Early reservations

July 14 2011, 6:08 AM  by Ray Acheson

In today’s discussion at the ATT Prep Com, the focus was on ‘final provisions,’ including the means by which a final, negotiated treaty shall enter into force. Delegates debated the minimum number of ratifying states that should be required, the challenges of provisional entry, the alleged need for major arms producing states to be early ratifiers, the prospects for development of an Assembly of States Parties, and more.by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

One of the most interesting debates focused on issues of ‘reservations’— the capacity of states to highlight their concerns in the context of formal ratification. In principle, a system that allows for reservations is both consistent with standard UN practice and, in its own way, helpful in outlining areas for further review once a treaty enters into force. A well-placed reservation ‘holds the table’ for future clarifications of a treaty’s scope, reporting mechanisms or other frameworks of interpretation. The best reservations allow for a robust review of the menu without threats of outright rejection or, at least, the withholding of support. A meal will be served even if it is not initially the one that many had anticipated.

Some delegations, including Trinidad and Tobago and Lichtenstein, were wary of reservations or, more appropriately, reservations that have little or nothing to do with the ATT itself. In essence, this can be likened to not wanting states to fuss needlessly over reservations for movie tickets when dinner is actually on the agenda. With that important caveat noted, states understand that complete enthusiasm for every aspect of a treaty as a precondition for ratification is setting a bar too high to reach. Regardless of the care in treaty formulation facilitated by the Chair, there will always be elements of any treaty that will make states nervous. Ratification is in part a reflection of national interest, but it is also partly a matter of faith. A system that affirms legitimate reservations and eschews superfluous ones is part of the business of getting treaties ratified, entered into force, and properly assessed and revised in a timely manner. Most delegations have accepted (and in some cases affirmed) the notion that an ATT will come into force with important provisions and processes subject to periodic assessment and review. As we move from preparation to negotiation, we cannot lose sight of our collective learning curve. There are still legislative and licensing interoperabilities to be explored, reporting obligations to be made clearer and less burdensome, scope revisions to undertake to incorporate new technological developments, and so much more.

Reservations are indeed necessary. With all that needs to be discussed, negotiated and assessed, we will need to hold this table for a considerable amount of time.