Technology & Trade

Establishing The Baseline – The Arms Trade Treaty, One Year Later

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By Rachel Stohl: 

The landscape for the global conventional arms trade changed dramatically a year ago when the UN General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on April 2, 2013, by a vote of 154-3-23. In less than a year since the ATT opened for signature on June 3, 2013, 118 States have already signed the Treaty and 31 have ratified, highlighting the international community’s strong desire to incorporate global norms and standards regulating the trade in deadly weapons.

While the adoption of the Treaty itself was a considerable achievement, the next two years will prove critical to the Treaty’s overall success. During this time, States will develop their national control systems and begin to identify their capacity needs to effectively implement the ATT. As part of that effort, Stimson is leading a project to establish the baseline of State practice for the ATT’s obligations.

The Arms Trade Treaty regulates the cross-border trade in conventional arms, ranging from fighter aircraft and warships to small arms and light weapons. The Treaty represents the first global legally binding agreement regulating the international trade in conventional arms and identifies common standards for the global trade in conventional arms, and establishes a baseline of normative criteria for States to apply when making their arms transfer decisions.

The United States signed the Treaty on September 25, 2013, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying at the signing in New York, “This [the Treaty] is about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors. This is about reducing the risk of international transfers of conventional arms that will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes. This is about keeping Americans safe and keeping America strong. And this is about promoting international peace and global security. And this is about advancing important humanitarian goals.” Still, the ATT faces strong opposition by the National Rifle Association and its allies and, thus, ratification of the Treaty by the Senate is not a likely short term proposition.

The Treaty will enter into force after 50 States deposit their instruments of ratification – an event that will likely occur by the end of this year or in early 2015. While States await entry into force, many are starting to provisionally apply certain Treaty obligations under Article 23. As noted in the Treaty text, “any State may at the time of signature or the deposit of its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, declare that it will apply provisionally Article 6 and Article 7 pending the entry into force of this Treaty for that State.” Articles 6 and 7 represent the specific obligations for States in making arms transfer decisions – Article 6 notes those obligations for denying a transfer and Article 7 notes those obligations for authorizing a transfer.

Other States are beginning the process of improving their national control systems to be in compliance with Treaty requirements. The ATT outlines a number of obligations for States Parties to fulfill in order to regulate international arms transfers and prevent and combat illicit trade. The Treaty text does not, however, provide specific details on how States should fulfill these obligations.

Leading efforts in this endeavor is the Stimson Center and its partner at the University of Coventry, which have developed the Arms Trade Treaty – Baseline Assessment Project (ATT-BAP). The project’s premise is that to successfully implement the ATT, States must first identify their current requirements and needed capacities and resources. Many States have not cataloged their existing systems or identified the ways in which their capabilities can be applied to ATT implementation. The ATT-BAP helps States better understand these factors by providing a baseline assessment survey and ratification checklist to identify any necessary gaps in their current systems in order to effectively implement the Treaty. Upon completion of the ATT-BAP survey and ratification checklist, States will be able to identify what they already do, what they need to do, and what type of assistance they may require to implement the Arms Trade Treaty.

Data from each completed survey will be used to highlight established best practices and recommend specific legislative and regulatory requirements and approaches needed for States to implement the provisions of the Treaty. This data will also serve as a tool for future ATT implementation projects, as well as those focused on monitoring the impact of and progress resulting from the Treaty’s adoption over time.

As Kerry said at the Treaty signing, “So here’s the bottom line: This treaty strengthens our security, builds global security without undermining the legitimate international trade in conventional arms which allows each country to provide for its own defense. …And we believe this brings us closer to the possibilities of peace as well as a security, a higher level of a security, and the promotion and protection of human rights.” One year later, States are on the right path, but there is still a long way to go to ensure the ATT fulfills its promise.

Photo credit: controlarms via flickr


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