The Role of Civil Society in the International Negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty

This article provides a detailed examination of the dynamics of the international negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), adopted 2 April 2013, focusing on the role played by civil society. Control Arms – the primary international coalition of civil society organisations on this issue – entered the negotiating process with a comprehensive ‘vision’ of a robust ATT. In a detailed case study of the key areas of civil society engagement during the diplomatic conferences of July 2012 and March 2013, this article examines the coalition's ability to shape the debate on priority campaign issues and impact important aspects of the final treaty text. Its success depended on the development of close collaboration with ‘like-minded states’ and intergovernmental organizations, careful management of information flows and the strategic use of global advocacy networks. As such, the ATT experience offers many potential lessons for civil society campaigners seeking to influence and shape United Nations diplomatic processes.

Through the formation of international advocacy networks, and close collaboration with sympathetic states and intergovernmental organisations, civil society is shaping the evolution of humanitarian norms.
Civil society ‘network diplomacy’ is multidimensional; it involves many actors, and the employment of multiple mechanisms and strategies.
These networks are most effective in engaging with negotiation processes when they forge strong alliances with like-minded states; carefully manage information flows; and adopt integrated and targeted advocacy and campaign activities.
Civil society networks are playing a greater role in disarmament diplomacy, shaping the dynamics and outcomes of negotiation processes.