Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Not a failure, just success deferred"?

United Kingdom Ambassador Jo Adamson's tasty soundbite in the final plenary of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty became the mantra for those states--the overwhelming majority--that wished to adopt the draft ATT put forward by the Conference President, Ambassador Peter Woolacott. In practical terms, Ambassador Adamson is absolutely correct. The Russian Ambassador to the UN, while resolutely blocking Mexico's doomed attempt to push through the treaty "on the basis of consensus", explicitly acknowledged as much. Clearly, the votes are there in the UN General Assembly for a straightforward adoption of the ATT, perhaps as early as the first week of April. Surely this is a triumph, albeit a temporarily frustrated one?
 
There must remain a sense of unease, however, for those who proclaim that UN disarmament machinery, operating under the rule of consensus, can deliver meaningful agreements. The ATT will only exist because of the possibility of voting in another forum. Otherwise it would be dead in the water, and states would be forced to go outside the UN for a stand-alone process, further underlining the UN's impotence in limiting the destruction of modern armaments. In any event, India and Russia will in all likelihood not sign the ATT, let alone ratify it. China's position is uncertain, and they studiously avoided commenting on the substance in their closing remarks to the Conference. The Arab League is against the treaty, as are a number of Asian countries, even though none blocked its adoption aside from the DPR Korea, Iran, and Syria. Universality will, sadly, remain a pipe dream.
 
We have the Conference on Disarmament that cannot agree on a mandate, let alone a treaty. The CCW is going nowhere, and slowly. The Security Council is largely divided on protection issues. Even the ATT Secretariat may be established outside the UN, such are the doubts about the capacity of this now aging institution to act effectively to protect civilians against armed conflict and armed violence. What then is the appropriate forum for addressing either conventional arms or weapons of mass destruction today? Can the Human Rights Council help to fill the normative void within the UN? Perhaps buttressed by recourse to the type of stand-alone processes launched by Canada and Norway, respectively, to prohibit anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions?
 
Let us hope so. For otherwise, the lessons of the ATT may ultimately be that it was not "just success", it was also "failure deferred".

4 comments:

  1. Very disappointing indeed. Thanks again for the blog. What was your feeling, how big do you think was the number of states that were quietly happy that the decision wasn't adopted? Were the three delegations simply the scapegoats who don't care much about their reputation in UN negotiations while some others sat there in silence but might actually be glad that the treaty wasn't adopted?

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    1. Well, THIS self-criticism seems rather uncalled-for. On the opposite: What we have now as ATT is far weaker than what most states have as export legislation. The arms lobby will now start to attack national legislations, arguing that the problem of arms trade has been solved on the international plane and that not having the same arms exports rules as, say, Russia would bring them in a disadvantage compared to their rivals.

      And I fear that many NGOs will not put as much effort into defending or improving national legislations than they have been in advocating for the ATT.

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  2. Grateful for some thoughts on the significance of the provision in Art.26(2) that "This Treaty shall not be cited as grounds for voiding defence cooperation agreements concluded between States Parties to this Treaty." Does such a provision undermine the purpose of the treaty? Will defence cooperation agreements become the new business model for the arms trade?

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    1. Thanks for the question. No, this does not undermine the treaty, far from it. It would have been better not to have the provision, but India in particular argued hard for its inclusion (ironically given their reluctance to now adhere to it). Defence cooperation agreements between States Parties will not be rendered void by the ATT, but they certainly do not override the ATT. States Parties that respect the ATT will therefore be forced to rely on contractual clauses in their defence cooperation agreements to avoid the risk of penalties for not providing weapons required by such agreements (where going ahead with such transfers would violate their ATT obligations).

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