Global Justice Center Blog

Will the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty Actually Result in a Treaty?

The UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (July 2-27) will conclude this week in New York, and member states and NGOs are scrambling to include last-minute changes and amendments to the document before the final is submitted to a vote by member states. The Treaty itself has taken years to draft and includes input from civil society groups as well as governments and intergovernmental organizations. The push for such an agreement was initiated by NGO’s and civil society groups concerned with the proliferation of weapons and the role that arms producers play in perpetuating armed conflicts in some of the poorest nations in the world. The fact that the Conference is taking place at all is a testament to the hard work and dedication not of governments or politicians, but of groups representing individuals and civilians who suffer most from the unmitigated international weapons trade.

Proponents of a strong ATT face significant obstacles in their quest to limit the international arms trade. The monetary value of the global arms market is estimated at $60 billion per year and many powerful states run highly lucrative arms industries that serve to enrich governments and elite officials both financially and in terms of political power and influence. Originally, the United States and other large countries expressed support for a strong treaty that included clear language prohibiting the export of arms to countries or governments with a history of using such weapons against their own populations or in the face of evidence that the weapons may be used for non-defensive purposes. Over the past two weeks, however, many states have begun to pull back their support for strong language and meaningful regulations.

While many were confident of the treaty language early in the Conference proceedings, there have been growing attempts to weaken the treaty’s language to a degree many find unacceptable. This is a troubling trend as it suggests that states may not be able to ultimately agree on treaty conditions and that members may ultimately fail to pass the treaty at all. States and NGOs that are proponents of a strong ATT argue that no treaty would be better than a weak treaty that fails to address the real concerns and dangers implicit in the international weapons trade. Further increasing the likelihood that member states will fail to pass an ATT is the fact that the United States ensured early in the process that any vote on an ATT must be voted for unanimously by all member states in order to take effect. Given these difficult circumstances, it looks to be increasingly unlikely that the UN will be able to agree on any meaningful ATT before the Conference comes to a close on Friday.

Post by: Adrian Lewis

Tags: Weapons, War Crimes/Crimes Against Humanity, United Nations