Monday, March 25, 2013

Gift wrapped

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War
The most significant change to the new text is the section on diversion. While the text still reflects language that more tentatively than definitively binds, there is at the very least a reinforcement of the responsibility to end diversion as a key rationale for the years of preparation and negotiations which will—this week or sometime soon—result in a series of formally acknowledged obligations within the realm of arms transfers.
This reinforcement is most welcome. A focus on diverted transfers is not a distraction from the core purposes of a treaty, but is indeed central to the collective responsibility which the final ATT text must embody. Ending the practice of diverted weapons, as we have heard many times during preparatory and negotiating sessions, is key to making good on the promise of reduced levels of weapons-related violence, a promise that has inspired so many to follow and/or engage this process so energetically.

It would seem almost ludicrous to endorse a Treaty that did not continually reference and propose remedies for the scourge of diverted transfers, a scourge that continues to fuel corruption through the illicit market and massive violence through criminal and terrorist acts. As we easily recognize, this has little in common with the benign practice of re-gifting the least wanted of our birthday or Christmas presents. Diverted transfers are often the fruit of calculated efforts to manipulate a highly profitable and already inflated arms market. This is re-gifting of a sort, but with full potential to inflict the deadliest possible consequences.

We are extremely grateful to Ambassador Woolcott and his colleagues for pressing through revisions to this Treaty text that highlight further the central problem of diverted transfers. That said, we are reminded that most of the remedies proposed in this revision are activities that we did not (and should not) need a fully entered-into-force treaty to commence. We shouldn’t need a treaty to tell us that state-to-state assistance focused on developing viable, reliable national control systems is helpful. We shouldn’t need a treaty to motivate us to provide information sharing on transfers, or to highlight best practices with regard to identifying and addressing diversion potential, or to further develop our ‘understanding’ of the problems and potential solutions related to diverted transfers. Our fear has been and remains that the pursuit of these and other practical measures to address diversion has been needlessly sidetracked due in part to our preoccupation with achieving a paper treaty.

In reviewing the draft text on diversion, we welcome the specific mention of terrorism as an unintended recipient of transferred weapons, though we recognize that there are other ‘screens’ for diversion that should be applied with similar vigor. For instance, paramilitary activities which often serve state interests and thus might not be labeled ‘terrorist acts’ inflict grave violence that, to victims, would largely be indistinguishable from more generally recognized terror activities. There are, sadly, many ways to terrorize populations with diverted weapons beyond those that would formally and immediately warrant a terrorist designation.

But the basic issue at hand is not with definitions but with urgent and sustained response. As mentioned in previous issues of the Monitor, the understandable and often helpful dissection of Treaty text has inadvertently obscured the urgency around creating viable cultures on transfers. Through this important, but protracted Treaty process, some of its stakeholders have, in essence, practiced their own form of diversion, averting our gaze from a range of remedial activities on transfers that could help create the practical context for fully implemented Treaty provisions long before such provisions fully enter into force.

While an adopted ATT could be a most welcome development in the very near future, it is only the start of what will be some very heavy lifting towards bringing an end to diverted transfers. Stakeholders are urged to establish a complementary process (perhaps modeled on or even directly utilizing the Group of Interested States) at the earliest possible moment where we can discuss together how best to practice more collaborative vigilance on diverted transfers. Above all else, we must not wait for entry into force in order to begin creating viable, sustainable, multi-stakeholder ‘cultures’ that can address diversion concerns on an ongoing basis. The stakes are too high and too many weapons will continue to find their way into the wrong hands during what might well be a decade-long lag between adoption and entry into force. Indeed, in hindsight, we should probably have ramped up such a process several years ago. There is still both opportunity and advantage to doing so now.