Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great escape

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

One of the significant concerns of Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW), as well as of many other NGOs and delegations, is the desire by some states for a treaty with numerous 'escape clauses' by which governments can claim national interest as a rationale for suspending otherwise binding criteria that sanction—or deny—arms transfers. 
It has often been said that you craft treaties not for your friends but for the skeptics. And generally what skeptics require is assurances that obligations and benefits are spread evenly, that (in the case of an ATT) a treaty does not inadvertently reinforce advantages for arms producing states beyond those they already enjoy in a robust arms market that literally defies the global economic slowdown that has affected virtually every other industry.

Skeptics (and some NGOs echo this particular concern) also seek assurances that textual loopholes have been thought through carefully and then closed to the greatest extent possible. 

This often proves to be a harder task than it might seem. Often, loopholes do not become apparent until vigorous implementation ensues. Even with the experience in the negotiating room and even assuming good faith efforts to comply fully with treaty obligations, loopholes appear at the strangest times and in unforeseen ways. Part of why GAPW advocates for robust review conferences and other oversight mechanisms is to highlight and address these loopholes once they are recognized as such.

In this context, it is important to note that treaties generally have two basic sorts of loopholes—those related to the text of the statute itself and those related to the implementation of treaty provisions. Again, the reason that GAPW has advocated for a strong implementation support unit (ISU) and other, complementary mechanisms is because we recognize that the temptations will be great—regardless of the strength of approved treaty text—to sacrifice compliance to national interest. 

It is important that approved text be as free of 'escape routes' as possible. But even a 'tight' treaty without sufficient enforcement and oversight is likely to create a structure of obligations with many loopholes—some of which we can predict but others of which we haven't yet foreseen. 

We are most of the way through July and many issues remain before consensus can be assured. We hope that some of that consensus relates to the need to close loopholes within the statute and assure a process to stay one step ahead of the 'escape routes' that are almost certain to appear at a later stage.