Technology & Trade

Lessons Learned on Arms Trade Treaty Implementation

in Program

By Rachel Stohl:

As the Second Conference of States Parties (CSP2) for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) gets underway in Geneva, Switzerland this week, the Arms Trade Treaty-Baseline Assessment Project (ATT-BAP) is launching a new report that reviews ATT implementation and lessons learned from the initial reports on ATT implementation measures. The report includes data submitted by States Parties to the ATT Secretariat through the first half of 2016.

The ATT, which was adopted in April 2013 and entered into force December 24, 2014, is a global treaty that sets minimum standards for the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms. The ATT is intended to increase transparency, responsibility, and accountability in the international arms trade. Article 13 of the treaty contains provisions related to transparency and requires states to complete an initial report on “measures undertaken in order to implement [the ATT], including national laws, national control lists and other regulations and administrative measures.” States Parties must submit their initial report to the ATT Secretariat “within the first year after entry into force of this Treaty for that State Party.” The initial reports should aid our understanding of treaty implementation and increase transparency of the national regulatory processes for controlling international arms transfers.

ATT-BAP’s new report provides insight into key areas of treaty implementation, and examines the utility of the initial reports for determining how ATT States Parties are fulfilling their treaty obligations. Specifically, ATT-BAP’s analysis sought to:

  • determine if the initial reports provide new information on national transfer control systems;
  • reveal good practices for regulating international arms transfers and addressing diversion; and
  • demonstrate how the reports can be used to identify assistance needs and potential resources.

The analysis looked at initial reports submitted by 15 June 2016. Although 63 States Parties were required to submit their initial reports by 15 June 2016, according to the Secretariat’s provisional website only 49 States Parties did so. Three of the 49 reports are private (Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Senegal), or States Parties elected not to display them publicly on the Secretariat’s provisional website.

The initial reports enable analysis of the ways in which States Parties are implementing the ATT. States Parties provided information on key elements of their national transfer control systems in order to demonstrate implementation of the ATT’s provisions. Although significant effort is required to prepare initial reports, States Parties must only complete this report once (and simply update it as needed). Because many States Parties have already collected and presented information on their national control systems for a variety of other international and regional instruments, States Parties can utilize established practices for collecting and sharing such information for their initial reports.

The ATT-BAP report concludes that although two-thirds of ATT States Parties submitted their initial reports in accordance with treaty provisions, in many cases the information that the reports contain is either partial or was already available in reports provided for other international or regional instruments, or in national reports on arms exports and export controls. In other words, national control systems may be more robust than the initial reports indicate. The ATT-BAP report also recognizes that it is often difficult to draw conclusions about State Party practices or trends with regard to fulfilling ATT obligations.

Finally, the report provides three options to supplement the information provided in ATT initial reports to ensure that the reports contribute to increasing the transparency of national arms control systems. First, states could build upon the approach taken by UNSCR 1540, whereby a group of experts reviews the initial reports and other publicly available information to prepare a comprehensive overview of States Parties’ abilities to implement the ATT. Second, and perhaps as a complement to the first option, an analysis of the ATT initial reports and other relevant open source materials could be conducted by the Secretariat and/or research institutes and civil society. Third, states can build upon the approach taken by the OSCE by requesting the provision of additional information in ad hoc information exchanges for particular issues of importance or focus. Such measures would help strengthen the regulation of the international arms trade and promote greater transparency, as intended by the treaty.


Rachel Stohl is the director of the Conventional Defense program at the Stimson Center and co-director of the Arms Trade Treaty-Baseline Assessment Project

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