Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mexican menu

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

As the “final” negotiating conference gets underway, there remain deep divisions among stakeholders regarding the baseline adequacy of any treaty text that might find consensus over the next nine days. For many such stakeholders, a treaty that does little more than provide legal sanction for arms manufacturing states to determine their own transfers-related standards is insufficient at best and dangerous at worst.

Appeals on the first day for delegations to come down on the side of ‘strength’ and ‘robustness’ have been encouraging, though many of these are statements that seem more appropriate to building a working majority than an actionable consensus.

One such statement was drafted and circulated by Mexico, which has been a major force for building high levels of delegate interest in avoiding a ‘weak’ ATT. The widely endorsed (though clearly non-consensual) Mexican statement made clear that the text that diplomats inherited for this conference ‘needs considerable improvement’ in order to merit final adoption.

GAPW, other NGOs, and many governments agree with this assessment and have invested considerable energy in outlining the loopholes that must be closed if this treaty is to do anything more than reinforce the often-unassailable imbalances among arms producers and consumers that led us to pursue a treaty in the first place.

Several speakers have optimistically noted how ‘close’ we were to an ATT in July and how ‘close’ to the finish line we are now. Given the levels of dissonance regarding where that ‘line’ is located and what it looks like, it may well be that we are further from a consensus goal than these national statements are currently willing to acknowledge.

GAPW fully supports the desire of Mexico for a treaty that ‘would bring about a safer world.’ That said, the sad fact seems to be that some treaty iterations could have a much less welcome effect, a particular problem given that, as we have noted previously, there has been no culture of engagement on transfers that a successful Treaty can enforce and enhance.

Given this ‘reading’ of our current position, delegations are thereby urged to honorably perform two seemingly disparate tasks. First, to do everything possible over the next nine days to fortify Treaty provisions, especially regarding prospects for monitoring and amendment. At the same time, delegations must be willing to make the hard judgment, if circumstances eventually warrant it, that a weak treaty may cause more damage to the security of diverse human communities than no treaty at all.

Delegations are also reminded that, while this is the final negotiating conference, it is not the final resting place for the aspirations of an ATT. Through other GA-mandated processes, including the Group of Interested States in Practical Disarmament Matters, delegations can fashion a document and initiate a process that can engage and sustain a new way of authorizing and securing transfers rather than merely reinforcing existing arrangements.

Getting an ATT done during this conference is preferable. Getting to a conclusion that can actually fulfill some of the more lofty promises that we have made to victims of diverted weapons is more important still. We applaud Mexico and other states for helping to hold both options open.