by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War
As the “Final Conference for an Arms Trade Treaty” begins this week in New York, it is important to approach the next nine days of negotiations energetically and strategically in order to achieve a robust instrument that will have tangible impacts on the ground. It is not enough to simply adopt a treaty—it must be a treaty worthy of implementation that will actually impact arms transfer policies and, in turn, promote international peace and security. The draft treaty currently on the table is insufficient in many respects, but a stronger, fully implemented treaty would go a long way towards diminishing the devastating consequences of the illicit and irresponsible arms trade.
The following recommendations cover specific actions that should be taken by the Conference as well as broader thematic approaches that should be considered by negotiators.
1. Make the most of plenary sessions. It is anticipated that should a contention arise around the text, a facilitator will be appointed to hold informal consultations to find a proposed solution to bring back to the plenary for adoption in order to make the best use of the time allotted for negotiations. It is essential that delegations use the allotted plenary sessions to comment on the text (or suggest alternatives) rather than merely reiterate well-known national positions.
2. Dispense with general comments. It is essential to address procedural matters and then move directly to discussion on textual proposals. Interventions must be short and focused on specific, textual issues.
3. Prepare to talk about the text and propose solutions. Member states must use the remaining time to not only familiarize their delegates with the draft text, but also brainstorm solutions in order to speak fluidly and constructively on each article in order to offer solutions to the remaining textual contentions. The time has come to seek points of convergence rather than focusing on topics of irreparable divide, and proposals seeking actionable compromise must be identified by all states.
4. Close substantive loopholes. It is imperative that the textual loopholes be closed during the negotiations if the ATT is to have a real impact on international peace and security. These primary loopholes seriously weaken the strength of the ATT and must be addressed in a thoughtful manner.
o Ammunition and munitions must be treated as primary scope items and subject to comprehensive risk assessments and record keeping/reporting requirements;
o The defense cooperation agreement clause must be deleted;
o Diversion must be a primary criterion for national risk assessment;
o There must be a clearer national risk assessment that is objective, binding, and not subject to national discretion or balancing against "contribution to peace and security";
o The Treaty must be able to be strengthened over time such that amendments can be adopted by a 2/3 majority
5. Do not let consensus become de-facto veto power or force a dangerous lowest common denominator. Member states are tasked with the difficult challenge of preventing the consensus rule from dictating a weak or no outcome at the end of these nine days. In order to do so, the majority of states must work together to prevent any one states from derailing the entire process. Therefore, the majority of like-minded states that support a robust instrument must actively work against the exertion of such a veto power. Moreover, there will inevitably be a threat of veto if the text is too weak. That is to say, the more progressive states may also reserve the right to wield veto power should the text prove inadequate.
6. Engage “skeptic” states as much as possible. Due to the consensus rule, the concerns of all member states will have to be addressed in order to achieve a robust and universal treaty. States that have serious reservations regarding the potential manipulation of the Treaty must be heard and sufficiently convinced that the standards of the arm trade will be implemented universally and in an objective and non-discriminatory fashion.
7. Be mindful that the treaty does not legitimize the arms industry, blunt needed reforms or encourage further domestic production. The ATT must not be used as a means to further legitimize the arms trade by encouraging those that do not currently export weapons to begin to do so. Merely facilitating the arms trade is woefully insufficient if the ATT is intended to have a substantial impact on curbing the human suffering and insecurity that result from the unregulated trade in conventional weapons. In many ways, because of the significant loopholes that remain in the latest draft text, the current process is potentially headed down this road of legitimizing an industry that it should be seeking to deter through robust, universal standards. Such a pathway must be avoided.
8. Avoid an “exporters-only” treaty that provides for further divisions between developing and developed states. The current formulation of the draft text relies heavily on exporting state risk assessments. It is essential that the ATT treat equally all member states whether as exporters, importers, transshipment territories, or brokers. The dangerous consequences of the unregulated trade in conventional arms are a challenge that must be addressed by all member states that have equal levels of obligation and accountability set forth in the Treaty.
While much progress was made in July 2012, culminating in the draft text from 26 July, there remain substantial and political issues that are both significant and largely unresolved. Such issues must be resolved if the ATT is to have a lasting and genuine impact on international peace and security. While such a task is formidable and negotiating time is short, it is a task worth investing time and energy in order to codify standards for the arms trade in order to positively impact communities on the ground that suffer most from the deadly consequences of the unregulated trade in conventional arms.