Friday, July 13, 2012

Avoiding an ‘export-only’ treaty

by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War
During Thursday morning’s Main Committee I meeting on criteria and parameters, several delegations referred to the paper co-sponsored by Australia, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland, “Proposal on Criteria for Exports,” as a good basis for discussions on the formulation of this section of the treaty. The paper does indeed provide helpful guidance on criteria that should be included in the ATT. Most importantly, the paper improves greatly on the President’s 3 July 2012 paper insofar as the phrase “shall assess whether” is replaced with the phrase “shall not authorize … where substantial risk exists.” As has been suggested by many civil society colleagues and delegates alike, the provision “shall assess” is simply not sufficient; it is essential that some level of accountability exists beyond requiring states to conduct entirely private “assessments”.
Nonetheless, while the paper provides constructive language on many of the critical criterion for a robust ATT—international humanitarian law and human rights, organized crime, terrorism, development and poverty reduction, as well as diversion in all its forms including corrupt practices—there is an area in which the paper could be improved upon.

As explained in the “Introduction” section, the paper adopts an “export-only” perspective, whereby the criteria laid forth would be used by exporting states to determine whether or not to authorize a transfer of arms. While exporting states will have the primary responsibility to conduct consistent, robust, and rigorous assessments based on solid criteria of decisions to export arms from their territory, the ramifications of facilitating an “exporter-only” treaty could be detrimental to other states’ interests and, therefore, the success of the treaty. Several delegations, including Egypt, Cuba, and Syria, have already expressed that any treaty that represents an imbalance between exporter and importer states will be unacceptable due to the potential manipulation and political misuse of the criteria. It would follow then, that a criteria section drafted entirely from the perspective of exporters, detailing how such states are to determine arms transfers without codifying the roles and responsibilities of importer and transit states, may endanger the support of many non-exporting states for the ATT.

Additionally, such a one-sided construction does not adequately underscore the responsibility that must be borne by all states parties in the international arms trade. The explanatory note at the conclusion of the paper reflects this concern by noting that, “Commensurate with their role in the transfer chain, these [non-exporting] States should be required to take all appropriate legal, administrative and other measures necessary for ensuring the effectiveness of the Treaty.” Nonetheless, the paper still leaves room for a hostile interpretation of criteria given that non-exporting and non-manufacturing states may feel threatened by its “export exclusivity”. For instance, the delegate of Venezuela, while not specifically responding to the paper, stated on Thursday morning that a treaty that represents another “tool for the club of exporting states” is unacceptable. It is important to bear in mind the sensitivity around this issue and to practically address the widespread aversion to using treaty criteria to reinforce an exclusive “exporters club”.

While the majority of assessments for authorization would be the responsibility of exporters, it is unnecessary to limit the criteria to exporters, but rather, allow for the same criteria to apply to the decisions of importer and transit states. It is important to codify in the ATT the responsibilities of all states to contribute to ensuring international peace and security through preventing the illicit and irresponsible trade in conventional arms.