UN Arms Embargoes and the Arms Trade Treaty

Kenneth Epps Conventional Weapons

Kenneth Epps

Working Paper 10-2

This paper argues that forthcoming negotiations of an international Arms Trade Treaty would benefit from the lessons learned from states’ implementation of United Nations arms embargoes. Additionally, by creating a global regulatory framework for the effective control of conventional arms transfers, a robust ATT would strengthen embargo implementation. An ATT and arm embargoes could thus become mutually supportive instruments of the international community for maintaining international peace and security.

UN negotiations of an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will begin in 2010, culminating in a treaty conference in 2012. The tight schedule for treaty negotiations suggests that UN member states should draw on the provisions and best practices of existing, relevant multilateral instruments, including the arms embargoes imposed by the UN Security Council. The negotiating period is also an opportunity to ensure that the Treaty and UN arms embargoes become effective and mutually supportive instruments. Negotiations to construct a robust ATT would benefit from a review of recent recommendations to improve arms embargo implementation. As well, arms embargo effectiveness would be enhanced by many of the proposed provisions of the ATT.

Although both will be legally binding, global instruments of conventional arms control, the ATT and UN arms embargoes are intended to serve different functions. Arms embargoes are imposed by the UN Security Council to influence the behaviour of a targeted state or entity by preventing access to conventional weapons. The ATT should be a legally binding convention of states parties to establish global standards to improve the national regulation of international arms transfers. Arms embargoes are reactive tools intended to prevent the transfer of all conventional weapons to particular targets. The ATT should better regulate the ongoing authorized trade in conventional arms by requiring states to conduct case-by-case assessments of proposed transfers.

Nevertheless, the two instruments share goals and features. UN sanctions committees and expert groups have studied UN arms embargo implementation and many of their recommendations to improve embargo effectiveness are relevant to the development of a robust Arms Trade Treaty.

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