by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War
States have continuously called for a transparent and open negotiating process for the arms trade treaty (ATT), noting the importance of openness while deliberating treaty language. While transparency in negotiation is important, promoting consistent and robust transparency in the full ATT architecture is equally essential. Furthermore, robust transparency in implementing treaty obligations is necessary in order to ensure that the ATT will provide for a ‘value-added’ to already existing mechanisms under UN auspices.
As noted by the delegation of Senegal during the plenary session on Monday morning, the ATT must take into account existing processes, such as the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA); the women, peace, and security framework as laid forth in UN Security Council Resolution 1325; and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programmes. This ‘value-added’ of the ATT rests, in part, on its legally-binding nature, especially when the treaty is understood as complementary to the UNPoA political (non-legally binding) framework on illicit trade in small arms. If there is not sufficient transparency in ATT obligations, there is a danger that the ATT will become just another ‘framework’ and not fulfill its legally-binding role in complementing other UN processes.
It is important to bear in mind the significance of adopting an ATT that meaningfully contributes value to the existing set of multilateral instruments with particular emphasis on robust transparency measures. During Monday morning’s plenary meeting, some states referred to the need for transparency and accountability under the ATT, but with the additional caveat that relevant transparency measures must strike an “appropriate balance between transparency and national security.” The representative of China explicitly stated, “Clean-cut transparency measures may not suit all.” Likewise, the representative of Belarus agreed that transparency measures must take into account national commercial and security interests. While mindful of the national security dimension, advocating for transparency measures with “strings attached” represents a dangerous potential for undermining the meaningfulness of the ATT by providing potential political cover for future dubious transfers; in essence leaving room for states parties to maintain that national interests or circumstances “prevent them” from remaining fully transparent. While consideration for national security should be incorporated into any multilateral agreement, it cannot and should not be used as a means of diversion from fulfilling ATT obligations. The ATT’s legally-binding status necessitates the highest levels of accountability.
The position that the ATT “should be a confidence-building mechanism and not a sanction mechanism,” as expressed by the delegation of Indonesia, is not sufficient. As previously noted, the ATT must be much more than a confidence-building measure by virtue of its legally-binding status. Transparency in ATT obligations, most especially in transfer authorizations and denials, is not merely a confidence-building measure, but constitutes a legal obligation. In this context, the complementarity between the UNPoA and the ATT underscores the importance of adopting an ATT with strong and transparent obligations. The ATT provides the opportunity to address the lack of accountability in the UNPoA process by dictating, in a legally-binding manner, how states signatories must comply with international transfer standards with a high level of transparency through a clear reporting process on transfers (including denials) and a formal, mandatory monitoring system. Furthermore, in concert with the UNPoA that provides a framework for drying up stockpiles and eliminating weapons in circulation, the ATT has the opportunity to curb human suffering and armed violence that could be caused by new instances of diverted trade in conventional weapons.While the UNPoA provides an important framework for implementing adequate national laws, regulations, and administrative procedures around illicit trade in small arms, the ATT must not become another political document offering only general guidelines for arms transfer authorizations. The opportunity to craft and adopt a new piece of binding international law with the highest levels of transparency and full complementarity with existing UN activities in the conventional arms field must not be wasted.