Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Irresponsible Arms Trade and the Arms Trade Treaty

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Irresponsible Arms Trade and the Arms Trade Treaty

Article excerpt

This panel was convened at 1:00 p.m., Friday, March 27, by its moderator, Jesse Clarke of the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who introduced the panelists: Rachel Stohl of the Center for Defense Information; Clare da Silva of the Control Arms Campaign; Gregory Suchan of the Commonwealth Consulting Corporation; and John Duncan of the U.K. Diplomatic Service.


There is broad agreement that the irresponsible and unregulated trade in conventional arms has devastating consequences for ordinary people across the globe. Conventional weapons routinely find their way to those who use them without regard for human rights or humanitarian law, thus exacerbating conflict and undermining security and development. Yet, there is currently no consensus on the international standards that govern, or should govern, the international arms trade.

National regulation of arms transfers ranges from the rigorous and comprehensive to the lax and even nonexistent. Regional instruments and arrangements have sought to impose controls on the arms trade and establish principled criteria against which arms exports must be assessed. But this patchwork of regulations has left gaps, given rise to inconsistencies, and, in some cases, has not been rigorously enforced--all of which provides an environment for unscrupulous arms dealers to engage in the illicit and irresponsible trade in arms. Even responsible participants in the international arms industry, who are eager to comply with applicable controls, find that in many cases the various layers of regulation are inconsistent, unnecessarily complex, or opaque.

In response to these central concerns, the international community has begun to consider whether an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) can establish universal standards capable of substantially reducing the illicit and irresponsible trade in arms.

The effort to establish internationally agreed standards for the trade in conventional weapons is not a recent phenomenon. As far back as 1978, the UN General Assembly held a special session on disarmament, in part to address the conventional arms race and to reach agreement on an international strategy for disarmament. The resulting Program of Action listed priorities and measures that states should undertake in the field of disarmament, which included reaching agreement to limit the international transfer of conventional weapons. (1) Numerous UN General Assembly resolutions have since addressed international arms transfers.

In 1991, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council adopted Guidelines for Conventional Arms Transfers. Five years later, the UN Disarmament Commission adopted Guidelines for International Arms Transfers. (2) And, of course, the UN has taken important steps forward in the regulation of transfers of certain types of arms; most notably, the 1991 Protocol "Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition" and the 2001 Program of Action to "Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects."

But it was not until 2006 that the international campaign for a comprehensive convention governing international arms trade moved into a higher gear. In December 2006, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 61/89 entitled, "Towards an Arms Trade Treaty:

Establishing Common International Standards for the Import, Export and Transfer of Conventional Arms." The operative paragraphs of that resolution requested the Secretary General to seek the views of states and to establish a Group of Government Experts (GGE) to examine the "feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." One hundred fifty three states voted in favor of Resolution 61/89, twenty-four abstained, and one--the United States--voted against. …

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