October 22, 2013
Matthew Bolton, Pace University
In their statements to the UN General Assembly First Committee this week, both the President of the General Assembly and the overwhelming majority of states welcomed the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Portugal’s ambassador took the Treaty’s success as “an important sign that multilateralism works.”
Ambassador Ulibarri of Costa Rica commented that it had “generated a healthy ‘spirit of New York’” and “planted a renewed optimism of our capacity to confront humanity’s greatest challenges.”
The importance of the Treaty was also recognized by several non-signatory states, including Kuwait and Pakistan, though some hedged their statements with reservations. Cuba, on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), stated that the ATT could contribute to “an effective response” to “the illicit and non-regulated arms trade.” However, this was qualified with a call for “balance, transparent and objective” implementation that respects states’ sovereignty.
Several non-signatory states were less equivocal. Kenya reported that its “internal consultations to initiate signature are at an advanced stage.” Israel’s ambasador stated the ATT “strengthens international norms and national tools for arms trade control, while taking into consideration national security concerns.” Israel thus indicated it was completing “an internal review process with the goal of considering favorably the signature of the Treaty.”
Most states focused on the impact the ATT would have, as Cameroon’s ambassador put it, on “peace, security and stability.” The ambassador of Macedonia said the Treaty will prevent conventional arms “from being used to … destabilize regions,” thus promoting “human security.” Cape Verde’s ambassador indicated the ATT “will provide the basis to discourage terrorism, urban violence and insecurity as well as drug trafficking activities and international organized crime.” Guatemala and many other states welcomed the ATT as “an important tool in the fight for the eradication of the illicit weapons market.”
However, states also highlighted what Norway called “the humanitarian dimension of the treaty.” Guatemala’s delegation stated that the ATT aims to “reduce the human cost of arms proliferation” and recognized the treaty’s significant contribution to protecting people from sexual and gender-based violence. Costa Rica’s ambassador indicated that the Treaty would “have a tangible impact in the daily life of citizens” through the “reduction of violence and armed conflict.” The delegation of Macedonia noted the impact this could have on “economic and social development.” The International Committee of the Red Cross was “pleased to note” that with 113 signatories to the ATT so far, “more than half the countries in the world have … endorsed its objective of reducing human suffering.”
Some states focused on specific items covered by the ATT. Describing small arms and light weapons (SALW) as “weapons of mass destruction,” Benin’s ambassador reported that their inclusion in the ATT’s scope prompted “enormous rejoicing” by African states. Argentina, Guatemala, and Peru also noted favorably the Treaty’s controls on SALW. Peru welcomed the ATT’s provisions on ammunition, though Guatemala stated that it “wished” the treaty had included “more coverage” for “ammunition, parts and components.” Norway’s representative called on states to apply the Treaty’s “provisions to the broadest range of conventional arms.”
Peru and Norway reminded states that none of these provisions will have much impact until the Treaty enters into force and is accepted as a global norm. “We owe it to the thousands of victims of armed violence to ensure that this instrument is applied,” said Guatemala’s representative. The Albanian delegation echoed this call, stating, “The universality and proper implementation of the ATT are essential in order to best achieve its goals and purpose.” Austria, Benin, Guatemala, Macedonia, and Norway all reported taking steps toward ratification.
Putting the ATT into action will require states to develop partnerships with other global institutions. Cape Verde’s ambassador noted that “regional organizations have a vital role to play” in the implementation of the treaty. Austria’s ambassador stated that civil society’s role in the treaty “cannot be valued highly enough.”
Likewise, the representative of Norway said his government wanted to “pay tribute” to civil society’s contribution to the treaty and “encourage” the sector to contribute to implementation. Morocco’s representative also welcomed the “dynamic role played by civil society” during ATT negotiations and hoped it will continue related work.
In addition to its provisions, the process of achieving the ATT has been encouraging for those seeking alternatives to traditional disarmament approaches. Austria’s ambassador welcomed “the more inclusive and open negotiation process in the General Assembly.” The delegation of Norway called on states to “learn from the valuable experience” of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions in ATT implementation. Rather than adhering merely to the strict letter of the treaty’s provisions, states should seek to fulfill what Norway called the ATT’s “humanitarian potential,” allowing it to “be a dynamic and living instrument.”