Crunch time

February 13 2012, 1:25 PM by Ray Acheson

This last PrepCom before formal negotiations commence later this year
on an ATT give delegations one last opportunity to discuss treaty
content—scope and parameters—but also to work out protocols that can
lead to smoother and more productive negotiations. In this
consensus-driven process, skeptical states have been able to voice
their discomfort while more overtly supportive states have voiced some
of their more ambitious aspirations. At the time that negotiations
commence, ambition and discomfort will both evolve to become less
about lifting up the ‘optimal’—whether optimal refers to a
comprehensive treaty (which we would prefer) or no treaty at
all—however that is defined—and more about maximizing the possible.

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

Along with other civil society groups working on this issue, there are
several key items that we believe should be affirmed at a minimum
prior to discussions on the framework for negotiations:

  • The Chair’s paper should be adopted as the basis for treaty negotiations;
  • Small arms and light weapons should be included as part of the scope;
  • A robust commitment to treaty review processes should be made so that problems in implementation can be ‘flagged’ and solutions offered to improve treaty effectiveness; and
  • A cost-effective structure (ISU) should be adopted that can field
  • ATT-related questions from states and guide the assessment and distribution of capacity support (and possibly in the future share concerns with exporting states about proposed transfers that have a high likelihood of diversion).

Delegations have heard some version of these recommendations many
times before and have often expressed support for some or all of them.
As we move into this new phase of the ATT process, we know that it is
unrealistic to assume that any state will negotiate for—let alone
formally ratify—a treaty that is inconsistent with its national
interest. However, states participating in UN activities, including
resolutions and negotiating sessions, do so in part from a desire to
find creative ways to invest pieces of that national interest in
discussions on a broader regional and global interest that enhances
human security. Most diplomats seek to locate and adopt frameworks for
collective security that can also successfully address pressing
national security concerns and that can build trust among delegations
that will be useful in deliberations on other security issues down the

The ATT may not be, as some states have continually reminded us, a
disarmament treaty. But this is a treaty process that has collective
and important security implications, not only for states but for
communities. The more we can control diversion and its negative
implications for criminality, terrorism, and corruption, the better we
can guarantee stable transfers in a reliable security environment. As
the business of arms transfers becomes more rational and transparent,
the closer we will get to achieving a framework from which we can
successfully address the sale of weapons most likely to create
regional security crises or violate the human rights of populations.
The desire to keep the most modern and sophisticated weapons out of
the hands of irresponsible users, especially non-state actors and
corrupt officials, is an aspiration shared by most states, including
some states wary that an ATT can ever establish a genuinely fair and
level playing field on transfers.

The issue now is how we move from what we want (or don’t) to what we
can successfully and beneficially negotiate. This next and most
critical phase will seek to integrate a high regard for the national
interest, a willingness to honor states that have invested much effort
in bringing this process to its current status, a recognition of the
symbiotic relationship between national and global security, and an
understanding that states sometimes support things they are not
completely sure about in order to win support from other states for
things they are more sure about.

There is optimism at headquarters about the ATT process, but also
broad based caution from some states and experts because the treaty
might seem to over-reach and for others because it might
under-perform, at least in its initial iteration. But we remain
convinced that there are many reasons to engage in good faith
negotiating efforts to bring such a treaty to fruition. Ambassador
Moritan and the many diplomats who have engaged this process
throughout are skillful and knowledgeable negotiators. But we also
hope that there will be opportunities prior to the commencement of
formal negotiations for diplomats and civil society representatives to
explore together ways to build trusting and actionable consensus on
core ATT concerns.