Views on the #ArmsTreaty from Chairman Moritan

July 19 2012, 6:51 AM  by Oistein Thorsen

Roberto García Moritánby Eugènia Riera – International Catalan Institute for Peace

With a professional career focused on international security issues and disarmament spanning nearly 40 years, Argentine ambassador Roberto García Moritán now has the privilege to chair the Global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) meetings and to preside over the Diplomatic Conference in New York in July.

We spoke to him about the benefits that the ATT will entail and about the difficulties that have hampered the long process leading to its approval.

It has been said that you are a skillful consensus builder with wide diplomatic experience. Has this profile facilitated the ATT negotiations? Are you satisfied with the work that has been done so far?

The ATT process began in 2005, and from the very beginning I was in charge of leading the various evolutionary stages: first, in a UN Group of Experts, then, in a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, and, finally, in the Preparatory Committee for the Diplomatic Conference to negotiate the Treaty. It has been a long and intense process, and the result has been satisfactory because it has allowed all countries to understand what an ATT would imply. And it has also been a success considering the asymmetry of perceptions on international security issues that exists in the UN, since we have reached the July conference, where the 193 members are willing to negotiate, which has not been the case in other organs such as the Disarmament Conference. I am satisfied to see the political will of all involved to advance towards a serious and complex negotiation.

One of the things that still must be negotiated is what will be considered consensus on the Treaty. Different options are being considered: adopting the text by a large majority or granting states the right to veto. Can consensus be an obstacle?

The fact that the Treaty must be ratified by consensus is, undoubtedly, a challenge, but not an impediment. In fact, the Chemical Weapons Convention or the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty have highlighted the fact that consensus is not an obstacle when there is political will. In the case of the ATT, despite the logical fundamental differences – that became apparent during the debate in the Preparatory Committee – political will has always prevailed. On this basis, I am optimistic and I don’t think that the consensus rule will be a difficulty if we are able to agree on and negotiate the essential points in a serious and responsible manner. Where there is a will, there is always a grammatical way to strike a balance, even in a legal provision.

Supposing there was one specific point of the treaty on which agreement was nearly unanimous, with the opposition of only one or two states. Could that be considered consensus?

Consensus and unanimity is not the same thing. Nevertheless, in the United Nations there is a tendency to use both terms as synonyms. That is why, to determine the degree of consensus, we should also look at other factors that these states oppose. Recently, for instance, in a multilateral meeting dealing with an environmental issue, the opposition of one state was considered a consensus. Naturally, it is always easier and more convenient to negotiate something that is put to the vote, but a Treaty that does not obtain universal adherence would be useless. In many cases, a vote tends to hinder the achievement of this objective. In my opinion, an effective ATT must be universal and consensus can help in this respect.

Can reaching a broad consensus lead to a less ambitious text?

Every negotiation presupposes that states yield in their ambitions in the name of a common objective, and it is obvious that for consensus to be reached positions must be accommodated. The final result, in terms of the conceptual force of the instrument, will ultimately depend on the skill of this diplomatic negotiation so that the essence of what is expected is not lost.

What are the red lines that must not be crossed in order not to delegitimize the essence of the treaty?

Regarding its scope, the ATT must include small arms and light weapons, their components and also their ammunition. I cannot imagine a treaty that does not include these arms. As for criteria or parameters, I cannot imagine a treaty that does not firmly and categorically include the issue of human rights and international humanitarian law. And with respect to objectives, the Treaty must work towards the regulation of both the legal and illicit markets.

Civil society organizations also sustain that the ATT should regulate technologies needed to manufacture arms, including those of dual use. Do you think it is feasible for states to take on this issue?

If dual use refers to arms used for sport and other recreational activities, in my opinion they should be included and, perhaps regarding implementation, certain criteria should be included to distinguish between them. If the concept of dual use refers to technology, the issue takes on another dimension and experience could suggest certain difficulties. That does not mean that ways cannot be found to deal with the issue while avoiding the concerns of those who believe that it could affect their development policies.

What role should NGOs play in the process? Should they be allowed to attend all the working meetings along with the states?

NGOs have been an important partner from the beginning. They have offered their support and worked hard to make the Treaty a reality, and the international community should be grateful for this work. NGOs will be present in the Conference in July and will share their points of view. There will be no Treaty without civil society.

Does the violence in Syria, with over 10,000 deaths according to the UN, demonstrate that the ATT is indispensable? Would the Treaty have avoided arms transfers to Syria? 

World violence demonstrates that the ATT is necessary even though it is no panacea. Unfortunately, there are many examples of conflicts and indiscriminate violence, some more urgent than others. Each case highlights the fact that, with an instrument to regulate the arms trade, the acquisition of arms to exert violence will not be so easy. Human rights wouldn’t be systematically violated and human suffering would be reduced. And the same can be said regarding organized crime and terrorism. Through a control mechanism that will be similar in all states, the ATT will prevent these criminal groups from having easy access to arms and will result in strong cooperation so that this doesn’t occur.

What other benefits will the Treaty entail?

Apart from tightening the grip on organized crime and terrorism, it will contribute to the transparency and trust among countries and it can also have an effect in the humanitarian field. It will not be a panacea, but I am convinced that it is an important step in the right direction.

This interview was conducted in May and was published by the International Catalan Institute for Peace in Catalan, Spanish and English.