Giving circles

March 2 2011, 3:52 PM  by Ray Acheson

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

The topic of the day at the ATT was cooperation and assistance, a theme that resonates as much with persons outside the UN system as inside it. Helping to ‘level the playing field’ among states and peoples is considered by many to be one of the cardinal priorities of the UN system. That states were willing to take up issues of capacity assistance to help other members fulfill their implementation responsibilities under a formal ATT was most welcome. As Australia noted, some states will need lots of help on treaty implementation, especially if their existing controls over weapons transfers lack fundamental robustness and clarity. The CARICOM statement provided a fairly robust listing of capacity-related issues for which assistance might be required in some instances, including customs and security controls, detection equipment and stockpile management. Papua New Guinea added to this list the need for common reporting formats and options for regionally based reporting to supplement national efforts. 

There are many places to seek and find capacity assistance—including UN agencies and civil society organizations—but states have the resources and the experience to make a huge difference to states that are sincere about their treaty commitments as well as their resolve to end illicit transfers by means of diversion, corruption or other means. That so many states reaffirmed this fundamental requirement of a successful treaty, even if many also pulled back from affirming any mandatory obligation (such as that suggested by Indonesia and Tanzania) to provide such assistance, was a start towards providing a framework that is reliable for states that are resolved to make real progress on transfers.

Capacity assistance of a largely technical nature was only one of the forms of support mentioned during the session. CARICOM and others also called for ‘information exchanges’ to ensure that ‘best practices’ on arms transfers are made available to guide national efforts and highlighted the need for a ‘dispute resolution regime’ that can help to sort out competing claims on transfers, both between buyers and sellers and between governments and the formal requirements under an ATT. There were also discussions on ‘victim assistance’ which evoked a mixed response from delegations, with Norway making what we feel is a useful proposal to place victims of weapons-related violence into the language of the treaty as a clear element of the rationale pushing delegates forward towards a formal treaty.

All of the ‘assistance’ language raised again questions of structure. How will donors and recipients get together to identify and respond to legitimate, treaty-related needs? How will best practices and the most helpful information and resources be identified and distributed? How will disputed claims on arms transfers, including ‘red flags’ on the potential for diversion, be adjudicated? How do we help ensure that reporting obligations are met in an accurate and timely manner? 

Clearly it is not enough to leave these matters to individual states. A number of statements, including those by Brazil, the European Union, New Zealand and the United States, affirmed the need for some sort of secretariat structure to handle these and related tasks. The likelihood of such a structure is difficult to determine and the scope of such a structure once the need for it has passed the test of consensus is equally unclear. But the fact that so many states recognize the problems that structural insufficiency might cause regarding the implementation of a treaty is a very positive development.

As these issues get debated further, there is a ‘cultural’ question to answer as well. What do donors and recipients owe each other? In our view, there must be a healthy symbiosis between the capacity gaps that states need to fill and the resources available from donors to fill them. States seeking resources must, as CARICOM noted, do as much for themselves as possible. Thus, donors are in the position of filling gaps not underwriting entire programs. This is in keeping with the desire of Switzerland that recipient and donor states work out capacity need together. Part of that is working out which states will do what and how external aid can best be used to fill the most pressing needs.

As noted by Trinidad and Tobago, cooperation makes demands on givers and receivers. The regulatory coherence envisioned under an ATT will only fulfill its potential as states recognize their responsibilities to be both donors and recipients. All states have some capacity to share, some with wise perspectives, others with educational materials, best practices or strategies on transfers that can help other states and regional bodies create more robust, transparent standards and more efficient implementation protocols. Sharing what you have and negotiating for what you don’t is the essence of cooperation that turns assistance into partnership.