The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations that took place at the UN this July ended as a considerable diplomatic failure, – not because the draft Treaty did not command consensus, but because consensus was blocked by the wrong government. Having insisted on rules of procedure that required consensus for adoption of the Treaty (as opposed to the normal procedure for Treaty adoption laid down in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties), key States had calculated that a compromise text would be blocked by those strongly opposed to the ATT, such as Syria, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or others. Such a “consensus minus a few very negative States” draft Treaty text could then have been forwarded to the General Assembly and adopted there, as the case was with the CTBT after it was blocked in the CD in 1996.
On the very last day of the Diplomatic Conference (27 July), however, the US delegation took the floor and stated that they were not in a position to support adoption of the draft Treaty text of 26 July. This took the Conference by surprise, as this draft was exactly the foreseen “consensus minus a few very negative states” text. The US had been heavily involved in working out the tough compromises, not least regarding the two most difficult issues: 1) should ammunition be included in the Treaty’s scope, and 2) should there be an obligation not to authorize an arms export if the arms would be used for serious violations of human rights law or international humanitarian law. The 26 July draft Treaty text solved both of these contentious issues in a manner that appeared to be acceptable to both the somewhat restrictive States as well as the more progressive ones, along with civil society and the ICRC. When the US backed out of the compromise they had been a key party to, the draft Treaty’s status suddenly went from being a text that could have been forwarded to this fall’s General Assembly as is, to being just a possible basis for further negotiations.