used to legitimize the arms trade. Its primary purpose should be preventing armed conflict, preventing the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and seriously reducing the culture and economy of militarism.

WILPF endorses the “Five Golden Rules” developed by the Control Arms campaign to help stop international transfers of conventional arms that are likely to be used for serious human rights violations and fuel conflict and poverty. In addition, WILPF urges that an ATT recognize that sexual or gender-based violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security. The regulation of arms transfers must help prevent such acts of sexual violence as highlighted inUN Security Council resolutions 132518201888, and 1889.

An ATT will likely only be focused on regulating the international trade of conventional weapons. However, WILPF would like to highlight the broader context in which this treaty will one day operate: a world of increasing economic inequalities and political instabilities, shrinking natural resources and environmental deterioration, and increasing complexity of societies through globalization and technological change. Above all else, weapons are tools of violence and oppression for those that use them and tools of financial gain for those who make and sell them. While the major arms producing and purchasing governments have no interest in an ATT that prevents the manufacture or sale of arms altogether, they can at least help to build the foundations for not just the regulation but the reduction of trade, along with the reduction of military spending and the redirection of economic resources.

An ATT would help realize the mandate of Article 26 of the UN Charter, which in essence demands “the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources” through “the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments.” But Article 26 goes beyond the mere regulation of the arms trade to the regulation of armaments themselves. It foresees a redirection of military expenditure, implying that the system of regulation will afford security by other means.

This system could, as Costa Rica’s delegation suggested in December 2008 during a UN Security Council open debate on Article 26, consist of establishing regional commitments to maintain collectively agreed levels of military spending, with the UN Security Council and regional organizations serving as effective guarantors of compliance. At the same debate, Bolivia’s delegation made a recommendation that could also be useful in mapping out the “beyond the ATT” landscape: it urged the UN to take measures to prevent arms manufacturing countries from encouraging arms races in developing regions by sending some countries in the region millions of dollars worth of armaments, which “forces every country to naturally feel the need to find a mechanism with which to defend itself, even at the cost of hunger for its people.”

Dozens of governments participated in the open debate and many more proposals have been made over the years. The point to be made here is that the ATT will not exist in a vacuum; the context in which will operate is a dangerous and deadly world that requires not just stringent regulation of the arms trade but a regulation of the arms industry and of military spending. WILPF looks forward to working with delegations over the course of the negotiations and beyond to ensure that the ATT is the strongest step along this path that it can possibly be.