Time to be concrete

February 13 2012, 1:22 PM by Ray Acheson

As diplomats and civil society alike prepare for the final preparatory
committee in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) process, it is important to
take note of the origin of consensus in this process: despite
difficult and complex political considerations, there is general and
widespread support for negotiating an ATT, indicating a majority
opinion that arms transfers should operate according to a common set
of international standards. How those standards will be negotiated,
who will ‘monitor’ compliance with these standards, and how much
latitude will be allowed for more robust and explicit diversion
language remains to be seen.

by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War

There are many questions remaining, including the most basic of all:
what is the goal and objective of such a treaty? Differing answers to
this question present a complex challenge for both this PrepCom as
well as the July negotiating conference. There is ultimately no
philosophical consensus—some advocate for a treaty that can establish
strong humanitarian standards for the transfer of conventional weapons
that can combat, prevent, and eradicate the illicit transfer of such
weapons where they can facilitate destabilizing violations of human
rights and international humanitarian law, while others wish to
negotiate strictly on the grounds of trade. How a member state
characterizes the core objective of a future ATT will likely impact
all relevant positions adopted and thus will influence the success of
drafting and adopting the treaty. Therefore, it is necessary that the
upcoming negotiations and these final preparatory consultations seek a
realistic and pragmatic solution to this philosophical difference of
opinion. Without such a harmonization of purpose, the ATT negotiations
will forever be divided between schools of thought that seem less
reconciled in rhetoric than they might actually be in practice.

It is also important to highlight the difficulty of the ATT process in
the context of the other security challenges that are to arise in
2012. During a year that is punctuated by many disarmament and arms
control challenges—such as the Review Conference on the UN Programme
of Action on small arms, the initiation of a new review cycle of the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a conference on establishing a
Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone—creation of a
legally-binding ATT will require some degree of political capital
investment, especially in light of the provision of consensus
decision-making and acceptance of at least minimal international
oversight of national control systems. Large manufacturing states will
have to be active and productive participants in the ATT process if
the treaty is to have any real impact on the arms trade—both
cooperating with the provisions as well as providing international
assistance to smaller states for the necessary national implementation
capacity. There is an inherent responsibility on the part of the major
exporters to negotiate an honest and robust ATT based on the fact that
they account for the lion’s share of total arms manufactured, and thus
in circulation.

As the ATT preparatory phase comes to a close and official
negotiations begin, it is important to take into account the following
recommendations that will make for a more robust and better
implemented treaty over the longer term:

· It is wise to incorporate a concrete review process that
establishes regular meetings of the states parties to assess and
adjust the ATT to better reflect evolving security circumstances as
well as provide opportunities to make the treaty stronger to hopefully
include some or all of the ‘additions’ that still remain contentious
and perhaps are too difficult to include in the initial treaty.

· It is essential that negotiations on an ATT focus on a
structure that can support and even monitor national implementation
once a treaty has been adopted. Member states must look realistically
at the security, communications, and oversight challenges that lay
ahead for treaty implementers. There is no obvious mechanism that
currently exists to coordinate ATT-related logistics.

· Even those member states vigorously contending that any ATT
should neither encroach on territorial sovereignty nor interfere in
the ability of states to conduct arms transfers cannot argue against
the dangers of diverting otherwise legally transferred weapons to
non-state and illegitimate actors, such as criminal or terrorist
elements, as well as through reselling weapons to line the pockets of
corrupt officials. Delegations should address diversion directly in
formulating a robust treaty that sufficiently highlights, monitors,
and addresses all facets of this risk.

Understanding the inherent purpose of the ATT, as well as the broader
peace and security context in which it is being negotiated, is
important to the process. We hope that the final PrepCom will yield
concrete negotiating points for July as well as a strong sense of
enthusiasm and commitment from member states that will put diplomats
in the strongest and most encouraging position possible for the
diplomatic conference.