Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Keeping focus: a personal perspective

by Natalie Goldring
Early in my career, I had the good fortune to work with Frank Blackaby, a former director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He rarely spoke much at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) board meetings at which we interactede Hhh, but his interventions were always insightful. At one meeting, we had become mired in administrative details and disputes. Frank sat quietly in the back of the room as we argued our positions; it seemed as though he might even be sleeping. After allowing the conversation to continue for a while, Frank raised his head and asked, “But what will this do to reduce the killing?”

The current debates over the minutia of the prospective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) risk losing sight of the fact that our core objective is to reduce the killing.

Before the negotiations began, non-governmental organizations and most governments advocating an ATT seemingly had consensus on many characteristics of a successful treaty. A robust treaty would:
  • bar countries from transferring weapons when there was a substantial risk that the weapons would be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law;
  • be broad in scope, including all types of conventional weapons, their parts and components, and their ammunition;
  • cover all types of international transfers of weapons, including transfers, gifts, leases, brokering, etc.;
  • have clear criteria for denial of sales;
  • require public reporting of transfers; and
  • have accessible thresholds for entry into force.
The treaty text we see next may not accomplish any of these objectives.

Here’s the bottom line from my perspective: If the proposed treaty allows governments to claim compliance with the treaty while violating international humanitarian and human rights standards, we’re better off without it. And unless the proposed treaty helps create conditions that can reduce the killing, we’re also better off without it.

Natalie Goldring is a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. She also represents the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.