The summer 2012 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations ended without adopting a Treaty. Majority of states, the UN and dozens of arms control proponent civil societies were highly disappointed. Of course, some arms control opponents were happy of the outcome. Yet, on January 4, 2013, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/234 titled the Arms Trade Treaty. The Assembly referring to the UN Charter, its relevant resolutions on arms transfer, and the failed July 2012 ATT Conference, expressed its disappointment on the failure to conclude a Treaty in that Conference. Noting the Draft Treaty of 2012 (see my previous blogs for details) and the request made by some states to take more time to consider that document, the Assembly has decided to convene a ‘Final Conference’ on the ATT in March 2013. Interestingly, it also decided that ’the draft text of the Arms Trade Treaty submitted by the President of the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty on 26 July 2012 …shall be the basis for future work on the Arms Trade Treaty, without prejudice to the right of delegations to put forward additional proposals on that text’. The Conference will be held from 18 to 28 March 2013 in New York and the Assembly has called ‘upon the President of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to report on the outcome of the Conference to the General Assembly at a meeting to be held as soon as possible after 28 March 2013’. What is clear from Resolution 67/234 is that the Draft Treaty will serve as a basis for deliberations but it is still open for negotiations, consultations and even other opposing proposals from participant states. What is not clear is that while the Conference is final on this matter the anticipated outcome is not entirely known, a Treaty, a GA Resolution or nothing?
The July 2012 diplomatic conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in which more than 150 states participated, ended without adopting an ATT but with a Draft ATT submitted by the president of the Conference. An overwhelming majority of states, including arms exporters, importers, and victims of armed violence, were all eager to make a final and legally binding deal, while a few countries such as Syria and Iran were opposed to it. No major arms producer/exporter states officially objected the Draft, although the US (supported by Russia and China) requested more time to think about it. As a result, the negotiations have been suspended for an unspecified period. Opponents of the process celebrated this, although many states, humanitarian organizations and the UN were deeply disappointed.
The trade/transfer in conventional weapons, including, but not limited to, small arms and light weapons, and major armaments such as tanks and fighter airplanes, has always been controversial for various reasons. First, these are the main tools of armed conflict, gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and repression. Recent events in the Arab Spring and in Africa evidence that the problem is not limited to small arms and light weapons but also to major conventional weapons such as combat helicopters and heavy artillery. Secondly, arms supplies from developed to developing countries may well be contrary to the sustainable development agenda of importing countries and populations, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and their starving and most deprived populations in particular. Thirdly, weapon transactions are prime spots of corruption, embezzlement of public funds, and abuse of political power.
This is not to say that conventional weapons never serve a good purpose; they are vital for countries’ self-defence, policing, and for participating in United Nations and regional peace keeping operations, as widely and rightly recognised by the international community. They are also economically and technologically important, mainly for arms supplier countries, as they generate trillions of US dollars in sales.
However, distinguishing the legal and legitimate trade in and use of conventional weapons on the one hand, from their illegal trade, use and abuse on the other, is quite a complex matter. The fact that we do not have a global arms trade treaty, setting out global standards and an institutionalised framework for their implementation, adds to this problem. While regional legal instruments such as the ECOWAS Convention on the Import/Export of Small Arms 2006, and the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports 1998, have included, to varying degrees, the commitment to abide by the most fundamental principles of international law such as human rights, humanitarian law protection, and the maintenance of peace and security, major differences remain among the top arms producing countries regarding the adoption of a robust and appropriate global treaty on arms trading. Similarly, the UN Firearms Protocol 2001 which supplements the UN Conventions against Transnational Organised Crime 2000, is mainly concerned with trafficking in firearms and excludes the ‘legal’ and ‘legitimate’ trade in armaments from its ambit, although it contributes to the regulation of the arms trade by requiring states parties to implement stringent national measures for the manufacturing, importing and exporting of armaments.