Archive | January, 2012

Secretary-General Presents New 5-Year Agenda: Focusing on Prevention

31 Jan

Just last week, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented his Five-Year Action Agenda: ‘The Future We Want’ for his next term at the helm of the UN. He expanded further on the list of five imperatives laid forth last September: sustainable development; preventing conflicts and disasters, human rights abuses, and development setbacks; building a safer and more secure world, including standing strong on fundamental principles of democracy and human rights; supporting nations in transitions; and working with and for women and young people.

The Secretary-General made several important points regarding the changing dynamics of the world’s community that will require new and more dynamic responses by various stakeholders. The world’s population has officially exceeded 7 billion, new economic strongholds are emerging, social inequality is proliferating, climate change and environmental degradation are becoming harsher realities, and limited resources are continuing to shrink. These are no small challenges. It seems that any agenda,  not matter how far reaching and detailed, would be insufficient to tackle such gargantuan issues (the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] are not on track to be achieved by 2015 as was envisioned when they were adopted in 2000. Nonetheless, as Ban Ki-moon said, the myth that development does not work is false– there has been more effective disease control, more children in primary school, and significant reductions in poverty throughout the world.) Nonetheless, it is important to temper opinions regarding the reality of setting forth such sweeping and lofty goals. A critical element of making these goals a reality is transparency, information sharing, and inter-agency coordination that not only engages the UN and its agencies, but also civil society, the private sector, academics, and other engaged global citizens that have the resources, enthusiasm, and skills to make progress, no matter how small, on these ambitious goals. As such, a welcome development was the SG’s announcement that he would appoint a senior adviser tasked with coordinating system-wide partnerships.

It’s worth a discussion on prevention– a key component of the SG’s agenda that is a ‘cure’ that is both better and cheaper than emergency response. In a system that is often focused on dealing with spiraling-out-of-control crises, this is a welcome initiative. The SG noted that his agenda emphasizes early warning and action through conflict mapping and linking, collecting and integrating information from across the system. This is precisely where the focus needs to be in addressing conflict, including mass atrocities and genocide, and human rights. As emphasized in our own organizational mission and priorities, it is essential to promote more transparency for findings generated by the UN, by member states and by civil society groups that indicate a credible threat of mass atrocities such that these findings can be made actionable at earlier stages before full-scale violence flares up. Findings are ultimately limited in their usefulness unless there is an attentive and robust infrastructure to turn information into preventative policy.

The SG’s reference to ‘a new dimension for the emerging doctrine of the responsibility to protect’ is somewhat vague, but it is a welcome reference to a framework that, although the majority of news-grabbing political considerations have focused on the last resort (military) intervention piece of it, fully embraces prevention as a means to limit the worst of human rights abuses. ‘Pillars’ one and two of the R2P framework focus on capacity-building and assistance for governments to protect their own people as a means of prevention. It is only the third and final pillar that focuses on potential outside intervention as a means to ‘protect.’  Likewise, more effective mapping and integration of information across the international system is welcome initiative that would promote greater transparency in findings of potential human rights abuses so that it is not left exclusively to the Security Council to deal with a full-blown crisis, but rather the wider international community can engage in early action and preventative activities.

It is important that the international community looks at the most pressing issues of the immediate future on a macro level, in addition to the micro dealings of day-to-day UN work. It is in these broader assessments that the different challenges can be better understood in concert with one another so that better and more efficient coordination can be planned for and ultimately implemented. The linkages are clear– higher levels of participation from women and youth are linked to more sustainable development; preventing conflicts and development setbacks surely depend on building a safer and more secure world. The UN is an imperfect system, but it is a system that is universal in representation and replete with human creativity and skills to tackle, even if imperfectly, these difficult challenges of our time.


–Katherine Prizeman

Security Council Discusses Two Key Security Issues: Rule of Law and Middle East

25 Jan

Over the past week, the Security Council has engaged in two separate debates on thematic issues of critical importance to the broader human security agenda– the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies and the situation in the Middle East including the Palestinian question. One key highlight was the warning by the UK delegate on illegal arms smuggling into Syria that continues to feed the violence.

Our intern Helene Samson provides detailed reports on the meetings. Please see below.


On 19 January 2012, the Security Council met to discuss the UN’s approach to transitional justice and the rule of law, a norm which is acknowledged by the UN Charter as a precondition to national and international peace and security, and remains a vital element for ensuring prosperity, sustainable development and reducing poverty in states. Although the UN intervention in war-torn states countries has helped in transitional justice, both the UN and national capacities still need to be strengthened given the growing corruption, lack of transparency, and accountability. The Council also reaffirmed its opposition to impunity for violations of international law and highlighted the responsibility of states to prosecute people responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the meeting by supporting the role of rule of law in monitoring armed conflicts, and the growing threat of transnational trafficking, and organized crimes. He further stressed also the necessity to reinforce the rule of law to protect civilians and vulnerable groups, such as women and children. He discussed reinforcing norms through transitional justice; building justice and security institutions to promote trust; and achieving justice for women and gender equality.

The delegations present expressed their respective commitments to rule of law. Rule of law was particularly influential in enhancing the capacity of civil society in the Arab Spring, evidenced in cases such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. India and Portugal both highlighted the need to eliminate state discriminatory laws that interfere with gender equality, equal rights and the full political participation of women. Indeed, children and women continue to represent one of the most vulnerable groups in armed conflicts. France suggested that ICC judicial decisions should be pursued steadily and consistently by states, when states are not willing to enforce criminal justice within their own domestic legal systems. Next, the UK voiced concerns that some member states have not recognized the Court’s competence, and pointed out that the ICC should have a more compulsory competence in terms of international criminal justice. Furthermore, the UK explained that security goes along with health and education regarding peace building long-term processes; the British delegation declared they were ready to invest 30 percent of its growing development aid to help 12 million women have better access to justice through police, courts and legal assistance.

Although they have not signed the Rome Statute, the United States also expressed its moral commitment to the international norms of transnational justice and rule of law by mentioning their honoring institutionalized initiatives for armed conflict prevention: Obama’s Executive Order on promoting women participation in peace process and rule of law enforcement, and also a study on high-level atrocity prevention. Moreover, as for China, it did not mention any initiatives to promote transitional justice and security, but emphasized its reluctance regarding the systematic and intrusive application of sanctions in some unique national situations, arguing that national sovereignty is still the highest legitimate authority. States tending to reinforce the rule of law through issuing laws of post-conflict reintegration and integral reparation, such as Colombia or adopting a more democratic constitution like in Morocco, warned also the UN approach criticized earlier by China. It was suggested the UN should cooperate with states to complete national measures and consolidate the rule of law in the different realities. Guatemala, whose post-conflict institutions are still weak and have seen transnational criminality worsen, highlighted the lack of national appropriation that sometimes follows failed post-war peace building. Guatemala has nevertheless explained that a successful reconciliation consists of a balance between the duty of remembrance and the responsibility of reconciliation.

In sum, the Security Council expressed its concerns regarding displaced groups, children, and particularly women who also play also a critical role in peace building. The adoption of measures, such as Resolution 1325, has been encouraging. It has been argued that Specific international tribunals, in particular the ICC, remain a vital element in the architecture of the international and healing justice. There is a need to coordinate international jurisdiction needs to ensure the reinforcement of the rule of law. However, the Security Council is aware that in an ideal world, national States should preserve jurisdictions should do justice themselves, without any intervention from an international organization. Meanwhile, the Security Council will have to address these challenges to promote rule of law in cooperation with national politics and help states to build peace and security. The Security Council expects an international push and political changes in war-torn societies.

This Security Council’s meeting was part of a high-level meeting on justice and rule of law that will be discussed by world leaders at the General Assembly on 24 September 2012. For the time being, the Council sought to emphasize the major role that rule of law plays in the peace and security field, as a call for political leaders to implement reform measures.


The Security Council met on 24 January 2012 to discuss the situation in the Middle East, focusing at length on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, welcomed the series of talks on territory and security between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators initiated 3 January 2012. He reported growing violence and illegal measures on the ground by Israel. Indeed, the aggressive Israeli settlement activities and the constant exchanged violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians present a major obstacle to a two-State solution.

As for Lebanon, several incidents in the zone of operation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) showed the fragile conditions of security. The continued Israeli violation of the Lebanese aerospace not only undermines the credibility of UNIFIL, but also breaks with Resolution 1701. Moreover, 5,660 Syrian refugees have been registered on 13 January 2012 in Lebanon. He thus encouraged the Security Council to support the League of the Arab States’ proposal to tackle the violence and human rights violation perpetuated by the Syrian government.

Following Fernandez-Taranco’s introductory comments, Permanent Observer of Palestine spoke out about the Israeli practices on the ground in violation of international legal norms. He mentioned that Israeli settlement activities increased by 20 percent in 2011 further ‘Judaizing’ East Jerusalem with more checking points, demolitions of Palestinian proprieties, the closure of Palestinian institutions and the ‘ghettoization’ of the Palestinians, among others. He went further in accusing Israeli settlers of ethnic cleansing, in particular in the Jordan Valley, through the destruction of farms and displacement of population, and also acts of vandalism in churches and mosques, all in the full view of the Israeli security force. The Israeli air and land blockade affects deeply the Palestinians since it obstructs the necessary civil construction and humanitarian aids.

The Israeli delegation affirmed that the single greatest threat to the world security was an Iran seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The Israeli representative blamed the Security Council for having spent too much time and energy on the Israeli settlement activities instead of focusing on the real challenges that face the Middle East and the entire world. With its plan of enriching uranium to a 20 percent level, Iran breaks also several Security Council Resolutions, a reason why “the Security Council should be losing sleep over it,” replied the Israeli delegate. Adding to the Iranian threat, Israel also accused Palestinian authorities of keeping silent on the Hamas’ incitement to hatred and the destruction of Israel. Israel concluded Palestine’s misleading insistence on the two-State solution justifies Gazans’ security as the Israeli main priority.

The US encouraged both parties to set an environment conducive to progress and condemned any incitement to violence and terrorist attacks against Israel. However, the US delegation reaffirmed that it did not support the legitimacy of settlement activities. Regarding Syria, the US delegate noted that there are urgent needs for sanctions against the Syrian government actions and affirmed support for the Arab League’s plan for a transition to democracy.

With 43 percent of the West Bank clearly not under the control of the Palestinians and corresponding increasing violence, India declared the Israeli settlement unacceptable and contrary to international law. Restrictions to humanitarian assistance have resulted in an increase in poverty levels, something hardly compatible with a two-State solution. Togo, concerned for Palestinian refugee rights, called also for leaving the blockade. Good faith negotiations from both parties, financial and material support from the international community, and the Quartet’s role as guarantor of any agreements reached, were all encouraged as a set of practices to overcome current difficulties.

Colombia reiterated the negative impact of settlement activities in the region, but also noted violence against Israelis and threats to Israeli security calling for defined borders acknowledged by the international community. The Moroccan delegation explained also that Israel’s lack of political and moral will on the ground represented great challenges to peace. They suggested that Israel fulfill its responsibilities and obligations, in particular in Jerusalem and its suburbs where settlement activities have increased.

Pakistan criticized the endless debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Security Council and the Quartet’s frozen position in a state of “suspended promises” that have not helped Palestinians address the issue. The Russian Federation noted a ‘remote manipulation’ from some states, without explicitly mentioning names, to maintain a certain ethnic group to power constitutes a major obstacle to human rights and the peace process.

The United Kingdom broadened the scope of the debate calling for democracy in the Arab world and the Security Council’s support for the League of Arab States in the transition to democracy in Syria. The UK warned of the illegal smuggling of arms to Syria, which continues to feed the shedding of blood. While Germany suggested expanding product exports to the West Bank to ensure the creation of jobs and prosperity, France urged establishing an international follow-up mechanism that is likely to lead to a two-State solution.


Mexico, Drug Trade, and Illicit Arms

25 Jan

The Mexican government has recently released updated drug war death toll figures, reporting 47,515 deaths in drug-related violence since 2006 when President Calderon began a military assault on drug cartels. The so-called ‘war on drugs’ has ravaged the security sector and continues to present a dangerous challenge to the US as drug cartels battle over control of the lucrative US consumption market. The factors associated with this struggle are plenty and can be evaluated both in isolation as well as collectively– the role of poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunity surely contribute to the allure of drug trafficking. Such societal stresses have perpetuated the illicit business and enticed the hopeless and struggling into a black market that, although highly risky, dangerous, and gruesome, can offer high financial returns.

The endemic contributors to drug trafficking aside, the role of illicit arms and its relationship with drug trafficking may not necessarily be causal, but illicit weapons surely perpetuate and enable the drug-related violence that has become a blight on the world community. In a year when the UN General Assembly will negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons, it is important to focus on why it is international standards for export and import matter. The consequences of unregulated trade, which lead to societies awash in illegal weapons used for criminality, violence, and intimidation, are dire. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mexico. As noted by Daniel Avila Camacho in a report for the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), drugs and arms often account for the largest sections of the black market and often use the same transport roots. Possession of arms by drug traffickers is more than a common practice and has become a sort of requirement for protection and security reasons when moving about areas of operation. Possession of arms is often involved from primary production by drug growers to the couriers accompanied by armed bodyguards. The financial symbiosis is also evident– drug trafficking often generates vast proceeds creating a financial base for criminal and terrorist groups to conduct illegal traffic in arms and vice versa creating a synergistic relationship between the two activities.

The sincere hope of many working for a ‘robust ATT’ is that the treaty will not only regulate the legal trade in arms between governments, but will also prevent and contribute to the eradication of illicit trade in arms (hopefully to include small arms and light weapons [SALWs], which is the type of weapon generally referred to here as related to drug and gang violence). The example of drug-related violence brings to light the critical importance of adopting a strong humanitarian perspective in an ATT so that it is more than a commerce agreement between states. The conflation of the business of arms trade (which does have a legal market in government-to-government transfers of military equipment and arms) and human rights concerns comes via the issue of diversion — the movement of weapons from the legal to the illicit market for purposes of criminality, insurgency, to violate the human rights of civilian populations, or to line the pockets of corrupt government officials.  It is diversion that must be ‘flagged,’ addressed, and eliminated through the framework of a strong and legally-binding ATT that takes care to disallow loopholes and bypassing of its provisions by criminal networks and corrupt individuals.

States continue to reinforce the right to acquire arms for self defense as part of their innate state sovereignty. These references to Article 51 of the UN Charter will not cease and neither will trade in arms between states. Manufacturing and trade in arms is a business that accounts for billions of dollars of revenue for states. An ATT will have no power over this legal trade insofar as creating a mechanism that would limit legal trade between states, something that has been expressly warned against during the ATT preparatory discussions. States are careful not to encroach on this right. Nonetheless, a central goal of an ATT, along with the UN Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms (PoA), must be to address the human suffering related to the illegal trade in arms by preventing illegal diversion such that there are less weapons in the hands of drug traffickers.

–Katherine Prizeman


Following through on a Middle East WMD-Free Zone

18 Jan

A recent editorial in the NY Times from 15 January proposed that the best way to prevent a ‘nuclear Iran’ is through a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East (WMDFZ). A 1995 resolution on the Middle East at the Review Conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) calls upon the states from the region to “take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards, inter alia, the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective.” Furthermore, a statement from the UN Security Council on 31 January 1992 affirmed that proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international peace and security. The outcome document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference committed states parties to a 2012 conference on the establishment of such a WMDFZ and such a conference will be held later this year in Finland. Given this historical context and mindful of current political circumstances in the region, it is essential that the development of concrete proposals for treaty elements and confidence-building measures towards a WMDFZ in the Middle East are taken both seriously and expeditiously.

As explained by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull in their Times op-ed, a military attack on Iran will most likely encourage the Islamic Republic to more vigorously pursue nuclear weapons in the long run, even if its program is set back several years due to the attack. Such costs are high insofar as the likelihood of Iran’s more robust and intense pursuit of nuclear weapons as well as the chance that other Arab states will consider ‘going nuclear.’ The other major challenge (and danger) in the region is surely Israel’s policy of ‘opacity’ around its nuclear program– not acknowledging having nuclear weapons while the rest of the world operates under the assumption that they do, in fact, have such capabilities with little to no ambiguity around that fact. Therefore, the only clear path forward is the proposed (and promised) development of a Middle East WMDFZ.

As expressed on numerous occasions by government officials, a nuclear Iran is not an option for Israel or the United States, while Israel continues to operate outside the NPT framework and therefore is not obligated to IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities. Moreover, Israel’s escalating tensions with Turkey and even Egypt (with which Israel has a peace agreement) are indicative of a worsening situation in a region home to some of the most protracted and deep-seeded conflicts in history. Iran’s recent inflammatory actions, including its threatening to shut down access to the Strait of Hormuz because of sanctions imposed against its developing nuclear program, are a sign that the current trajectory is at best alarming and a new pathway to peace must be seriously pursued. A WMDFZ would ultimately force all the major stakeholders to task– Israel’s nuclear program would have to become a viable discussion point and Iran would be subject to legitimized monitoring in terms of its uranium enrichment program for energy production, which the Islamic Republic strongly contends is as far as its production goes.

There are no illusions in terms of how difficult, complex, and unique a WMDFZ in the Middle East actually is. The zones that already exist, such as Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Mongolia, clearly do not have the same political challenges that the Middle East must grapple with. The negotiations around the zone will be long, complicated, and frustrating to be sure, but it is essential to not only international peace and security, but to a sustained regional peace that will never come to fruition if the threat of nuclear weapons and the development of such weapons are on the table. Negotiations to develop and implement a WMDFZ must operate in concert with complementary steps toward regional peace as collective security agreements cannot be viably and permanently de-linked from peace agreements. Disarmament and arms control issues must be negotiated simultaneously. Nonetheless, it is important to caution that although a dual peace and arms control process is important, the WMDFZ will have to be negotiated even if a comprehensive peace agreement has not yet been reached in the region (at least to start) .

It is also important to understand the WMFZ negotiations in the context of other international disarmament and arms control processes such as ratification of the CTBT, other biological, chemical and nuclear treaties, the UN Programme of Action on small arms, and IAEA inspections. Compliance with these measures are essential in order to increase confidence in regional security and trust in the preparatory process (which is sure to be long) leading to the creation of the zone.

The time is now for honest and robust efforts towards a WMDFZ in the Middle East. Such a zone will have positive ramifications for the region and the world at large by eliminating the option of the antiquated Cold War-style nuclear deterrence for ‘mutually assured destruction.’ It’s time for all stakeholders to be held accountable and for a transparent framework that limits the dangerous double standard and acceleration of tensions that currently exist.

–Katherine Prizeman

Clarifying (again) the Goals of an ATT

10 Jan

It has become the habit of many of those working for a robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to explain, on a regular basis, just what an ATT will and will not accomplish as the immense ignorance around this issue continues to grow. Opinions as to whether someone is for or against an ATT aside, it is the responsibility of all global citizens to do the research on what an ATT will actually entail before making wrong and unhelpful assumptions about a piece of international law that has yet to even be penned in its first draft form.

Case and point: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky recently began circulating a survey to stop the ‘UN Gun Ban.’ Senator Paul goes on to say that the Obama administration has decided to work with the UN on this ‘small arms treaty’ that is part of a ‘global gun control scheme.’ The Senator’s four main points of contention are that the treaty will:

  • Enact tougher licensing requirements making it harder for Americans to obtain a firearm legally
  • Confiscate and destroy all ‘unauthorized civilian firearms’
  • Ban the trade, sale, and private ownership of all semi-automatic weapons
  • Create an international gun registry that will ‘set the stage for full-scale gun confiscation.’

All of these assumptions are plain wrong. Senator Paul and his supporters clearly do not understand the goals, provisions, and limitations of the proposed ATT. From the outset, negotiations with respect to an ATT are focused exclusively on international transfers of conventional weapons between member states of the UN and have nothing to do with individual citizens, private ownership, or the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Documents from the ATT preparatory committees have expressly disclaimed any intention to interfere with the right of states to self defense as well as national regulation of firearms within its own territory. Furthermore, all 193 member states as a unit, including many that are still highly skeptical of an ATT, would never allow a treaty to be penned that would encroach on such basic rights of sovereignty.

The original General Assembly resolution that called for negotiations to begin on an ATT explicitly and exclusively calls for ‘common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms’ without mentioning, even once, internal domestic policy regarding gun ownership or confiscation, destruction, or limitation on civilian firearms. The standards refer to criteria and parameters regarding transfers of weapons from one state (government) to another. Moreover, the most recent paper from Chairman of the ATT negotiating process, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina, from July 2011 recognizes the sovereign right of states to regulate internal transfers including ‘national constitutional protections on private ownership.’ As such, there is zero potential for an ATT to affect US domestic licensing laws or civilian firearms possession let alone give anyone the authority (certainly no imaginary UN enforcing squad) to confiscate and destroy civilian firearms.

As for the contention that the ATT will ban the sale, trade, and ownership of semi-automatic weapons is also, not surprisingly, entirely false. Firstly, the ATT explicitly refers to large conventional weapons used for military purposes, which include: tanks, military vehicles, military aircraft, naval vessels, missiles, missile systems, and military helicopters among others– with no mention of rifles whatsoever. Small arms and light weapons (SALWs) are not currently accepted by all UN member states as part of the scope of the ATT. The question as to whether they will be included under the scope of the treaty is still very much up in the air. Secondly, even if SALWs were to be included under the scope of the ATT, private ownership of such weapons is entirely unaffected as the ATT deals only with the regulation of state-to-state transfers.

Lastly, concern over an ‘international gun registry’ is entirely unfounded. None of the proposals tabled and considered throughout the ATT negotiating process contemplate creation of any such enforcement bureaucracy. The US delegation has made clear its position that oversight of the ATT’s provisions must remain under the control of national governments and should not be subject to international scrutiny as US law already provides for comprehensive regulation of international arms transfers. Many other states agree. As the ATT process is a consensus-driven one, all member states will have to come to agreement before any treaty will be accepted making acceptance of any ‘international policing unit’ utterly impossible. The main proposal under consideration is an International Support Unit (ISU) that would serve as a repository for annual transfer reports from signatories, assist states in implementing the treaty’s provisions when requested to, serve as a clearinghouse for requests for international cooperation and assistance regarding implementation, and promote understanding of the treaty and its provisions. There is no mention of ‘international policing,’ ‘a global registry’ of all firearms owned throughout the globe (which, moreover, is entirely unrealistic), or powers bestowed to some external UN body that will allow it to determine who should or should not have the right to own a firearm within the confines of their own national homeland.

It seems clear to me– there is neither a ‘small arms treaty’ nor a ‘global gun control scheme’ in the works. Advocates of a robust ATT are fighting for strong humanitarian language regarding arms transfers in order to prevent illicit diversion to terrorists, criminals, and other human rights abusers and ultimately limit human suffering. Even the most skeptical of member states do not disagree that such black market trade is harmful to the world at large and that international standards for state-to-state trade in conventional weapons are direly needed. No one is pushing for confiscation of civilian firearms in any individual country and any ATT would certainly have no impact on existing domestic law in any member state.

Therefore, before anyone starts brandishing the yet-to-exist-ATT a global conspiracy to ban all gun ownership, it is worth a look at the documentation of the process that proves nothing of the sort.

–Katherine Prizeman


2012 and Conventional Weapons: Balancing the PoA and the ATT

5 Jan

For those that follow processes related to conventional weapons disarmament, 2012 is proving to be a busy and significant year with its own set of opportunities and challenges. This July, diplomats will come together at the UN headquarters in New York and negotiate treaty language for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. Just four weeks later, many of those same diplomats will gather for a Review Conference to assess implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all Its Aspects (UNPoA).

Each process has its own difficulties– the objective of an ATT is still unclear as to whether it is a treaty with a strong humanitarian perspective aimed at preventing human suffering caused by illicit trade in conventional weapons or, rather, merely a treaty to regulate commerce of arms; the PoA still suffers from weak implementation without benchmarks or enforcement power. Moreover, advocates of a robust ATT fear that small arms and light weapons (SALWs) will not be covered under the scope of the treaty, while many states that have tried to implement the UNPoA framework still lack the coordination and technology necessary to provide the marking, tracing, and record keeping of weapons that is necessary to eliminate illicit trade. As such, the challenges in both processes are vast. However, in a year that provides forums for improvements in both processes, we would be wise to make good use of them by advocating and underscoring linkages and complementary qualities that exist between the two.

The UNPoA is a political (non-legally binding) framework document that covers a wide variety of activities involving SALWs– international transfer, brokering, manufacture, stockpile management, marking, tracing, and record keeping. The UNPoA provides a framework for implementing adequate national laws, regulations, and adminstrative procedures around these activities as they relate to illicit trade. An ATT, as a legally-binding treaty of international law, would cover only internati0nal transfers of conventional weapons such as tanks, military vehicles, naval vessels, missiles, and missile systems and provide for a list of criteria to which signatories would be bound when determining if an arms transfer will be permitted.

Although the two instruments seem disparate, there are clear areas where an ATT could and should support the UNPoA framework. One element severely lacking in the UNPoA is benchmarks. The ATT could help with this lack of accountability by dictating, in a legally-binding manner, how states signatories must comply with international transfer standards. Additionally, an ATT has the ability to clarify some UNPoA ambiguities with regards to transfers (although it is still unclear as to whether this will include SALWs, which may or may not be in the scope of the treaty).  Most importantly, the ATT has the opportunity to build on national commitments to arms control and conventional disarmament measures by providing (hopefully) a clear reporting process on transfers (including denials), a formal monitoring system, and some form of a secretariat to provide administrative support to signatories in their national implementation of the treaty’s provisions.

While the ATT will neither dry up any existing stockpiles nor cover weapons already in circulation, it will address (how strongly and explicitly is still uncertain) diversion of weapons into the hands of terrorists, criminals, and corrupt officials by providing common international trade standards. In concert with the UNPoA that does provide a framework for drying up stockpiles and eliminating weapons in circulation, the ATT has the opportunity to curb human suffering and armed violence caused by new instances of illicit trade in conventional weapons. It seems the two have more in common than has been generally thought by addressing illicit trade through different lenses.

The argument that an ATT will be a drain on resources and cause reporting fatigue for signatories is a weak one at best. It is a generally accepted notion that the lack of common standards for international trade in conventional weapons must be addressed in a more robust and consistent manner than currently exists in the UNPoA that addresses only small arms in a non-binding framework. Therefore, it is clear that both instruments are relevant and it is important to ensure the effectiveness of both in the upcoming year.

–Katherine Prizeman