Technology & Trade

Arms Trade Treaty Implementation Moves Forward in Berlin

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The U.S. was notably absent last week as preparations continued for the effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in Berlin, Germany. The ATT, which establishes legal standards and criteria governing the global conventional arms trade, has already been ratified by 54 countries, signed by 123, and will enter into force on December 24, 2014.

The government of Germany hosted approximately 90 governments and more than 50 observers from the United Nations, European Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, and civil society in the second informal consultations for the First Conference of States Parties to the ATT. The first meeting was held in Mexico City in September. Governments have organized these informal meetings to begin the process of developing the infrastructure for the first global legally binding treaty that will regulate the cross-border trade in conventional weapons and establish criteria that governments will apply when making their international arms export decisions.

The United States, which signed the ATT in September 2013, did not attend the Berlin Meeting because of issues surrounding the rules of procedure – the meeting’s organizing principles. In short, the United States wanted a more open process that would include those not party to the treaty and those that have not been supporters of the treaty in the past. The United States wants to utilize the rules and approach taken during the negotiations of the ATT at the United Nations in the follow-on processes and allow a broader range of observers.

The organizing governments have thus far kept the meetings open only to those that have signed or ratified the treaty and only to civil society organizations that have actively promoted the treaty in their work. Industry, for example, has thus far not been included in the meetings. And, civil society organizations such as the NRA and the Heritage Foundation have voiced objections (and got support from some Congressional members) to their exclusion from the process.

The two-day meeting in Berlin focused on several key items for the preparation of entry into force and the first meeting of the Conference of States Parties (CSP) – with particular attention given to establishing a provisional secretariat, determining participation in preparatory meetings as well as the CSP, establishing financial rules and rules of procedure, coordinating reporting templates, and setting a timetable for future meetings. Although the CSP will adopt its own rules of procedure, financing mechanisms, as well as the location and structure of, and financing for the ATT Secretariat – the body established to assist states parties in effectively implementing the treaty – much of the preparatory work will be done in advance to make sure the CSP is efficient and useful. Future CSP meetings will review the operation, implementation, and efficacy of the treaty.

Even without the United States in attendance, the Berlin meeting did make some decisions that will pave the way for future meetings, entry into force, and the first meeting of the Conference of States Parties (CSP).  The next preparatory meeting will be held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on February 23-24, 2014. Future meetings will be held in Vienna, Austria (late March/early April) and Geneva, Switzerland (June). The CSP will likely be held at the end of August/beginning of September in Mexico. The Berlin meeting also approved Mexico hosting the provisional secretariat – the administrative structure responsible for planning the first CSP – with the modalities of their work still to be determined.

Mexico, which was unopposed in its offer to host the first CSP, and which co-chairs the preparatory meetings with the host government, called on governments to undertake inter-sessional work to prepare for the meeting in Port-of-Spain. Ghana was asked to lead discussions on financial arrangements for the treaty, and Sweden was tasked with coordinating a working group on issues related to the development of a reporting template. Several governments suggested utilizing the ATT-Baseline Assessment Survey as the basis for discussions on a reporting template for the initial implementation report, required under Article 13(1). Governments were also encouraged to seek legal advice regarding the reporting requirement laid out in Article 13(3) as to whether the first report on arms exports and imports is due on May 31, 2015 or 2016 as their were differing interpretations of the treaty’s obligation. On the issue of participation, a decision was left to Mexico and the hosts of the future preparatory meetings, but the general approach seemed to be a likely gradual opening of the process, with the modalities of that growing participation still to be determined. 

Although the Berlin meeting accomplished a significant amount in preparing for the ATT’s next steps, the location of the ATT Secretariat is still undecided, with Austria, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago continuing to pursue their bids to host the administrative body. Other technical issues, such as the rules of procedure and the working languages of the preparatory process, the CSP, and treaty documents were also left unresolved. Yet, the momentum in support of the ATT was clear in Berlin. As States continue to meet in 2015 in furtherance of an effective Arms Trade Treaty, the remaining issues will be resolved.

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