Disarmament Insight


Monday, 29 October 2007

The Arms Trade Treaty that States Want

I've just arrived back to Geneva from an eventful week spent in New York at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, the one that deals with disarmament and international security. In my last posting, I described the First Committee as a "carnival," and it certainly lived up to expectations. Imagine representatives of almost 200 States crammed into a conference-room, each trying to persuade the others to support draft resolutions on some aspect of arms control that they are preparing. And that's just what happens on the margins! Only when one puts on an ear-piece does it become apparent that, somewhere in the cacophony of noise, a delegate is actually making an official statement or participating in a thematic debate.

Last week was the week for thematic debates on such issues as conventional weapons, regional disarmament and security, and the "disarmament machinery." This week, States will be voting on all draft resolutions before the First Committee wraps up its work on Friday. Once all the votes have been registered, I will do a retrospective posting analysing what has been achieved this year (you can also follow what is going on, week by week, by subscribing to the First Committee Monitor).

For now, I would like to focus on a number of lunchtime events that took place last week on an Arms Trade Treaty (see our previous posts on this issue). To recap, last year's First Committee passed a resolution calling for a new treaty to regulate the trade in all conventional weapons. As a first step, States were encouraged to send their views to the UN Secretary-General on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of such a treaty. To date, some 97 States have done so; an unprecedented number for such an exercise.

These submissions have been analysed by two organisations, working independently. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) presented an initial statistical analysis of the submissions, constituting the first part of a two-part analysis that UNIDIR plans to complete by the end of the year. You can listen to the presentation at the UN Audio Library. A coalition of NGOs - including the leaders of the Control Arms Campaign; Oxfam, Amnesty International and IANSA - presented a comprehensive analysis of the submissions entitled, "A Global Arms Trade Treaty: What States Want." So what do these two studies tell us about the kind of Arms Trade Treaty that States want?

First and foremost, it would seem that most States agree that such a treaty is feasible. 153 States voted in favour of the Arms Trade Treaty resolution last year. Of the States that have submitted their views to the Secretary-General, 89 specifically state their belief in its feasibility. Also, a number of regional and international instruments relating to the arms trade already exist. Finally, an Arms Trade Treaty would largely collect and codify fundamental principles of international law that also already exist.

What States think about the scope of an Arms Trade Treaty can best be illustrated by a quote from the UNIDIR study:

"Most States indicated that an Arms Trade Treaty should cover 'all conventional weapons.' Many gave specific examples such as 'tanks and other armoured vehicles', 'combat aircraft', 'helicopters', 'warships' and so on. Most states included 'small arms and light weapons', 'landmines' and 'Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS)' in their lists.
In addition, some States included within the scope of the treaty such items as ammunition, parts and components, technology, and manufacturing equipment, as well as activities like brokering, licensed production and technical assistance.

The criteria that States consider most important to take into consideration before authorising arms transfers are: Security Council arms embargoes, human rights considerations, potential violations of international humanitarian law, and possible diversion to terrorists or use in terrorist acts.

The Geneva Forum will bring the authors of the two studies together at the beginning of next year to compare results and to help transmit any lessons learned from the analyses to the Group of Governmental Experts that will conduct an Arms Trade Treaty feasibility study beginning in February 2008.

Patrick Mc Carthy


Photo credit: Control Arms