On Tuesday morning, 24 July, the chair of the Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) released his long-awaited draft of an international instrument to regulate the trade in conventional weapons.
The existence of such a draft represents something to celebrate. It is the result of many hours, days and years of hard campaigning and negotiations. The trade in guns, battleships, ammunition, combat aircraft and tanks are currently less regulated than the international market in bananas. The ATT conference offers a significant opportunity to create norms and rules that raise the cost for those who would sell weapons to those who abuse human rights and humanitarian law.
However, the draft is…well…rather drafty. Progressive states and Control Arms, the civil society coalition campaigning for a robust ATT, have identified many holes in the text that could seriously undermine the treaty. If the ATT is to make a real impact in reducing human suffering, these holes must be filled before the conference ends Friday evening). The following are just a few of the key problems in the draft:
1. The Goals and Objectives of the draft treaty (Article 1) focus on the ‘illicit trade.’ However, ‘legitimately’ traded weapons are also used in the commission of human rights and humanitarian law violations and most ‘black market’ arms start out in the licit sector before being diverted.
2. The Scope of the treaty has been watered down considerably from already weak earlier texts that had circulated in the conference’s committees. Rather than covering all conventional weapons (Article 2, Section A), it limits the treaty to the seven categories of arms covered by the UN Register on Conventional Weapons plus small arms and light weapons. The glaring omission of ammunition, the inclusion of which is supported by a majority of states, is deeply concerning. Moreover, the text does not include the reference to “unmanned” weapons – such as drones – that was, without major objection, consistently included in committee drafts.
3. The draft text (Article 2, Section B) focuses on ‘trade’ and ‘export’ of weapons, rather than ‘transfers’, leaving undefined whether it would cover gifts, loans and leases of weapons.
4. While aiming to prevent arms deals that would facilitate war crimes, violations of human rights and humanitarian law, terrorism and destabilization, Articles 3, 4 and 5 leave broad latitude for states to define the authorization process for weapons transfers, leaving them considerable room for maneuver.
5. Article 6 prevents states from using to ATT as ‘grounds for voiding contractual obligations under defense cooperation agreements.’ In other words, if a contract to transfer weapons and military assistance already exists, and one party started to commit human rights abuses, the other parties to the transfer might not be allowed to halt deliveries of weapons or cancel the contract. This is a serious loophole.
6. The draft requires 65 countries to ratify the treaty before it enters into force. This will create a lengthy delay in starting implementation. Control Arms recommends 30 countries as the threshold before implementation.
“It is hard to see what difference this treaty will make and in fact it could make things a lot worse by legitimizing a poor standard of Practice,” said Roy Ibster of Saferworld, part of the Control Arms coalition. Peter Herby of the International Committee of the Red Cross Legal Division, agreed, saying, “All the core provisions of this draft treaty still have major loopholes which will simply ratify the status quo, instead of setting a high international standard that will change state practices and save lives on the ground.”
In its Goals and Objectives, the draft ATT states that it aims ‘to establish the highest possible common standards for regulating … the international trade in conventional arms.’ Unfortunately, too much of this text has given in to the lowest common denominator, rather than ‘the highest possible standard.’ Rather than seeking a weak document pandering to a few intransigent, mostly authoritarian, skeptical countries, states must have the courage to fill in the many gaps in this drafty text if they want a treaty that will meaningfully reduce human suffering.
For more background on the Arms Trade Treaty process, see Matthew Bolton’s earlier blog posting and journal article for Global Policy. Read his blog at politicalminefields.com; follow him on Twitter, @politicalmines.
Matthew Bolton, Department of Political Science, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Pace University New York City.