4th ATT Prep Com: Time to be Realistic and Concrete

7 Feb

As diplomats and civil society alike prepare for the final preparatory committee in the Arms Trade Treaty process, it is important to take note of the original intent and point of consensus behind the initiation of the 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 ‘disarmament’ language remains to be seen.

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 Prep Com 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 than they might actually be.

It is also important to highlight the difficulty of the ATT process in the context of the other disarmament 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 Programme of Action on small arms 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 that vigorously contend 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 disarmament context in which it is being negotiated, is important to the process. We hope that the final Prep Com 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.


–Katherine Prizeman

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