Debate over an Implementation Support Unit

July 14 2011, 4:37 PM by Ray Acheson

The question of the type of oversight body for an arms treaty is a
critical issue that has received much attention among delegations this
week. As explained by the Egyptian delegate, the type of structure
decided upon—whether it is an Implementation Support Unit (ISU) or an
independent secretariat— will be vital to the level of success of an
ATT’s implementation. The questions remain: what type of structure
will be created? What will be its mandate? How will such a structure
be funded? Will the structure be embedded within an existing
international organization or be a stand-alone entity?

by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War

Daniel Prins, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch of the UN Office
for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), offered a helpful and beneficial
presentation of structural possibilties that are available from the
perspective of the UN secretariat. The options include an independent
secretariat, an ISU embedded in an existing organization, or support
services offered from the UN secretariat itself within an office of
UNODA, such as is the case with the UN Programme of Action on small
arms. Mr. Prins also addressed financial resources, the need for which
would depend on the structure chosen, as well as the means of
financing—by states parties to the treaty alone or by all member
states through the UN regular budget.

Chair Ambassador Moritán presented in his non-paper an outline for an
ISU structure with the following responsibilities: to serve as a
repository for annual reports and disputes over transfer denials; to
assist states parties in implementing the treaty’s provisions; to
provide services for the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) and its
subsidiary organs as deemed necessary; to assist states parties in
providing information to the Assembly and one another, upon request;
to serve as a clearinghouse for offers and requests for assistance for
treaty implementation and thereby promote international cooperation;
to ensure coordination between the ISU and relevant international and
regional organizations; to provide outreach to promote awareness of
the treaty and to promote its universality; and, finally, to perform
the technical and administrative tasks assigned by the ASP.

These tasks are formidable and require adequate human and financial
resources to be effectively carried out. Delegations commented on this
proposal and offered opinions as to how an ISU, or other entity,
should be structured. Many delegations expressed the desire for
greater clarity on the mandate of a potential ISU including Argentina,
Italy, Indonesia, and Venezuela. The issue of financial constraints
was also highlighted in the statements of smaller countries concerned
over incurring more financial burdens. As an alternative, the
delegations of Peru and Ecuador encouraged the Chair to consider
placing the ISU within UNODA, which would tap already existing UN
funding. Italy’s representative made clear that there should be
‘careful concern over financial implications.’ The Peruvian delegation
encouraged a flexibly developed ISU under UNODA with the potential for
expansion later on.

Zimbabwe and Iran represented perhaps the most contrary views on an
ISU. Zimbabwe explained that national authorities already possess
mechanisms of control so that an ISU is not necessary. The Iranian
delegated affirmed that control and implementation is a national
responsibility not to be referred to the international community. The
Indian delegation was not keen on supporting an ISU that they believed
would be funded by a small group of states who would, in turn, control
it. Egypt took the opposite view, affirming support for a fully funded
independent structure for a treaty of this importance and sensitivity.
The Egyptian delegate explained that setting up a weaker ISU would
inappropriately prejudge the role of this structure. CARICOM also
reiterated support for an independent secretariat. Likewise, the
Republic of Korea agreed that a secretariat with a strong verification
mechanism would facilitate successful implementation of an ATT.

In terms of ISU mandate, delegations expressed varying views. The EU
affirmed support for its function as a report repository that would
receive and process reports to be shared with other states parties.
Australia explained that an ISU should be independent with a mandate
balancing information sharing, evaluation, cooperation assistance, and
budgetary matters. Uruguay also supported the ISU proposal, indicating
that it should be independent from the UNODA, but be financed with
already allocated funding so as not to burden developing countries.
Such a body, according to the Uruguayans, should receive all annual
reports as well as coordinate information sharing between review
conferences. Brazil also supported an ISU within the UN framework to
support cooperation and assistance that can allow states to better
control arms transfers. New Zealand also supported the ISU proposal
specifically underlining the benefit of having a clearinghouse for
requests for capacity building. South Africa also supported an ISU,
but expressed concern over reporting burdens on smaller states. France
and Switzerland stated that an ISU is needed, but the Swiss provided
the caveat that it should not explicitly assess ATT implementation
but, rather, report back to states parties. There was also a general
view that the ISU should remain ‘light-weight’ and avoid bureaucratic
excesses. Guatemala supported a “small and efficient” support unit.

National points of contact received general support from delegations.
Sweden pointed out that national points of contact would facilitate
greater bilateral cooperation and pose fewer problems than other types
of coordination. Sweden also expressed concern that granting too long
a list of duties to the proposed ISU was worrisome. The delegate
called for a shorter, more precise list of duties for an ISU that is
fully funded by states parties. Furthermore, some delegations,
including India, wanted to be sure to limit interaction among points
of contact to issues of ATT implementation only. Similarly, Germany
stated that an ISU should be in charge only of strictly administrative
duties and basic ATT implementation functions.

Frank discussions on a structure to enable proper ATT implementation
are indispensable to the treaty process. Concerns over financial
burdens and national sovereignty are valid. However, it seems that
most delegations, with few exceptions, are in agreement that some
structure of oversight would be helpful. From our standpoint, it is
important to endorse and support a coordinating body that can assist
member states in providing capacities and resources needed to uphold
the treaty’s provisions that they otherwise would not possess. Given
that the form that this structure takes is still up for debate, we
encourage delegates to work towards a structure that will provide the
best possible support for universal implementation of the treaty so
that the hard work that has been put into its formation is not for