Next Steps for the Arms Trade Treaty: Securing Early Entry into Force

By Holtom, Paul; Bromley, Mark | Arms Control Today, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Next Steps for the Arms Trade Treaty: Securing Early Entry into Force


Holtom, Paul, Bromley, Mark, Arms Control Today


On April 2, the UN General Assembly adopted the text of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by a vote of 156-3, with 22 abstentions.1 After the treaty is opened for signature early this month, countries will sign it and prepare for its ratification according to their national procedures for considering treaties. The ATT requires ratification by 50 states before it can enter into force.

This article outlines several shortterm steps that states can take to ensure that the ATT enters into force as soon as possible. It also describes long-term measures to increase the chances that significant arms-trading states that abstained from the vote in the General Assembly will become states-parties.

Ratification Checklist

The ATT outlines a number of obligations for states-parties to fulfill so that the treaty can be effective in regulating international arms transfers and preventing and combating illicit trade. The treaty text does not provide details on how states should fulfill these obligations, as the approach may vary by country. Experience from other areas shows that states can use different mechanisms to achieve the same goal. For example, an obligation to regulate arms brokering activities, such as introducing a buyer and seller of arms to each other, can be achieved by creating a licensing system for brokering activities or by banning such activities altogether.

Nonetheless, the text provides some guidance for prospective states-parties on reviewing their national laws and regulations to ensure they can fulfill relevant treaty obligations (see sidebar, page 10). For many states, this review will result in the identification of gaps that need to be addressed before ratification can take place. Notably, under this approach, states would make their own assessment of whether they are in a position to ratify the ATT. Once the ATT enters into force, however, states-parties may seek clarification on whether others are fulfilling their obligations and hold each other to account.

In addition to these requirements, states-parties are obliged to prepare a report for the ATT Secretariat shortly after ratification, providing information on how the country is implementing the ATT. The ATT does not provide a format for this report, but experience shows that the provision of standardized reporting forms assists states in reporting under UN instruments. This issue will likely be addressed at the first conference of statesparties, but this will not help the states that are required to ratify the ATT before it enters into force and before the first conference of states-parties takes place. Translating the 15 items listed on page 10 into an "ATT ratification checklist" would help states to assess whether they are in a position to ratify the ATT. The staffof the provisional secretariat or experts from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) could draftthe ratification checklist. The secretariat and the NGOs also could provide assistance to states in undertaking their ratification assessment. In addition, the checklist could be presented to the first ATT conference of states-parties as a possible basis for a standardized form for stateparty reports on implementation.

The ATT ratification checklist is far less daunting than it initially appears. Many of the obligations contained in the ATT already appear in existing international and regional instruments relating to transfers of conventional arms, particularly small arms and light weapons. These instruments include the UN program of action on small arms and light weapons; the UN Firearms Protocol; the Economic Community of West African States' Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials; and the European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment. Furthermore, much of the necessary information already is publicly available. As a result, it should be possible for nongovernmental experts to assist states with the completion of their ATT ratification checklists. …

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Next Steps for the Arms Trade Treaty: Securing Early Entry into Force
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