Monday, April 1, 2013

Distance runner

by Dr. Robert Zuber, Global Action to Prevent War

Let us be clear about this: the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that will soon to come to pass is historic, but not necessarily epic. Ambassador Woolcott and his team (including the diplomats who chaired thematic consultations) did a masterful job of staying true to their mandate—a treaty with some robustness crafted in accordance with consensus provisions. We’re all tired, but we're not nearly done yet, and for reasons beyond the blocking of consensus that we witnessed yesterday.

The results of this treaty process are akin to a tie in football. There are no bragging rights and no one in their right mind (save perhaps for a few large or suspicious states that drew many red lines and had most or all of them all ultimately met) can be completely satisfied with the outcome. This has been such an expensive process—in funding, in political capital, in damaged relationships, in so much unfinished business elsewhere in the UN system—that frankly it is hard to see how the result has justified those costs up until now.

Moreover, we can expect that a number of states will find a way, before or after Tuesday, to create distance from this treaty. Some are already making plans to exploit loopholes in the text, of which there are still too many. Some have dramatically created distance in formal plenary. Others will do so through national legislative processes. Some have already made it clear, at least implicitly, that as hard as they have fought to eliminate provisions that they see as technically weak, politically unfair, or otherwise risky, they have little intention of abiding by the treaty anyway. There are many ‘exit’ signs for this process, all clearly marked, and a number of states are opting to keep them firmly in their sights.

For the states (hopefully many) that decide to make this treaty epic as well as historic, there is distance to consider of another kind—the ‘distance’ that separates the paper treaty from a viable, transparent, reliable culture of implementation. This is a point that we have made over and over, and we will continue to do so with every willing diplomatic ear we can find. The covenant that many of us made with victims of diverted transfers must be honored to the best of our ability. This has some relationship to ratification, but more to the development of meaningful avenues for sharing capacity, information, best practices and a wide range of other services between and among states. Of course this implies a commitment to organizing and supporting structures that can leverage and ‘house’ robust capacity engagements.

There are times when this treaty process has reminded me of a marathon runner who made insufficient preparations for the race and ended up setting off towards the finish line in dress shoes and a sports coat. These choices might be sufficient for the starting gate, but they offer less and less functionality as the race proceeds.

I fear we are not properly dressed to run this race. We haven’t thought through (indeed in some instances we have refused to think through) the long term implications of an historic ATT that needs to become an epic contribution to ending diverted and irresponsible transfers. Perhaps the Disarmament Commission in April can explore some ‘options for epic’. The more diplomats are able to think through the implications of this treaty in as many forums as possible, the sooner our culture on transfers will match our aspiration to end diversion once and for all.