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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Conventional Arms Control

Proposed Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia Should be Withdrawn; Future Transfers Put on Hold

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Volume 8, Issue 4, September 6, 2016

During the middle of the summer legislative recess, the Barack Obama administration notified the U.S. Congress Aug. 8 of the proposed sale of $1.15 billion in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia, starting a 30-day clock for House and Senate review.

Within a week, news broke of yet more civilian deaths at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen, including a strike on a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF); that strike subsequently led the organization to withdraw its staff from multiple facilities in the country. Last week, airstrikes reportedly targeted an imam’s family, killing civilians, including children.

U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams with TUSK equipment (Photo: Wikipedia)In response to the hospital bombing, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said “U.S. officials have regularly engaged with Saudi officials… as well as other coalition members on the importance of mitigating harm. As part of this, we’ve also encouraged them to do their utmost to avoid harm to entities protected by international law such as this hospital.”

If the administration is sincere in its desire to hold Saudi Arabia accountable and leverage such sales in ways that encourage it to change its behavior, President Barack Obama should withdraw this sale and suspend delivery on those agreed earlier, rather than continue to reward Riyadh for its actions. Such steps would reinforce the importance of human rights and international law in U.S. arms transfer decisions.

Congress on Alert

Last week, a bipartisan group of 64 House representatives asked the president to withdraw the Saudi arms sale notification, arguing in part that they had not been given sufficient time to exercise their review responsibilities. That is a wise request, as Congress, which resumes work on Sept. 6, will have a small window of time to consider and vote on legislation in both the House and Senate to block the sale before the 30-day period expires.

After the initial review period, the president can proceed with the arms transfers. Nonetheless, Congress can still act up until delivery, which often occurs years later. If the president fails to withdraw the sale, then Congress should pursue a blocking path.

The Arms Export Control Act was amended in 2014 to allow Congress to request notification at least 30 days before delivery. Such pre-delivery notifications, however, require a joint request of the chair and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) or House Foreign Affairs Committee. SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) used these provisions for the first time late last year over a separate arms transfer to Saudi Arabia. Once again, they should exercise their authority to receive pre-delivery notification for this deal.

A Better Path

The problems with the proposed arms sales, however, go far beyond the limited time for congressional review. Arming Saudi Arabia only encourages irresponsible behavior and the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons, despite U.S. commitments to take into account such abuse in arms transfers.

The United States has long been a top weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia. The country is the leading developing world arms purchaser (according to a recent Congressional Research Service report), and has increased its arms imports by 275 percent from 2011 to 2015 relative to the previous five years (according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute-SIPRI). In addition to the August notification, the administration has recently proposed providing support services, Phalanx weapons systems (February 2016), and more than $1 billion in guided bombs and air-to-ground munitions (November 2015).

The Saudi-led coalition’s actions (as well as those of the Houthi) have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and contributed to massive suffering and displacement. Last week, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, called for independent investigations into abuses in Yemen. In March, he said: “It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones—which are protected under international law—is at best woefully inadequate … . And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the [Saudi-led] Coalition."

Internationally, Saudi actions have been widely condemned and are leading to growing censure of arms sales to Riyadh.

On Feb. 25, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution finding that European supplies of weapons to Saudi Arabia violate EU arms transfer rules and seeking an embargo on such transfers. Most European countries have now taken steps to tighten arms transfers and licenses to Saudi Arabia, according to a report issued last month by the ATT Monitor.

In revising U.S. conventional arms transfer policy in January 2014, the president included the goal “Ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.”

The United States is also a signatory to the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which requires consideration of whether transferred arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law. Although treaty members last month were unprepared to tackle transfers to Saudi Arabia, the United States should set a better example.

Withdrawing the recently proposed sale to Saudi Arabia and holding delivery on those in the works is an opportunity to signal to Riyadh that it must act responsibly and ensure that future U.S. arms transfers are not used to target civilians and violate human rights.

—JEFF ABRAMSON, non-resident senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, and program manager of Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition 

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If the U.S. is sincere in its desire to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, it can and should existing U.S. law and its signatory status on the Arms Trade Treaty to encourage better behavior.

No Further Excuses: Report from Arms Trade Treaty Conference

Rachel Stohl, board member of the Arms Control Association, wonders why more could not have been accomplished at the Second Conference of States-Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty.

Time to Ban Cluster Munitions Transfers, Rethink Approach to Treaty

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Volume 8, Issue 3, July 13, 2016

The raging civil war in Syria, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the ongoing fighting in Yemen have led to massive civilian casualties. The belligerents target civilian population centers and use certain types of weapons, including cluster munitions, that indiscriminately harm civilians. The situation has led many responsible policy makers to call for adjustments in U.S. policy that would reduce access to these weapons—which the United States has not used this decade—and to hold those who would use them accountable.

A man passes by the remains of an Uragan rocket lying in front of a burning house in Donetsk, Ukraine, on October 5. Uragan rockets can be used to deliver cluster munitions. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)In June, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the fiscal year 2017 defense appropriations act that would have barred the use of funds to authorize or transfer cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. The congressional action came after Foreign Policy reported just before the Memorial Day holiday that the Obama administration had suspended such transfers, following evidence of civilian casualties from cluster munitions attacks in Yemen. These actions again drew cluster munitions into the U.S. public spotlight, highlighting both the stigma on these weapons and controversy over U.S. military support for Riyadh’s ongoing war in Yemen.

As the end of the Obama administration approaches, it is time for the United States to put in place a policy that would permanently cease transfers of cluster munitions, move fully toward ratifying the international treaty banning these weapons, and exercise greater responsibility for arms deals with Saudi Arabia and other states that fail to adequately guard against civilian casualties in conflict.

Weapons No Longer Used by the United States

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse explosive submunitions over wide areas. Many submunitions fail to detonate as designed, leaving explosive remnants that later injure or kill civilians. In the 20th century, the United States was a leading user, manufacturer, and provider of the weapons, directly using cluster munitions in at least a dozen countries and supplying them to some 30 more. In Laos alone Washington still spends millions of dollars a year—with much more needed—to assist in the cleanup of cluster munitions it dropped more than 40 years ago.

Despite official policy that cluster munitions have military utility, the reality is that Washington is no longer using the weapons. The United States last used them in significant numbers in Afghanistan (2001-2002) and Iraq (2003) and evidence shows that Washington employed as many as five Tomahawk cruise missiles armed with cluster munitions during a December 2009 strike in Yemen. Perhaps due to stigma or the use of other weapons (such as armed drones) no evidence exists of U.S. use of cluster munitions in this decade.

According to the Cluster Munition Monitor, the United States last budgeted funds for U.S. production of new cluster munitions in 2007, but has since sold them to India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates. 

U.S. Cluster Munitions Policy Essentially Unchanged Under Obama

In a questionnaire for Arms Control Today in 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama recognized U.S. “forces have been moving away from using cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines ourselves,” and said “these trends can be accelerated.” 

The Obama administration made significant progress on landmines in 2014 by setting U.S. policy to eventually accede to the Mine Ban Treaty and prohibiting U.S. antipersonnel landmines except on the Korean Peninsula. The Korea exception must be overcome, however, before the United States can fully comply with the ban on antipersonnel mines.

The administration has not however changed its general approach on cluster munitions. The United States continues to follow a 2008 policy that bars the transfer of cluster munitions that fail to operate as intended more than 1 percent of the time, resulting in unexploded ordnance. Until 2018 the policy only allows U.S. use of weapons not meeting that criteria if approved by a combatant commander. After 2018, the United States will no longer use, manufacture, or transfer cluster munitions that fail to meet the 1 percent or less unexploded ordnance standard.

The stigma against cluster munitions has grown considerably since the 2008 policy was announced by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In recent years, senior U.S. officials have criticized others for using cluster munitions in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Washington has voted in favor of UN General Assembly resolutions expressing outrage at the continued use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in December 2015. It has also supported UN Security Council resolutions and called on the OSCE to investigate and report cluster munitions use allegations. 

Today, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the weapons, has 100 states-parties and an additional 19 signatories. Twenty-one of NATO’s 28 members are states-parties to the treaty, including Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. So too are traditional U.S. military allies such as Australia and Japan. U.S.-led efforts to negotiate a new protocol on cluster munitions at the Convention on Conventional Weapons failed in 2011. This leaves the 2008 ban treaty as the sole international instrument dedicated to addressing the suffering caused by cluster munitions.

Yet Washington stubbornly continues to ignore the treaty. It abstained on a nonbinding UN General Assembly resolution on the convention in December. Unlike its allies and the majority of the world’s nations, it does not participate in any meetings associated with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Recent Use by Saudi-led Coalition Highlights Need for New Thinking

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of countries began an air campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen, seeking to return former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power in Sanaa. Almost immediately after the coalition began its airstrikes, reports emerged about the use of American-made cluster munitions, including in civilian areas in contravention of U.S. imposed end-use conditions. Many of the cluster munitions used in Yemen were supplied in the 20th century. 

However, the more modern CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by Textron, the only cluster munitions that meet U.S. export criteria, where also discovered and reported by Human Rights Watch field researchers. They have documented multiple examples of submunitions or “skeet” from a BLU-108 canister failing to disperse or detonate. The failure of these last cluster munitions and their misuse should lead policymakers to permanently end U.S. transfers of cluster munitions. 

More broadly, the Saudi-led coalition’s actions and as well as those of the Houthi have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and contributed to massive suffering and displacement. Saudi actions, including use of cluster munitions, have been widely condemned and are leading to growing censure of arms sales to Riyadh. On Feb. 25, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution finding that European supplies of weapons to Saudi Arabia violate EU arms transfer rules and seeking an embargo on such transfers due to Saudi behavior in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 

On March 18, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, more widely addressed the conflict and said: “It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones—which are protected under international law—is at best woefully inadequate…. And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the [Saudi-led] Coalition.” Civil rights groups in late June called for Saudi Arabia to be removed from the UN Human Rights Council.

Deservedly, Washington’s arms sales to Riyadh are drawing more scrutiny. The United States has long been a top weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia, a country that is the leading developing world arms purchaser (according to a recent Congressional Research Service report), and one which increased its arms imports by 275 percent during 2011-2015 as compared to the previous five years (according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute-SIPRI). 

In April, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed legislation that would require that U.S. sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia be subject to a certification process guaranteeing that the Saudis are targeting terrorists and not civilians in Yemen. 

In their review of a November 2015 notification of a potential $1.3 billion sale of advanced air-to-ground weapons to Riyadh, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) invoked a new authority that requires the State Department to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to the delivery of an arms shipment. Such pre-delivery notifications, which were written into the Arms Export Control Act in December 2014 with the Middle East in mind, have not been invoked previously. 

Peace activists demonstrated in front of Textron’s world headquarters in April for its role in supplying cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. (Photo: RiFuture.org/@SteveAhlquist)In March 2015, the U.S. wing of the Cluster Munition Coalition requested that President Obama review the 2008 policy, including the exception allowing for cluster munitions that may result in less than one percent unexploded ordnance, and commit the United States to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

More recently, attention has been focused on the manufacturer itself, Textron, via public protests outside its facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island denouncing its production of cluster munitions after reports of civilian harm from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s use of these weapons. American banks and financial institutions have also been listed in the “Hall of Shame” by the global Stop Explosive Investments campaign and its June 2016 report detailing institutions that fund companies producing cluster munitions.

Given how out of step U.S. policy on cluster munitions now stands, with the U.S. allowing export of weapons it no longer uses and which its allies condemn, now is the time to end transfers and more seriously consider accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. At the same time, the president and Congress can take steps to be much more circumspect in their arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, refusing to allow new supplies until the country shows more responsibility in its military activities to protect civilians and live up to international humanitarian and human rights law.

—JEFF ABRAMSON, non-resident senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, and program manager of Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition

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How should the United States exercise responsibility in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and other states that fail to adequately guard against civilian casualties in conflict?

States Link Efforts to Curb Arms Flows

July/August 2016

By Jeff Abramson

Delegates at a biennial UN meeting held last month in New York reached consensus on how to link instruments related to the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons to newer initiatives, including the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and UN-agreed development goals

The June 6-10 meeting was the sixth biennial and final formal meeting before a 2018 review conference on the 2001 Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, and its sister agreement, the 2005 International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (ITI). 

Some states that have not yet joined the ATT, objected to proposals to explicitly mention the treaty in the program of action meeting’s outcome document. The ATT, which entered into force in the period since the fifth biennial meeting in June 2014, is the first legally binding instrument addressing the transfer of nearly all conventional weapons. (See ACT, October 2014.

On the final day of the meeting, Darren Hansen, the head of the Australian delegation, read a statement on behalf of more than 60 countries calling for language mentioning the ATT by name. Ultimately, the final document only made indirect reference to “complementarities” with other instruments.

Hansen told Arms Control Today in a June 27 email that although “Australia would have liked to have seen a reference to the ATT,…[w]e were satisfied with the outcome document in which it was agreed that complementarities between the [program of action] and relevant global instruments, including those that are legally binding, need to be taken into account.”

The United States, which is a signatory to the ATT, joined in the group supporting a direct reference to the treaty. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in a June 22 email that “the important point is that all countries establish export/import controls consistent with the ATT if they are States parties, or with the [program of action] if they are not…. When implemented effectively, laws and regulations make illicit trafficking more difficult.”

Although only indirectly referencing the ATT, delegates did welcome the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in September that replaced the Millennial Development Goals. In particular, the final document referenced SDG target 16.4, which calls for the global community to “significantly reduce illicit…arms flows” by 2030.

As part of the SDG effort, indicators are being created for each target. Regarding the objectives to promote peaceful and inclusive societies in target 16, a draft indicator is “[p]roportion of seized small arms and light weapons that are recorded and traced, in accordance with international standards and legal instruments.” In the meeting’s final document, states encouraged the development of national indicators based on the program of action and ITI that could support measuring and reporting on SDG target 16.4.

Reporting on arms issues is also one of the topics to be addressed at the second annual conference of states-parties to the ATT, set to occur in Geneva on Aug. 22-26. As of June 29, only 35 states had submitted their treaty-mandated annual report on authorized imports and exports, which was due May 31. The pact has 85 states-parties and another 48 signatory states.

One issue that may emerge at the August meeting is arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Human rights groups have documented Saudi use of foreign-supplied weapons, including cluster munitions, in attacks on civilians in Yemen and accused Riyadh of violating international law. On March 18, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights said, “It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones—which are protected under international law—is at best woefully inadequate…. And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the [Saudi-led] Coalition.” 

On Feb. 25, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution finding that European supplies of weapons to Saudi Arabia violate EU arms transfer rules and seeking an embargo on such transfers due to Saudi conduct in the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Requests by civil society delegates attending an extraordinary ATT meeting on Feb. 29 to discuss whether arms transfers to Saudi Arabia violated the ATT were rejected. 

In April and May, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed legislation that would require that U.S. sales of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia be subject to a certification process guaranteeing that the Saudis are targeting terrorists and not civilians in Yemen. 

“[A]nti-American sentiment is spiking as locals blame the U.S. for the thousands of civilians killed in the coalition bombing campaign. This will come back to haunt us. We need to put real conditions on our military aid to the Saudis,” Murphy said in a May 26 press release.

In response to news reports that the United States had suspended transfers of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia, the State Department official said June 22 that “U.S. officials have regularly engaged with Saudi Arabia and other coalition members on the need to investigate all credible reports of civilian casualties allegedly caused by coalition air strikes…encouraging them to do their utmost to avoid harm to civilians and damage to critical infrastructure.”

Delegates at a biennial UN meeting on decade-old agreements addressing illicit small arms trade made connections to the newer Arms Trade Treaty and Sustainable Development Goals.

New Report Calls for Russia and the West to Move Back from the Brink

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For Immediate Release: June 21, 2016

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Ulrich Kuehn, Researcher, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, University of Hamburg, +49 (1) 76 811219 75

(Mosow, Berlin, Washington)—A new report from a high-level group of international security experts from Russia, the United States, and Germany recommends that the West and Russia build on a number of existing arms control and confidence-building measures in order to avoid further exacerbation of the increasingly tense and dangerous relationship between Russia and the West, particularly along the border between Russia and NATO member states.

The third report of the Deep Cuts Commission describes 15 key recommendations to help address the most acute security concerns in Europe—particularly in the Baltic area—and increase U.S.-Russian nuclear transparency and predictability.

“The prime objective for the next few years should be limiting the potential for dangerous military incidents that can escalate out of control,” the authors argue. “Russia and the West must come back from the brink. They need to better manage their conflictual relationship. Restraint and dialogue are now needed more than ever,” they write.

The Commission’s recommendations include:

    • In order to reduce current security concerns in the Baltic area, NATO and Russia should initiate a dialogue on possible mutual restraint measures. All states should adhere to the NATO-Russia Founding Act. A NATO-Russia dialogue should aim at increasing the security of all states in the Baltic area by encompassing reciprocal and verifiable commitments. A sub-regional arms control regime could consist of interlocking elements such as restraint commitments, limitations, CSBMs, and a sub-regional Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.
    • In light of the increasing dangers of military incidents between Russia, the United States and other NATO member states, the United States and Russia should revive a dialogue on nuclear risk reduction measures, capable of addressing risks posed by different sorts of emergencies in near real-time. The United States and Russia could consider creating a Joint Military Incident Prevention and Communications Cell with a direct telephone link between the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Russian General Staff, and NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Such a cell could be linked to or established in parallel with a new European Risk Reduction Center.
    • States-parties to the Treaty on Open Skies should pay more attention to the continued operation of Open Skies. They should strengthen its operation by devoting equal resources to upgrading observation equipment.
    • Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating States should consider measures to give effect to the principle of non-intervention into internal affairs. For this purpose, the OSCE could set up a commission which would carefully look into the issue from a legal point of view and explore possibilities for a new OSCE states-based mechanism. Beyond, OSCE participating States should prepare for a long-term endeavor leading to a Helsinki-like conference with the aim of reinvigorating and strengthening Europe’s guiding security principles.
    • The United States and Russia should commit to attempting to resolve each other’s compliance concerns with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by supplementing ongoing diplomatic dialogue with technical expertise, either by convening the Special Verification Commission or a separate bilateral experts group mandated to appropriately address all relevant treaty-related compliance concerns. Further on, the United States and Russia should address the issue of supplementing the treaty by taking account of technological and political developments that have occurred since the treaty’s entry into force.
    • The United States and Russia should address the destabilizing effects of nuclear-armed cruise missile proliferation by agreeing on specific confidence-building measures. Together with other nations, they should address the challenges of horizontal cruise missile proliferation by reinforcing the relevant Missile Technology Control Regime’s restrictions and by endorsing the inclusion of land-attack cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles/unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UAVs/UCAVs) in the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.
    • Moscow and Washington should exercise restraint in Russian and U.S. nuclear force modernization programs, remaining within the New START limits and acting consistent with the intent of the treaty. The United States should forego development of the LRSO and Russia should reciprocate by phasing-out of new nuclear-armed ALCMs. The United States should show restraint in ballistic missile deployments consistent with its policy of defending against limited threats. NATO should follow through on its commitment to adapt its ballistic missile deployments in accordance with reductions in the ballistic missile proliferation threats.

    • Russia and the United States should work toward early discussions on a possible follow-on strategic arms reduction treaty. They should be able to envision reductions to a level of 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles and 1,000 deployed strategic warheads during the next decade. These discussions should explore options for exchanging measures of reciprocal restraint and seek to address other issues of mutual concern under a combined umbrella discussion of strategic stability.

Beyond these recommendations, the experts identify a number of additional measures which could foster confidence in and maintain focus on the goal of further nuclear disarmament.

The complete report is available online.

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The West and Russia need to build on existing arms control measures to avoid exacerbation of the increasingly tense relationship between them, according to a group of international security experts.

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Conventional Arms Control in Europe: Decline, Disarray, and the Need for Reinvention

June 2016

By Lucien Kleinjan

For some years now, conventional arms control in Europe has found itself under pressure. The edifice of conventional arms control instruments in Europe consists of three main pillars: the Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, most recently updated in 2011; the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which entered into force in 1992; and the Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002.

Some might contend that, at this juncture in history, all of these instruments have lost their military relevance to a large extent, although these perceptions might vary according to one’s birthplace. This article will argue that, from a political point of view, the instruments still have a pivotal role to play.

On the one hand, their demise would be an obvious symbol of withered trust and confidence. On the other hand, the continued malfunctioning of these instruments contributes to the further erosion of that trust and confidence. 

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has said on several occasions that the main issue is one of trust and confidence. The countries involved need to have the trust and confidence to cooperate with one another. At the same time, such cooperation creates trust and confidence. Yet, it is not a chicken-and-egg situation. One can start at either end; the main requirement is the political will to break the current negative cycle.

Traditionally, the Netherlands has put considerable emphasis on and effort into the maintenance of conventional arms control, just as it does for nuclear disarmament. This vision flows from a deep-rooted tradition that emphasizes the normative power of international law. For a country of relatively small size and international weight, much is to be gained from a multilateral system whose members strictly adhere to its rules. Arms control forms part and parcel of such a system.

There is a direct link between the conventional and the nuclear fields. NATO allies perceive nuclear arms to be weapons of deterrence. All the allies hope they never have to resort to the use of such weapons. NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept explicitly states this in Article 17: “The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote.”1

Russian doctrine does not make that distinction as clearly. In the Russian perception, the use of nonstrategic nuclear arms—those that could be used on the battlefield instead of against strategic assets in the homeland of the opponent—would be dependent on the needs of a given conflict situation. Thus, there is a relationship between conventional and nonconventional arms in their potential use and the way one approaches arms control.

A Topical and Urgent Issue

As discussed above, conventional arms control is politically and militarily relevant. The recent events at the edges of Europe have demonstrated once again the continued or renewed relevance of conventional arms control. Notwithstanding the emergence of all kinds of military innovations, including warfare in the cyber domain, the use of drones, and the use of soldiers posing as local insurgents, it is clear from recent subregional conflicts that such conflicts are fought to a large extent with conventional equipment. These battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, aircraft, and attack helicopters are arms to seize and hold ground, as the military would put it.

It is exactly these categories of equip-ment on which the CFE Treaty and the Vienna Document focus. There is an obvious and urgent need to keep these documents alive and update them where necessary. 

Such endeavors call not only for knowledge and concentrated effort, but also a certain amount of political courage. Given the current circumstances, with a re-emergence of the perception of a military threat from Russia, many politicians in Europe and the United States have an understandable inclination to postulate that these are not times for arms control. They would rather consider modernization and enhancement of military capacities in view of the volatile behavior of the one state that treads on long-standing agreements and principles.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, conventional arms control now is as important as ever. As Koenders tends to put it, arms control is not a fair-weather instrument. It is in dire times that the need for it is greatest.

Between countries that do not perceive each other as a threat in any way, arms control instruments are not warranted. The Netherlands does not have such instruments with Denmark. The need for arrangements to enhance transparency and thus stability and security arises in the cases of countries with which good relations come less naturally. 

The Vienna Document

The current year offers several oppor-tunities to engage in a dialogue to reinvigorate conventional arms control in Europe. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) happens to have started the exercise to update and modernize the Vienna Document this year. Some states, however, do not have the political will to engage in discussions on updates, let alone modernizations. They cite the current mistrust as the reason for their reluctance.

They are wrong. The crisis over Ukraine is a case in point. It demonstrated the need for substantial improvements in the Vienna Document, which would benefit all parties. Among other things, the crisis made clear that the Vienna Document had never foreseen the use of foreign troops posing as local insurgents, making use of heavy armor and weapons.

The crisis demonstrated the inadequacy of the verification methods in the document, shown, for example, in current restrictions on inspections and in insufficiently rigorous requirements for no-notice, or snap, exercises, in which participating troops are not forewarned and for which prior notification to the other signatories of the Vienna Document is not required.

Having held the presidency of the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation during the first four months of this year, the Netherlands feels additionally motivated to propel the dialogue on these questions. It wants to do its utmost to arrive at a substantially improved Vienna Document that responds to the requirements of comprehensive security and the citizens of all participating OSCE states.

Modernization of the Vienna Document is vital. The loopholes that allow for circumvention of the letter and the spirit of the document should be closed. The times demand structural improvement of this pillar—for example, a document that allows more-intrusive inspections to enhance the verification regime, requires the parties to keep one another abreast of more exercises than under the current version of the document, and obliges countries to allow snap inspections and observations when holding snap exercises.

All this is not a goal in itself. It will make for more transparency and thus fewer surprises, fewer chances of misunderstandings, and fewer possible ensuing dangerous reactions. It is an investment in predictability, stability, and security.

It will not make for an ideal world. No Vienna Document could counterbalance a lack of trust and confidence. At the same time, the commitment to more-intrusive measures would be a first demonstration of the political will to arrive at greater transparency. That itself would be a confidence-building measure.

The Foundations of Conventional Arms Control in Europe

There are three main instruments on conventional arms control in Europe. Their scope and adhering members vary, mostly for historical and political reasons. The three agreements are described below.

The Vienna Document is a politically binding agreement among the participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is intended to implement confidence- and security-building measures, such as exchanges of military information, prior notification of certain military exercises, and observation of certain military exercises. The crisis in and around Ukraine has highlighted loopholes in the agreement, as well as the need to enhance certain provisions. Because of the current political situation, Russia has shown a reluctance to enter into negotiations on the modernization of the Vienna Document.

The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty has its roots in the Cold War. It established limits on five categories of conventional military equipment in Europe and oversaw the destruction of excess weaponry by NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. There are 30 states-parties today. Russia is one of them, but it “suspended” its active participation in the treaty in 2007, expressing dissatisfaction with several of its elements, such as the continuation of the bloc-based approach.

The Open Skies Treaty allows for aerial surveillance flights over the territories of its 34 states-parties to enhance mutual understanding and confidence through the possibility of gathering information on military forces and activities. Due to a restrictive interpretation by Russia, the treaty risks losing some of its intrusiveness and thus effectiveness.

    The CFE Treaty

    Another opportunity presents itself this year to give a much needed boost to conventional arms control in Europe. In September, there will be a conference to review the functioning of the CFE Treaty, as there is every five years. 

    For years, the CFE Treaty rightly was considered the success story of conventional arms control, not just in Europe but worldwide. It was the benchmark, the cornerstone, of European arms control and thus European security.

    The treaty was a product of Cold War discord and was negotiated at the height of the Cold War. One result of the treaty was the observed destruction of 72,000 pieces of heavy military equipment by the countries of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The accompanying regime of mutual inspections provided a guarantee that the two opposing blocs were abiding by the agreed requirements for reductions and subsequently lower levels of armaments. The treaty thus created a framework for mutual trust, confidence, and transparency through its elaborate and intrusive system of continuous inspections.

    This system turned out to be mutually beneficial at a time when the blocs still felt secure at the lower levels of armaments. The parties were able to spend less on their militaries and more on civilian needs. The system thus provided economic gain without altering the strategic balance. The happy ending of the Cold War provided a good occasion to give the treaty a new footing, doing away with the blocs while preserving transparency.

    The adaptation of the treaty to that end never entered into force, as the precondition to which all the states-parties, including Russia, agreed—that 

    Russia would pull back its troops and materiel from Georgia and Moldova—was never met. Quite the contrary, one might say after the 2008 Russian intervention in Georgia. Moreover, in 2007, Russia unilaterally “suspended” implementation of its obligations under the treaty. Transparency, cooperation, predictability, and stability were heavily affected, and several efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the impasse failed.

    Under these circumstances, this year’s review conference is likely to conclude that the CFE Treaty continues to suffer from the failure of one state-party to implement its obligations. Although 29 of the 30 states-parties continue to implement the treaty among themselves, the relevance of the pact is heavily affected because of Russian behavior. As noted earlier, the treaty’s value does not lie in mutual inspections between Denmark and the Netherlands.

    In the light of the foregoing, the Netherlands wants to appeal to all states-parties and to Russia in particular to return to the negotiating table. As with the Vienna Document, this is not a plea for just Dutch interests, but one that serves a common goal: stability and security for Europe. That goal transcends the undeniable differences among the countries of the continent. 

    The Open Skies Treaty 

    The Open Skies Treaty, the third pillar of European conventional arms control, still can be called quite successful. It offers its states-parties an unprecedented level of transparency, including the right to take photographs of military installations. 

    Unfortunately, the political upheaval in Europe has not left this treaty untouched. Russia’s restrictive interpretation of certain provisions and unilateral limitation of observation flights over its territory have affected the treaty’s effectiveness. For example, some areas have been declared off-limits for observation flights, and the accessibility of others has been hampered by restrictions on the altitude of overflights. 

    As always, states-parties are supposed to adhere faithfully to the letter and spirit of the treaty. Once again, the goal is simple and, one would hope, shared by all: promotion of transparency and predictability and thus of stability and security on the European continent.

    Conclusion

    Today, the citizens of Europe live in circumstances that they had hoped they had left behind. Dividing lines and mistrust have again emerged in Europe. Yet, the instruments in place should at least contribute to predictability and thus stability and security on the continent. 

    They are the three instruments of arms control that have served Europe and the rest of the world so well in the past, including times when tension presumably ran even higher than today. Arms control instruments in themselves are not designed to prevent or stop crises, but they can lead to a restoration of trust and confidence by offering mutual transparency about capabilities and the intentions of their signatories. This is not something that countries can afford to throw away or to slowly let wither. They should act this year to restart the cycle that would lead to a more stable and secure continent. 

    ENDNOTE

    1.   “Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” n.d., http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_publications/20120214_strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf (adopted at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010).


    Lucien Kleinjan is the Netherlands’ special envoy for conventional arms control.

    Although it might seem counterintuitive, the instruments of conventional arms control in Europe still have a pivotal role to play.

    "Eye In the Sky" Captures Drone Policy Debate for Filmgoers

    Two young terrorist recruits are being fitted with suicide bombs in a home in the outskirts of Nairobi. High-value targets on the United States and United Kingdom kill lists share tea with them before they are suited up to make videos. The opportunity to strike these targets and potentially prevent a devastating attack is fleeting. This is the story central to the new film Eye in the Sky . Drone warfare has captured the attention of the media, national security experts, and policymakers alike. Eye in the Sky brings the issue to a wider audience and unpacks much of the current policy debates...

    Autonomous Arms Debate Set for Next Step

    May 2016

    By Jeff Abramson

    Governments agreed last month on a recommendation for a more formal process for discussing lethal autonomous weapons systems in meetings that would begin in 2017. 

    That process, if approved in December, would seek to identify options for weapons that are sometimes called “killer robots.” A growing number of governments and experts have called for a pre-emptive ban on the weapons systems.

    Although the exact definition of the systems remains contentious, many officials and experts have expressed concern that such weapons could use lethal force without “meaningful human control.”

    For each of the past three years, experts have met in one-week informal meetings under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). At the latest gathering, held April 11-15 in Geneva, officials recommended that a more formal group of governmental experts be established to “meet for an appropriate period of time starting in 2017 to explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of [lethal autonomous weapons systems].” Although CCW states-parties would make any decisions, the group’s meetings would be open to officials from other governments and to civil society experts. That has been the case for the informal meetings thus far.

    The proposed approach is expected to be approved at the upcoming December 12-16 CCW review conference, where the parties would provide further clarification on the duration and timing of meetings. 

    Initially the group would be charged with elaborating a working definition of lethal autonomous weapons systems and applying relevant international law to them, with a report on progress related to such technical issues due at a meeting of states-parties in late 2017, according to the recommendations forwarded last month.

    Although the April meeting ultimately called only for looking at “options,” Michael Biontino, the German ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament who chaired the meeting, noted in his report that a number of states supported either a ban or moratorium on the weapons. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a civil society coalition calling for a ban on developing and deploying lethal autonomous weapons, has identified more than a dozen countries supportive of a pre-emptive ban. 

    These governments are joined by more than 3,000 robotics and artificial intelligence experts, as well as science and technology leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak, who have signed an open letter calling for “a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control” that was announced in July 2015.

    In one indication of the number of issues still under discussion, Michael Meier, the State Department official who headed the U.S. delegation at the April meeting, reiterated the U.S. preference for the term “appropriate levels of human judgment” instead of “meaningful human control.” While expressing support for the CCW process in his opening remarks on April 11, Meier made clear that current U.S. policy, as detailed in a Defense Department directive in November 2012, “neither encourages nor prohibits the development” of lethal autonomous weapons systems.

    Governments agreed last month on a recommendation for a more formal process for discussing lethal autonomous weapons systems in meetings that would begin in 2017. 

    U.S. Remains Top Arms Provider

    March 2016

    By Jeff Abramson

    A U.S. Navy seaman signals to the pilot of an Army AH-64 Apache helicopter during an exercise in the Persian Gulf on September 28, 2015. (Photo credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Bradley J. Gee/U.S. Navy)The United States remains the world’s largest supplier of major conventional weapons systems, increasing the value of arms agreements it has concluded in the past years, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Russia maintains its position as the second-largest arms merchant, with China and four European countries also among top suppliers to an arms market primarily comprised of developing countries, the report says.

    The United States concluded $36.2 billion in arms transfer agreements worldwide in 2014, the most recent year detailed in the report. That total was up nearly $10 billion from the 2013 total and constituted just more than half of all global 2014 agreements, which were valued at $71.8 billion, slighly above the 2013 total of $70.2 billion. Nearly $30 billion of U.S. agreements in 2014 were with developing countries, including large-value pacts with Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.

    Three of those four countries are in what CRS report author Catherine Theohary terms the Near East, a region that accounted for more than 60 percent of all developing-country agreements from 2011 to 2014. Led by Saudi Arabia, the developing world’s top arms purchaser, the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have received advanced air, naval, and missile defense systems and historically have been driven by “concerns over the growing strategic threat from Iran,” according to Theohary. In 2014, agreements were reached to supply anti-tank missiles, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, Javelin missiles, AH-64D Apache helicopters, and other weapons to GCC countries.

    Scrutiny of Arms for the Middle East

    In the time period beyond the one covered in the report, the Iran nuclear agreement was concluded, and oil prices slid significantly. Those developments, however, have not stopped arms transfer agreements to the Middle East, which is increasingly racked by conflict. In 2015 and 2016, the Obama administration has notified Congress of a number of potential major arms transfers to GCC countries. Those to Saudi Arabia, by the United States and others, are drawing particular scrutiny in light of reported use against civilians and other abuses by the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

    In reviewing a November 2015 notification of a potential $1.3 billion sale of advanced air-to-ground weapons to Riyadh, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) invoked a new authority that requires the State Department to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to the delivery of an arms shipment.

    Such pre-delivery notifications, which were written into the Arms Export Control Act in December 2014 with the Middle East in mind, have not been invoked previously. They require a joint request of the chair and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congress can pass legislation to block or amend arms agreements up until delivery but, in the absence of a delivery notification, typically has restricted its review to the agreement stage.

    More recently, a Feb. 14 Human Rights Watch report said that Saudi-led coalition forces have used advanced, U.S.-provided sensor-fuzed cluster munitions in civilian areas in Yemen, contrary to U.S. restrictions. Also, the European Parliament adopted a nonbinding resolution on Feb. 25 finding that arms transfers to Saudi Arabia violate EU rules and initiating work toward an arms embargo on the country. An official embargo would be established by a separate European mechanism, making the timing and prospects of such a move uncertain.

    A report last month with arms transfer information updated through 2015 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) commented that the intervention in Yemen was facilitated by “high levels of arms imports,” with Saudi Arabia’s imports increasing by 275 percent for the period 2011-2015 as compared to the previous five years. Even with concerns over Saudi attacks in Yemen, the report authors said it is expected that Saudi Arabia would “continue to receive large numbers of major arms,” including 150 combat aircraft and thousands of missiles from the United States.

    Other Suppliers and Purchasers

    In 2014, Russia concluded $10.2 billion in global arms agreements, down slightly from $10.3 billion in 2013 but remaining the world’s second-largest arms supplier in part due to “creative financing,” such as offset agreements and a “willingness to agree to licensed production…particularly [with] India and China,” Theohary writes. While saying that Russia has overcome “significant industrial production problems,” she concludes what earlier report authors have, that a lack of substantial research and development “has hampered Russia’s longer-term foreign arms sales prospects.”

    Still, Russia remains a primary supplier to India, the developing world’s second-largest arms purchaser over the report’s eight-year period (2007-2014). Increased competition for India’s arms purchases, as evidenced by the selection of France to supply next-generation combat fighter aircraft, indicates that Russia cannot rely on India as an arms purchaser for the long term, the CRS report says.

    Led by India, the Asian region itself is the second-largest developing-world arms market, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the developing world’s arms agreements from 2011 to 2014 ($72.4 billion). In recent years, the United States has replaced Russia as the top arms supplier to the region, concluding, for example, more than $7 billion in arms agreements with South Korea in 2014 alone.

    China, although listed as a developing country, is also one of the world’s top suppliers, accounting for $13 billion in agreements with other developing countries from 2011 to 2014, which is fifth overall. Primarily seen as a seller of small arms and light weapons, especially to Africa, China is increasingly marketing advanced aircraft.

    European countries, in particular France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, also remain important arms suppliers but with significant annual fluctuations in agreements. Those four countries accounted for just under 10 percent of agreements with developing states in 2014, down from more than 25 percent in 2013, according to Theohary. The recent SIPRI report adds Spain to the list of top European exporters and notes that the five countries together accounted for 21 percent of all arms transfers between 2011 and 2015. SIPRI’s report focused primarily on actual transfers, whereas the CRS report has sections on agreements and deliveries. 

    A report on weapons sales shows Middle East states are major purchasers.

    The Arms Trade Treaty At a Glance

    January 2016

    Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

    Updated: January 2016

    Summary

    The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) establishes common standards for the international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. The treaty aims to reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, as well as to promote accountability and transparency by state parties concerning transfers of conventional arms. The ATT does not place restrictions on the types or quantities of arms that may be bought, sold, or possessed by states. It also does not impact a state’s domestic gun control laws or other firearm ownership policies.

    After nearly two decades of advocacy and diplomacy, a UN conference was convened to negotiate the ATT in July 2012, but fell short of reaching consensus on a final text. Another two week-long conference was convened in March 2013 to complete work on the treaty. However, Iran, North Korea, and Syria blocked consensus on the final treaty text, leading treaty supporters to move it to the UN General Assembly on for approval. On April 2, 2013, the UN General Assembly endorsed the ATT by a vote of 156-3, with 23 abstentions. The treaty opened for signature on June 3, 2013, and entered into force on Dec. 23, 2014.

    (Read the full treaty text here)

    What the Arms Trade Treaty Does

    • The Arms Trade Treaty requires all states-parties to adopt basic regulations and approval processes for the flow of weapons across international borders, establishes common international standards that must be met before arms exports are authorized, and requires annual reporting of imports and exports to a treaty secretariat. In particular, the treaty:
    • requires that states “establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list” and “designate competent national authorities in order to have an effective and transparent national control system regulating the transfer of conventional arms”;
    • prohibits arms transfer authorizations to states if the transfer would violate “obligations under measures adopted by the United Nations Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular arms embargoes” or under other “relevant international obligations” or if the state “has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes”;
    • requires states to assess the potential that the arms exported would “contribute to or undermine peace and security” or could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, acts of terrorism, or transnational organized crime; to consider measures to mitigate the risk of these violations; and, if there still remains an “overriding risk” of “negative consequences,” to “not authorize the export”;
    • applies under Article 2(1) to all conventional arms within the seven categories of the UN Register of Conventional Arms (battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers) and small arms and light weapons;
    • requires that states “establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition/munitions fired, launched or delivered by” the conventional arms listed in Article 2(1) and “parts and components…that provide the capability to assemble” the conventional arms listed in that article;
    • requires each state to “take the appropriate measures, pursuant to its national laws, to regulate brokering taking place under its jurisdiction” of conventional arms covered under Article 2(1);
    • requires each state to “take measures to prevent…diversion” of conventional arms covered under Article 2(1);
    • requires each state to submit annually to the treaty secretariat a report of the preceding year’s “authorized or actual export and imports of conventional arms covered under Article 2(1)” and allows states to exclude “commercially sensitive or national security information”

    Basic Treaty Obligations

    To be in compliance with the ATT, states-parties must:

    • establish and maintain an effective national control system for the export, import, transit, and transshipment of and brokering activities related to (all defined as “transfers” in the ATT) the eight categories of conventional arms covered by the ATT, as well as exports of related ammunition and of parts and components that are used for assembling conventional arms covered by the treaty (Articles 3, 4, and 5.2);
    • establish and maintain a national control list (Article 5.3) and making it available to other states-parties (Article 5.4);
    • designate competent national authorities responsible for maintaining this system (Article 5.5);
    • designate at least one national contact point responsible for exchanging information related to the implementation of the ATT (Article 5.6);
    • prohibit transfers of conventional arms, ammunition, or parts and components for the eight categories of conventional arms covered by the ATT that would violate obligations under Chapter VII of the UN Charter or international agreements relating to the transfer or illicit trafficking of conventional arms or where there is knowledge that the items will be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, or other war crimes (Article 6);
    • review applications for exports of the eight categories of conventional arms covered by the treaty and conducting a national export assessment on the risk that the exported arms could have “negative consequences” for peace, security, and human rights, denying an arms export if the assessment determines that there is an overriding risk that the exported arms will be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law or offenses under international conventions or protocols relating to terrorism or international organized crime and taking into account the risk of the exported arms being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or violence against women and children (Article 7);
    • take measures to regulate conventional arms imports (Article 8);
    • when importing conventional arms, provide information to assist the exporting state-party in conducting its national export assessment, including by providing documentation on the end use or end user (Article 8);
    • take measures, where necessary and feasible, to regulate the transit and transshipment of conventional arms (Article 9);
    • take measures to regulate brokering taking place under its jurisdiction (Article 10);
    • take measures, including risk assessments, mitigation measures, cooperation, and information sharing, to prevent the diversion of conventional arms to the illicit market or for unauthorized end use and end users (Article 11);
    • maintain national records for each export authorization or delivery of conventional arms for at least 10 years (Article 12);
    • provide annual reports to the secretariat on export and import authorizations or deliveries of conventional arms to be distributed to states-parties (Article 13);
    • take appropriate measures to enforce national laws and regulations to implement the treaty (Article 14); and
    • cooperate with other states-parties in order to implement the ATT effectively (Article 15). 

    Timeline of treaty negotiations

    October 1995: Dr. Oscar Arias calls upon fellow Noble Laureates to promote an international agreement regulating the trade in conventional arms.

    May 1997: The Noble Laureate Initiative is officially launched in New York City. The initiative endorses an arms trade Code of Conduct to lay the foundations of a future arms trade treaty.

    October 18, 2006 - UN General Assembly passes Resolution 61/89 with 153 votes. The resolution instructs UN Secretary General to undertake an exploration for a future arms trade treaty. The United States votes against the resolution, the only country to do so.

    September 2007: The UN Secretary General appoints a group of government experts to examine the “feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.”

    December 2008: The UN General Assembly (Res. 63/240) endorses the report and convened an Open-Ended Working Group to provide a more public forum for further discussion of these and other substantive issues.

    October 14, 2009: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announces that the United States will support the arms trade treaty negotiation process, and would vote in favor of a General Assembly Resolution creating a treaty conference.

    December 2009: The UN General Assembly adopts Resolution 64/48, establishing a treaty negotiating conference to be held in 2012 to draft the text of a legally binding arms trade treaty. The resolution also mandates all treaty negotiations will conducted on the basis of consensus.

    July 2-27, 2012: ATT negotiating conference meets for four consecutive weeks in New York. The conference participants fail to reach consensus on a final treaty text.

    November 2012: The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passes a resolution mandating that a second ATT negotiating conference be convened in March 2013.

    March 18-28, 2013: The second ATT negotiating conference convenes. A final treaty text is agreed upon. The treaty is blocked from consensus approval by Iran, North Korea, and Syria. A group of 90 countries, including the United States, push the treaty forward to the UN General Assembly for adoption.

    April 3, 2013: The UN General Assembly adopts the Arms Trade Treaty by a vote of 153-3, with 22 abstentions.

    June 3, 2013: The ATT opens for signature. Sixty-seven countries sign on the treaty’s opening day.

    September 23, 2013: The United States becomes the 91st state to sign the ATT.

    December 24, 2014: The ATT enters into force, 90 days after the date of the 50th ratification. 

    August 24-27, 2015: The first Conference of States-Parties for the ATT is held in Cancun, Mexico.

    - Updated by Shervin Taheran

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