Implementation support and international assistance: keys to combating illicit SALW flows

July 14 2011, 4:36 PM by Ray Acheson

A great number of state delegations to the third ATT PrepCom have
spoken to the important role of exporter states in preventing illicit
conventional arms transactions, particularly small arms and light
weapons (SALW). The point is relatively clear: the adoption of more
stringent export controls and law enforcement practices can shore up
the cascading effect of illicit arms flows from developed to
developing states. This is not only a feasible objective of an ATT,
but also one that has received considerable support in the PrepCom.
The arguably more important variable in sustaining illicit SALW
diffusion, and certainly a more serious vulnerability for an ATT, is
developing states’ capacity problems. State delegations have
maintained the near-unanimous position that treaty implementation
should occur at the national level. However, many developing states
lack the capacity to effectively control their borders, coastlines,
and airspace, as well as regulate customs offices and the officials in
them. For this reason, many delegations aligned with the African
Group, CARICOM, and the Group of Like-Minded States have also called
for treaty provisions on international cooperation and assistance to
improve developing states’ capacities to implement their treaty

by Nathan Sears, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs,
Carleton University, and Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International
League for Peace and Freedom

Both the importance and the difficulty of this part of an ATT cannot
be underestimated. There are already millions of SALW in illicit
circulation worldwide, and so simply preventing the future diffusion
of weapons from developed supplier states to developing importer
states will not solve the world’s illicit SALW problems. Developing
states need to play the key role in dealing with illicit SALW within
their borders. International cooperation and assistance can help, but
the challenges facing developing states are as much development
problems as disarmament and arms control problems, because of what is
required in terms of border control and law enforcement. It therefore
becomes important to ask how appropriate are these sorts of capacity
support commitments by developed states to developing states under the
prerogatives of an ATT.

As a simple response: they are still very relevant. While it would be
unrealistic to think that we can “solve all the world’s problems”
through an ATT—echoing the sentiment of the delegation of the United
States—there are legitimate and feasible objectives in this regard
that are appropriate under an ATT.

Many of the areas in which developing states require assistance to
implement their treaty obligations are those for which developed
states are perfectly capable of providing assistance. The first is in
providing technical assistance to meet state reporting requirements.
Many developing states are under-staffed and under-resourced to meet
their existing reporting requirements under international instruments
from human rights to disarmament. As a result, the professionals
tasked with reporting may not possess the technical knowhow and
experience to do so. Developed states, civil society organizations, or
an independent organization created under an ATT (an Implementation
Support Unit) could make available specialists to help train and
provide technical assistance to developing states on areas ranging
from reporting, to designing export and import control systems, or
border and customs systems.

Another major area with great potential for international cooperation
and assistance to facilitate treaty implementation by developing
states is in respect to law enforcement. A delegate of Interpol spoke
on the afternoon session of the third ATT PrepCom on 13 July. He spoke
of the utility of information exchange and cooperative operations for
detecting and combating illicit brokering and shipments of
conventional arms. There is no reason that his words should not become
part of the basis for the international cooperation and assistance
provisions of an ATT. Developing states can benefit greatly from
developed states’ capacities in the areas of intelligence collection
and law enforcement, particularly in terms of technical assistance,
training, information exchange, and actual operations.

The delegations of many developing states have spoken before the third
ATT PrepCom of the capacity challenges facing them in respect to a
potential ATT, and the need to include substantive provisions on
international assistance and cooperation within a treaty text. Three
further points could be spoken to in this respect. The first is the
provision of international financial assistance for capacity building.
Careful not to exacerbate the so-called “aid dependency” of certain
developing states, this is an area that could be considered under an
ATT. The second is the provision of victim assistance, which has been
addressed by a number of state delegations during the third ATT
PrepCom. The final provision is on the roles that non-state actors can
play in providing assistance, including civil society organizations
(particularly NGOs) and private contractors that specialize in this
sort of training. While it would be unrealistic to think that an ATT
can redress all of the world’s problems created by illicit SALW
diffusion under the international cooperation and assistance articles
of an ATT, there are a number of feasible objectives that can and
should be addressed by such a treaty.