Sunday, March 17, 2013

Paper cut

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

We have begun what is billed as the ‘Final Negotiating Conference” on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), one that we expect will either produce agreement on a Treaty or pass on the process to some alternative structure for bringing about international standards on arms transfers. 

This has been a challenging process. It has absorbed a great deal of capacity from states and UNODA, from NGOs and civil society organizations, as well as from diverse citizens who have long dared to hope that an effective ATT could contribute to eliminating prospects for diverted transfers that inflict so much misery on so many.

We have collectively invested much in defining, organizing, and managing this process. We have spent untold amounts of political and organizational capital holding together coalitions, convincing skeptics, soothing frustrations, breaches of trust and bad feelings, and merging agendas and working methods that have largely defied consensus agreement.

For many smaller delegations, time spent on an ATT was not available to work on other core issues in the UN’s security system: on implementation of the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA); on structures to prevent mass atrocities; on fulfilling MDG commitments; on creating viable, effective National Action Plans on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to guarantee women’s participation in political processes and eliminate impunity for gender violence; on fixing our disarmament infrastructure; and much more. There is only so much energy bequeathed to missions, Secretariat officials and civil society, and it seems as though all have given their share—and then some—to this process.

Under the leadership of Ambassador Woolcott of Australia, we have nine days to attempt to justify all of the energy and funding that have preceded this session. Our task now is to fix the text we have to work with, to decide if there is good enough reason to move it forward for ratification, and to restart the task that should have taken up more of our commitment all along—developing a ‘culture’ of engagement on transfers that can build more trusting and transparent relationships among states, technical experts, civil society groups, and others.

Those who follow the Treaty Bodies review process know this well: the best treaties in the UN system consolidate these ‘cultures’ rather than establish them. They offer both normative guideposts and legal frameworks towards collaborative action that can address threats and challenges, provide meaningful oversight of key provisions, and allow for states to modify those provisions once negative unforeseen consequences become apparent. The current ATT draft text incorporates little from these benchmarks. It thus remains a bit of an ‘outlier’ event, one which threatens to disappoint after adoption as much as it has frustrated in its development.

We have all waited eagerly over the past 10 years for governments and other stakeholders to adopt this Treaty, but also to focus much more on developing a culture of responsible transfers that can both eliminate threats of diversion and complement other components of the UN’s security system that are equally necessary to minimizing the diverse, widespread, negative impacts of illicit transfers.

Fortunately, we still have a bit of precious time remaining to fix this Treaty and get to work on establishing a more robust culture on transfers. We still need the paper treaty. But we need the culture even more. With the time, energy, and good will that remain, it’s time to get serious about both.