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".