Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Assisted living

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War
One of the things that we at Global Action to Prevent War find so encouraging about the UN Programme of Action on small arms and the 'Matching Needs and Resources' initiative through the Group of Interested States process is the emphasis on state-to-state assistance on a wide variety of security tasks that help make the world a safer place. From securing borders and drying up stockpiles to creating complementary technologies that allow countries to trace weapons collaboratively, the many ways in which states have cooperated towards reducing illicit arms flows and protecting populations gives us energy and hope.

Needless to say, we are still far from reaching our security goals. If we are going to eventually solve the problems associated with illicit arms, diverted transfers, and other threats to human security, we will need more fora for cooperative exchange, not fewer. And, presuming the wishes of some states to ‘separate’ cooperation and assistance within the treaty, we will then need more opportunities for all governments to share what they have—funding, best practices, technical resources, and more—to help build a sustainable architecture in which weapons that are currently out of control are brought into a viable, reliable, secure framework.

General statements, which tend to be the least nuanced and collaborative of national positions, are also rarely punctuated by concessions. Nor are they often delivered in a spirit of interaction and dialogue with other statements made from the floor. The statements are mostly about what states want, not what they are willing to consider (or even contribute) in order to get a treaty finalized. It is in the private negotiating sessions where the real give and take occurs—and where commitments to future cooperation and assistance are either enhanced or undermined.

One of the phrases that we have overheard often this week is 'we'll get there.' We'll get to a treaty. The questions remaining, of course, relate to the kind of treaty we will have, the possibilities that it opens up in the longer-term for transparent and cooperative efforts to eliminate the diverted trade and, perhaps more importantly, the impact of the negotiations on our collective 'taste' for assistance. An ATT is not distinct from other security obligations under discussion at the UN. Nor, as Colombia intimated in its statement, is an ATT likely to reach its desired goals without firm commitments to 'assisted living' by states and other key stakeholders.

The continued existence of the UN is testimony to the recognition—often begrudging—that all states require cooperation and assistance if we are ever to create and maintain a structure that allows us to live in genuine peace and prosperity. An ATT can contribute to these goals, but perhaps its core achievement at the end of this month will not be its legal language, but the preservation and enhancement of the cooperative exchanges needed to translate such language into dependable, effective, and transparent practices on transfers.