The Way Forward for the Arms Trade Treaty: UNGA First Committee Resolution

4 Dec

One of the most anticipated items on the First Committee agenda this year, the resolution entitled “The arms trade treaty” (A/C.1/67/L.11), was adopted on the whole by a vote of 157-0-18, thereby authorizing a new round of ATT negotiations for March 2013. The resolution, which was tabled by the original “co-authors” group of Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya, and the United Kingdom, was co-sponsored by more than 100 delegations. As the July 2012 Diplomatic Conference ended without adoption of a consensus treaty setting common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms, the fate of renewed negotiations has rested on the formulation of a General Assembly resolution detailing a way forward. Although no delegations voted against the resolution and all have expressed some degree of support for continuing the ATT process next year, there remains contention over the status of the President’s draft treaty text from 26 July 2012 as well as the operative rules of procedure. As such, a separate vote was requested on operational paragraph (OP) 2, which describes the rules of procedure for the “final” 18–28 March 2013 Negotiating Conference as “utilizing the modalities, applied mutatis mutandis, under which the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty of 2 to 27 July 2012 operated.” The result was 153-1-18 with the delegation of Iran dissenting. Likewise, a separate vote was also conducted on OP3, which designates the President’s 26 July text as “the basis for future work on the Arms Trade Treaty.” The result of this vote was 148-1-22 with Iran again representing the lone vote against retaining the paragraph.

Many delegations chose to offer explanations of vote (EOV) on the ATT resolution. Expressions of support were widespread as the representatives of Morocco, Norway, and Nigeria called on member states to support the resolution and remain committed to the continuation of negotiations. Nevertheless, discontent over some specifics within the President’s draft text was expressed by the Nigerian delegation, which underscored the need to more adequately address diversion and ambiguities in the Treaty’s scope. In addition, the delegation of Indonesia noted its abstention to OP2 and OP3 as the draft text “does not reflect its views and those of many other member states,” in particular on the matter of territorial integrity. Several delegations expressed their opposition to treating the President’s text as the sole basis for negotiations, including Belarus, Egypt, Iran, Ecuador, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, and Syria. The representative of Egypt called the draft “a work in progress,” while the delegation of Belarus warned that the document would prejudice the results of the work of the upcoming March conference. The representative of Iran also offered an EOV on his delegation’s vote against OP3 noting that the draft text is “vague and full of loopholes” and also provides for far too much subjectivity in application of assessment criteria. In particular, Iran noted that the parameters explicitly allow arms-exporting states on their own volition to export as many arms as they want to any country or region if in their view it can “contribute to peace and security”. Likewise, he complained that the current draft text gives too much preference to the commercial interests of exporting states than the security of importing states and other states in their regions.

With regards to the rules of procedure, as laid forth in OP2, delegations expressed their support for consensus, although some offered more detailed caveats. The Mexican delegation reiterated its well-known concern over allowing consensus to be interpreted as the right of one or a few delegations to impede general agreement. Similarly, the representative of Morocco supported consensus as “an effective tool” so long as it is not abused or misinterpreted as veto power or a demand for unanimity. Other delegations, including Egypt and India, also warned against placing artificial deadlines or timelines on negotiations.

While the ATT resolution has been adopted and a pathway forward has been identified towards a March Conference to finish work on common international standards for the transfer in conventional arms, there remains significant disagreement over the substance of the future treaty text on many issues from scope to criteria to enforcement mechanisms. This calls into question the status of the President’s draft text as the single basis for negotiations, as some states continue to express their unease with many of its contents.


—Katherine Prizeman


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