By Kenneth Epps
Today Canada was again conspicuously absent from an important milestone in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the most important conventional weapons control agreement of this generation. During 2013 Canada missed the opportunity to sign the ATT in June, when over 60 states participated in a UN signing ceremony on the first day the treaty was open for signature. Canada was absent again in September when dozens of additional states signed, included the United States. Today, on the anniversary of the UN General Assembly resolution that approved the ATT, 18 states simultaneously deposited their instruments of ratification for the Treaty at the UN and Canada was not among them.
The total number of ratifications to date is now over 30, well past the halfway mark to the 50 ratifications needed for the Treaty to come into effect. The current pace of treaty ratification suggests that the treaty will enter into force before the end of 2014.
It was never anticipated that Canada would join today’s ratification effort, since Canada typically signs a treaty before submitting its instrument of ratification. Despite efforts by the European Union, the United Kingdom, and others to coax Canada to sign, the government has played the ostrich, burying its head in the sand, avoiding the compelling arguments for international action on a poorly regulated arms trade, not the least of which is the need for all states to prevent the worldwide human suffering from weapons in the wrong hands. It continues to claim that the signature delay is based on protecting the interests of Canadian firearms owners.
No other state has cited this concern, likely because it has no basis in reality. It takes only a reading of the ATT text to determine that the treaty will not affect domestic firearms laws and regulations.
With today’s ceremony, Canada has added to its diplomatic and strategic isolation. Until now, Canada had been among the minority of UN member states that had approved the treaty last April but had failed to sign (154 states voted for the UN resolution; 118 have signed the treaty to date). Significantly, Canada is the only one of the 26 members of NATO that has not signed. As of today, 16 NATO members also have ratified the treaty. These include France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK—five of the top 10 global arms exporters in the latest ranking by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.This means not only that more than half of NATO members have ratified, but also that more than half of treaty ratifications to date are by members of NATO. This places NATO in the forefront of treaty adoption – without Canada.
Canada risks further isolation as the Arms Trade Treaty moves toward the first Conference of States Parties expected shortly after treaty entry-into-force, possibly as early as Spring 2015. Without ratifying the treaty, Canada cannot participate in the conference as party to the treaty. Without signing the treaty, it is not clear that Canada could even participate as an observer.
During Canada’s promotion of the Landmines Treaty in the late 1990s, Canadian officials liked to encourage other states to become part of the process by noting that “the train has left the station.” In the case of the ATT, not only is Canada not on the train, it has yet to buy a ticket.