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New ATT Plan Advances

Daryl G. Kimball

Three months after a July UN diplomatic conference failed to reach consensus on a new treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade, a group of key states has offered a new proposal at the United Nations for a follow-up conference to be held in early 2013.

The proposed arms trade treaty (ATT) would require that all states put in place national regulations on international arms transfers, establish common international standards for approving the transfers, and mandate regular reporting on them.

The resolution on an ATT conference, which was put forward by Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya, and the United Kingdom, would convene a “final” UN conference on an ATT from March 18 to 28, 2013, under the rules established for the July conference, including the rule calling for final adoption of the treaty text by consensus. The resolution also would establish that the draft treaty text submitted by conference president Roberto García Moritán on July 26 is the basis for further negotiations.

Reflecting the broad support evident at the July conference, the new resolution has attracted more than 50 co-sponsor states since it was introduced in mid-October at the UN General Assembly First Committee. The resolution calls on the UN secretary-general to undertake consultations on the selection of a conference president.

The proposal would give states another chance to overcome the 11th-hour decision by the United States and a handful of other states to withhold their support for the July 26 draft treaty text. When they announced the decision, U.S. State Department officials said they needed additional time to address their remaining concerns. (See ACT, September 2012.)

In a statement delivered at the UN debate on the resolution Oct. 24, Walter Reid, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, said, “The United States strongly supports convening a short UN conference next spring to continue our efforts to negotiate an effective ATT that will address the issues of international arms trade and its regulation by establishing high standards, that can be implemented on a national basis, and that the overwhelming majority of other states can embrace and take forward effectively.”

In his statement, Reid also said the United States supported the ATT resolution. He argued that “[w]e should use the time between now and the spring to reflect on the text…to determine what additional changes are required to make that text an acceptable and effective treaty.”

Many states, including the members of the European Union, have argued that the only way to achieve universal support for an ATT and ensure the treaty is effective is to negotiate substantive matters on the basis of the consensus rule. Yet, most states are keen not to allow a repeat of the outcome of the July conference. In an Oct. 10 statement to the First Committee, the Nigerian delegation stressed that the consensus rule should “not be exercised as a power of veto.”

One issue on which consensus may be difficult to achieve is how the treaty should address ammunition transfers. The July 26 draft treaty text would require that all states “establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition for conventional arms” covered by the treaty and apply the authorization criteria and prohibitions established by the treaty prior to authorizing any export of ammunition.

Although the United States regulates its ammunition exports, U.S. officials have repeatedly said they do not want ammunition included in the treaty. Most other states, including the United Kingdom and many African countries, have been adamant that the treaty should mandate that states regulate their ammunition exports in order to reduce illicit ammunition transfers and retransfers to conflict zones.

The First Committee is expected to vote in early November on the resolution for the March 2013 conference. Diplomatic sources say the resolution will likely win approval.