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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

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

The Week Ahead, Sept. 21-28: Obama, Rouhani at the UN; Iran Meets IAEA; Syria Resolution

This bulletin highlights significant events in the world of arms control in the coming week, as compiled by staff and friends of the Arms Control Association. (Send your suggestions for events to be covered here .) - Jefferson Morley, Senior Editorial Consultant, Arms Control Today Obama, Rouhani to Speak at UN on Sept. 25 Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani has launched a charm offensive that opens new possibilities for the stalled talks relating to Iran's nuclear program. Those talks, between Iran and the United States and its P5+1 partners are expected to resume in October. Iran meets the...

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

Paul Holtom and Mark Bromley

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 short-term 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 box). 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 states-parties, 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 staff of the provisional secretariat or experts from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) could draft the 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 state-party 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.

The checklist would draw on the methodology used to construct the matrix adopted in early 2005 as a tool for organizing information on measures undertaken by states to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1540. That resolution requires states to put in place “appropriate” and “effective” laws that prohibit any nonstate actor, primarily terrorists, from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, developing, transporting, transferring, or using nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery.[2] It also requires states to exercise control over legal transfers of dual-use goods and technologies.

In addition, the resolution established a committee and a group of experts to carry out its directives. The 1540 Committee’s group of experts developed a matrix of measures for implementation based on the resolution’s provisions and information provided by states. The innovation of this approach is that the group of experts constructed and completed a matrix for every UN member state regardless of whether the country had provided information to the 1540 Committee on implementation, using information provided directly to the committee and from other publicly available, official government information. The committee then made the matrices publicly available, and states were invited to amend or update their national matrix. This approach has enabled the 1540 Committee to generate reports that are far more detailed and accurate than those that rely entirely on submissions by states-parties.

The matrices have become an important tool for identifying areas in which states could benefit from assistance to strengthen elements of their national transfer control system. The matrices also have helped to relieve the burden on states that are required to complete multiple and often overlapping reports under different instruments. Before the ATT enters into force, the ATT ratification checklist could play the same role of identifying gaps that should be filled before ratification can take place. It can be used after entry into force by NGOs or the ATT Secretariat as part of efforts to assess states’ progress in fulfilling their commitments under the ATT and to provide assistance to states in implementing the ATT.

International Assistance

The ATT contains provisions on assisting states with treaty implementation after the treaty enters into force, but it does not elaborate on how states will be helped in preparing for treaty ratification before that point. Yet, a number of existing efforts already aimed at strengthening export controls are of relevance in this regard.[3] In addition, regional organizations and NGOs are preparing new forms of assistance that make greater use of online tools and that could help states before the ATT enters into force.

Since the early 1990s Australia, Japan, the United States, and some European states have been involved in strengthening the transfer controls of other countries, primarily in Asia and central and eastern Europe.[4] More recently, various UN agencies and regional organizations such as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Organization of American States have become involved in this field. The key pillars of these assistance programs include

  • reviewing, revising, or drafting transfer control laws, regulations, and control lists;
  • building capacity for government ministries and agencies involved in transfer controls—for example, export licensing officials and border, customs, and law enforcement services—and raising awareness in relevant administrative structures;
  • sharing experience to develop good interagency cooperation and coordination within a country;
  • donating equipment to assist with licensing, record keeping, and enforcement;
  • providing guidelines and standards for risk assessments; and
  • strengthening government relations and raising awareness of export control responsibilities for relevant sections of industry.

The programs involve legal reviews, training seminars, and workshops for a wide range of ministries and government agencies. Material assistance also is provided to improve interagency cooperation for licensing and enforcement and to broaden efforts to enhance capabilities for border surveillance and detection.

Because the primary motive for international assistance to strengthen transfer controls has been to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the focus for these programs has been on improving controls on transfers of dual-use goods and technologies. More recently, Australia, the EU, Japan, the United States, and some European states have provided assistance to help countries in their neighborhood and in sub-Saharan Africa to counter trafficking in small arms and light weapons. In many states, the laws, administrative procedures, agencies, and staff responsible for transfer controls for dual-use goods and technologies overlap with those for conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons. As a result, assistance provided for controlling dual-use goods often has benefits for conventional arms transfer controls and potentially for ATT-related assistance efforts.

In particular, existing efforts provide guidelines, model legislation, and other templates for helping states to identify gaps that ATT-related assistance efforts can help fill. In other cases, they represent ongoing efforts to which ATT-related elements can be added. In this sense, they provide vehicles for engaging in ATT-related outreach efforts aimed at states that have not signed or ratified the treaty.

Including the Abstainers

Among the 22 states that abstained from the UN General Assembly vote on adopting the draft ATT were two of the world’s largest arms exporters—China and Russia—and India, the world’s largest arms importer. Convincing these states to sign and ratify the ATT will require patient and nuanced lobbying efforts aimed at addressing those countries’ national concerns without diluting the content of the treaty itself. It is important for all stakeholders interested in making the international arms trade more transparent and responsible to engage in consultations with these states and understand their concerns. These interactions also could demonstrate to the skeptical countries the advantages of joining the ATT.

Of these states, China has shown itself to be the most open to exploring the possibility of signing and ratifying the ATT. China abstained from early General Assembly resolutions on the ATT between 2006 and 2011 and initially opposed the inclusion of ammunition and small arms and light weapons in its scope. Beijing also opposed an obligation for states to deny authorizations for arms exports that could be used to violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.[5] As the negotiations progressed, however, China’s position gradually shifted, and Beijing appeared to accept the draft texts that were circulated at the close of the July 2012 and March 2013 negotiating conferences.

Unlike other abstaining states, China did not raise substantive objections to the content of the final draft of the treaty. China said it was abstaining because it opposed the adoption of a multilateral arms control treaty through a majority vote at the General Assembly. Beijing’s vote could reflect its concerns about the precedent that the ATT process might set for other arms control negotiations. In particular, China’s vote may be an attempt to block states that might seek to promote the “ATT model” as a means of overcoming the gridlock in the Conference on Disarmament, where the consensus rule has prevented agreement on a program of work since 1996.

Assessing what China has to gain or lose by signing and ratifying the ATT is made more complicated by the differing interests within China. According to a recent analysis, China was the fifth-largest arms exporter for the period 2008-2012.[6] In some respects, China has garnered a reputation of being a supplier of last resort for states that either cannot afford arms produced elsewhere or are deemed too much of a risk with regard to potential misuse or diversion. If China views the implementation of the ATT as a potential threat to these transfers, it might choose not to sign and ratify the treaty.

Chinese arms companies are seeking to produce and potentially export more-sophisticated systems. These companies also have interests in civilian areas that would benefit from collaboration with entities based in Europe and North America. In both areas, building a reputation as a more responsible arms exporter could be beneficial. In addition, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears to be increasingly interested in countering the negative impressions created by certain Chinese arms exports. This was true in 2008 when China sought to deliver arms and ammunition to Zimbabwe at a time of electoral violence and in 2011 when it was revealed that Chinese company representatives attempted to sell arms to Libya when it was subject to a UN arms embargo. In the latter case, Chinese officials emphasized that the Chinese government was not aware of the discussions and that steps would be taken to tighten controls.[7] Such considerations may argue in favor of a decision to sign and ratify the ATT.

In contrast to China, Russia came to realize only at a very late stage in the process that the ATT was likely to become reality. As a result, Moscow did not engage constructively in the negotiations until it was too late to have a significant impact on the text.

In explaining its abstention, Russia, like China, noted that the treaty text was put to a vote in the General Assembly and stressed the need for a consensus outcome. In contrast to China, however, Russia raised a number of substantive objections to the final text. In particular, Russian officials highlighted the lack of a ban on arms supplies to unauthorized nonstate entities, despite the support for this proposal by many states.[8] Although Russia said it would study the draft treaty, the underlying tone of its statements suggests that it is unlikely to sign the ATT in the near future.

Russian analysts argue that there is no domestic arms lobby that opposes the treaty, but point to a broader feeling that the ATT does not give anything to Russia and could be manipulated to exert diplomatic pressure on Russia regarding its arms exports.[9] This sense of unease was strengthened by the conference participants’ frequent references to Russian arms supplies to Syria as a concrete example of where an ATT would force a state to cut off arms supplies.

Russia already has the technical requirements in place to fulfill many of the obligations contained in the ATT. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared Russia to be a responsible arms exporter, signing and ratifying the ATT would demonstrate that this is the case.[10] It would also show that Russia is willing to adhere to evolving global norms on the humanitarian impact of the international arms trade. More substantially, signing and ratifying the ATT would allow Russia to attend the conferences of states-parties and influence the treaty’s development.

The ATT does address the prevention of arms transfers to nonstate actors, with explicit references to terrorists in particular. If Russia would like to be involved in the development of understandings on these issues within the ATT framework, then it needs to sign and ratify the treaty. Attending the meeting of states-parties also would allow Moscow to raise its own concerns with other states’ arms exports. Russia sought to draw attention to arms supplies to Georgia before the August 2008 conflict and frequently complains that its concerns were ignored. The ATT conference of states-parties would provide a key venue to raise these types of concerns in the future.

India gave a strongly worded explanation of its abstention, implying that it had come very close to voting no. This was despite the inclusion in the final text of a clause stipulating that defense cooperation agreements would not be affected by the treaty, which was India’s key demand throughout the negotiations. Like Russia, India raised the issue of the lack of a ban on transfers to unauthorized nonstate actors in explaining its position. India provided little else of substance to explain the intensity of its opposition.

India is not only the world’s largest arms importer, but also aspires to develop its own arms industry and join all four export control regimes—the Nuclear Suppliers Group; the Missile Technology Control Regime; the Australia Group, which “seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons”; and the Wassenaar Arrangement, which promotes transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies as a means of preventing destabilizing accumulations of arms.

For example, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has declared that India aspires to join the Wassenaar Arrangement and presents India as a “like-minded country” with regard to export controls on conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.[11] To become a member of these regimes, however, a state must gain the support of all existing members. It will be very interesting to monitor the reaction of the Wassenaar Arrangement’s participating states, most of whom have been key supporters of the ATT, to Indian hopes to join the regime while remaining outside the ATT. For this reason, India might yet be persuaded to sign and ratify the ATT if it has serious ambitions to join existing export control regimes and demonstrate that it is a like-minded state with regard to export controls.

After Entry Into Force

Once 50 states have signed and ratified the ATT and the treaty has entered into force, a new set of challenges will emerge. First, it will be necessary to reconcile ATT reporting requirements with existing reporting requirements under other instruments in the field of arms transfers and arms transfer controls. For example, the ATT says that the required annual reports on arms imports and exports may contain the same information as states’ required submissions under the UN Register of Conventional Arms. There have been calls for merging the ATT reporting mechanism with the UN Register or even replacing the UN Register with an ATT reporting mechanism.

Neither of these options is realistic. Only states that have signed and ratified the ATT will be obliged to submit reports to the ATT Secretariat, while all UN member states are called to provide information for the UN Register. Further, the scope of the two instruments does not match. States are currently invited to submit information for the UN Register on military holdings, defense white papers, and procurement from national production, none of which are covered by the ATT. At the same time, although small arms and light weapons are included in the scope of the ATT, they are not included in the current scope of the UN Register proper. There are high hopes that the group of governmental experts currently reviewing the operation and development of the UN Register will expand the register’s scope to include small arms and light weapons as an eighth category, but this is not guaranteed.

A second issue that will need to be confronted once the ATT enters into force is the need to provide states with the assistance they require to implement their treaty obligations effectively. The ATT will play an important role in fostering the political will necessary to establish, modernize, and strengthen national transfer control systems and efforts to combat illicit arms trafficking. The treaty envisages that the secretariat will perform a clearinghouse role in international assistance efforts by matching needs and resources. Experience from existing instruments shows that it will need to play an active role in identifying states’ needs and connecting them with providers of assistance.

The 1540 Committee has a clear mandate to act as a clearinghouse to match needs and resources. It provides states with a template for making assistance requests, and the committee of experts actively undertakes informal matchmaking. The committee’s approach appears to have been effective. In September 2011, 37 of the 39 requests for assistance distributed to states, regional and international organizations, and NGOs in November 2010 had been met via bilateral or multilateral programs.[12]

Finally, there will need to be mechanisms to ensure that states-parties live up to their commitments under the ATT. Such commitments include applying the prohibitions and criteria on arms exports and fulfilling reporting obligations. States-parties will play a key role in holding their peers to account, but NGOs, which were crucial in promoting the ATT initiative, clearly will also be central to the process. NGO activities could include monitoring the international arms trade, uncovering illicit arms transfers, highlighting irresponsible arms transfers, and evaluating states’ transfer control systems.

A number of NGOs are already active in each of the areas; their efforts should receive a boost if the ATT enters into force. Whether there will be a need for an ATT Monitor, comparable to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor that has proven so effective at overseeing implementation of the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, remains to be seen.

In contrast to these two conventions, which prohibit the transfer of landmines and cluster munitions, the ATT outlines a limited range of circumstances under which transfers shall not be authorized. The ATT’s lack of provisions for monitoring actual transfers or mechanisms for assessing whether particular transfers are carried out in accordance with the letter and spirit of the treaty means that this is an area in which NGOs can make a considerable contribution. The need to monitor implementation of the ATT, notably including the results of states-parties’ national export assessments, argues in favor of different NGOs or groups of NGOs monitoring different aspects of ATT implementation.

The adoption of the ATT text in April 2013 was a historic moment for international efforts to regulate the global arms trade. Yet, this was just the start of a new chapter that will require further negotiation among states and further advocacy aimed at convincing states to sign and ratify the treaty.

There are high hopes for the ATT’s impact on peace, conflict prevention, and respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as on increasing transparency in the global arms trade. States will need to undertake considerable technical work to strengthen transfer control systems, in particular with regard to enforcement.

For some states, the ATT will not require significant changes to their legal and administrative arrangements for controlling arms transfers. Therefore, optimists predict that an ATT can enter into force three years from now. It remains to be seen if all of the major arms exporters will be on board when the ATT enters into force. What impact will the ATT have if major exporters and importers do not sign or ratify the ATT? Will it be business as usual for these states, which could include China and Russia?

An ATT with a large number of states-parties will send a powerful signal to those that do not join, but to really prevent conventional arms from reaching states and other entities that are seeking to use them for nefarious ends, all major exporters and importers need to be encouraged to sign the ATT, ratify it, and fulfill their obligations under it.

A Ratification Checklist for the ATT

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) contains a number of obligations for a state-party. The main obligations could form the basis of a checklist, which states could use before ratification to assess their compliance with the treaty or to identify areas in which they require international assistance to fulfill their obligations. These main obligations are

  • establishing and maintaining 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);

  • establishing and maintaining a national control list (Article 5.3) and making it available to other states-parties (Article 5.4);

  • designating competent national authorities responsible for maintaining this system (Article 5.5);

  • designating at least one national contact point responsible for exchanging information related to the implementation of the ATT (Article 5.6);

  • prohibiting 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);

  • reviewing 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);

  • taking measures to regulate conventional arms imports (Article 8);

  • when importing conventional arms, providing 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);

  • taking measures, where necessary and feasible, to regulate the transit and transshipment of conventional arms (Article 9);

  • taking measures to regulate brokering taking place under its jurisdiction (Article 10);

  • taking 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);

  • maintaining national records for each export authorization or delivery of conventional arms for at least 10 years (Article 12);

  • providing annual reports to the secretariat on export and import authorizations or deliveries of conventional arms to be distributed to states-parties (Article 13);

  • taking appropriate measures to enforce national laws and regulations to implement the treaty (Article 14); and
  • cooperating with other states-parties in order to implement the ATT effectively (Article 15).

Paul Holtom is director of the arms transfers program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Mark Bromley is a senior researcher in the same program.


ENDNOTES

1. The original vote in the UN General Assembly on April 2 recorded 154 states in favor, three states opposed, and 23 abstaining. Angola wanted to change from abstention to a vote in favor of the treaty, and Cape Verde wished to vote for the resolution rather than being marked as not present. Jeff Abramson, “Special Report: UN General Assembly Adopts Arms Trade Treaty in Overwhelming Vote,” Arms Control Today, May 2013.

2. UN Security Council, S/RES/1540, April 28, 2004.

3. Paul Holtom and Mark Bromley, “Implementing an Arms Trade Treaty: Mapping Assistance to Strengthen Arms Transfer Controls,” SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security, No. 2012/2 (July 2012), http://books.sipri.org/files/insight/SIPRIInsight1202.pdf.

4. Sibylle Bauer, “Arms Trade Control Capacity Building: Lessons Learned From Dual-Use Trade Controls,” SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security, No. 2013/2 (March 2012), http://books.sipri.org/files/insight/SIPRIInsight1302.pdf.

5. Statement by China at the Second Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, February 28, 2011, http://www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/ATTPrepCom/Documents/Statements-MS/PrepCom2/20110228/20110228China-C.pdf (in Chinese).

6. Paul Holtom et al., “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2012,” SIPRI Fact Sheet, March 2013, http://books.sipri.org/files/FS/SIPRIFS1303.pdf.

7. Chris Stephen and Caroline Alexander, “Libya Leaders Say China Relationship Will Suffer If Arms Sold to Qaddafi,” Bloomberg, September 6, 2011.

8. “Russia Warns That It May Not Sign Landmark UN Arms Treaty,” The Moscow Times, April 4, 2013.

9. “Russia’s Special Opinion on the Arms Trade Treaty,” Valdai Club, April 17, 2013, http://valdaiclub.com/defense/57540.html.

10. Official Site of the President of Russia, “Meeting of the Commission for Military Technology Cooperation With Foreign States,” October 17, 2012, http://eng.state.kremlin.ru/news/4531/print.

11. Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, “Keynote Address by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai at the Ministry of External Affairs, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) National Export Control Seminar,” April 18, 2012, http://idsa.in/keyspeeches/AddressbyForeignSecretaryShriRanjanMathai.

12. UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 12 September 2011 From the Chair of the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1540 (2004) Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2011/579, September 14, 2011 (1540 Committee Report).

To maximize the reach and impact of the Arms Trade Treaty, states should take steps to make sure it enters into force as soon as possible and to bring in states that currently are skeptical.

U.S. Signature Needed to Advance Global Arms Trade Treaty

By Daryl G. Kimball On Monday June 3, leaders from dozens of states will gather at the United Nations in New York to sign the new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT will—for the first time— establish common international standards that must be met before states authorize transfers of conventional weapons or export ammunition and weapons parts and components. Over time, the ATT can help tip the scales in favor human rights and human security when states consider arms transfers. As Secretary of State John Kerry said April 2: "It will help reduce the risk that international transfers of...

Special Report: UN General Assembly Adopts Arms Trade Treaty In Overwhelming Vote

Jeff Abramson

UN member states on April 2 overwhelmingly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a pact that, for the first time, mandates a common set of global standards for trade in a wide range of conventional arms.

The treaty, which has its origins in efforts by civil society and Nobel laureate efforts in the 1990s and was the subject of a UN resolution in 2006, requires all states-parties to establish regulations governing the transfer of major conventional arms and small arms and light weapons, as well as the export of ammunition and weapons parts and components.

The General Assembly vote of 154-3, with 23 abstentions, came just days after a diplomatic conference failed to agree on a text. (See ACT, April 2013.) By the rules of that conference, which met at the United Nations during March 18-28, agreement required consensus among all participating states.

Arms trade experts and diplomats involved in the talks said they expect the treaty to tip the scales in favor of human rights and human security considerations when states consider arms sales in the future. As more states, sign, ratify, and implement the ATT, current loopholes that enable illicit and irresponsible arms sales will begin to close, the diplomats said.

The treaty “will make a difference over time in contributing to the humanitarian objectives that were the original motivation” for the negotiations, said Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, at a public forum at the Stimson Center in Washington on April 5. “It will make a difference in reducing the supply of weapons to the worst people in the world, to those who are fueling conflict in Africa and elsewhere.”

The treaty achieves “a balance between the interests of importing and exporting states,” said Countryman, who was the lead U.S. negotiator of the treaty. “Most importantly,” he said, it creates obligations for those countries, as well as for “transit states.”

Critical to the success of the treaty, say long-time arms trade observers, are the prompt entry into force of the pact, the decisions by states about how to implement and apply key provisions, and the way the treaty will affect the behavior of certain major weapons suppliers and buyers even if they do not immediately accede to it.

On the day of its adoption by the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called passage of the ATT a “victory for the world’s people” and a demonstration of “the great things that can be achieved when governments and civil society work together through the United Nations.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States was “pleased” that the General Assembly had approved “a strong, effective, and implementable” ATT that can “strengthen global security.”

The United States, which was among the 12 original sponsors of the General Assembly resolution to adopt the treaty, joined with Western arms exporters and other European countries, as well as most African, Latin, and Pacific states, in approving the treaty. The same three states that blocked consensus at the UN diplomatic conference on March 28—Iran, North Korea, and Syria—voted against the accord.

China, India, and Russia were among the abstentions. Some confusion about the final vote count remains because some states asked to change their vote after the official count was recorded. A UN official told Arms Control Today on April 21 that Angola indicated its desire to vote yes rather than abstain and Cape Verde wished to vote yes rather than be marked absent. Those changes would make the final vote 156-3-22.

Toward Entry Into Force

The treaty now will be opened for signature on June 3 and will enter into force 90 days after the 50th state deposits its instruments of ratification. Paul Beijer, Sweden’s ambassador to the treaty talks, said in an April 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today that, in his personal view, “[W]e should be able to reach fifty within a couple of years—three at most.”

The draft version of the treaty that emerged from the failed July 2012 UN conference and served as a starting point for this year’s conference would have required ratification by 65 states before entry into force. (See ACT, September 2012.) Many states and civil society advocates argued that the threshold for entry into force should be as low as 30 ratifications, as is the case for the Convention on Cluster Munitions. That treaty was opened for signature in December 2008 and reached 30 ratifications 15 months later. (See ACT, September 2010.) In his e-mail, Beijer said Sweden “insisted on a relatively high number” of ratifications so that the treaty’s principles would have “a certain standing—even without the great powers’ participation.” He said that a requirement of 50 ratifications “strikes a pretty reasonable balance.”

Although U.S. support for the final treaty text was important to its adoption by the UN General Assembly, the timeline for U.S. signature remains unclear. During a March 28 conference call with reporters, Countryman said the U.S. government would conduct a careful review, which “takes, even for a treaty simpler than this one, usually a few months.”

Signature, which requires action only by the president, would commit the United States not to act counter to the treaty’s object and purpose. That step would create pressure on other major arms supplier states, including Russia and China, to follow suit, observers say.

In statements about the treaty, U.S. officials have been careful to stress its consistency with current U.S. law and practice. Kerry said that “nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution.” In encouraging careful review of the treaty, Countryman, in his April 5 remarks, reiterated what he said was his personal belief that there is “no change in legislation or policy or procedures that the United States needs to make as a result of this treaty.”

Many U.S. civil society organizations welcomed the adoption of the treaty and encouraged quick action by President Barack Obama. The influential U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had not been active during ATT negotiations, added its support in an April 11 letter to Kerry. Bishop Richard Pates, chair of the conference’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged the administration “to expedite a thorough review” of the pact so that Obama can sign it “in early June.”

Ratification, which would require the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, “is a separate decision and potentially a long way off,” Countryman said in his April 5 comments. He said a number of other important treaties “have been in the queue much longer than this one,” citing in particular the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Winning the two-thirds majority required for Senate approval will require changing the minds of a number of senators. Thirty-six senators, led by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), joined a nonbinding sense of Congress resolution that the president should not sign the ATT and the Senate should not approve it because the treaty “risks infringing on freedoms protected by the Second Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution. The nonbinding resolution, introduced before treaty negotiations were completed, echoes claims about the treaty made by the National Rifle Association and Heritage Foundation that have been rejected by the Obama administration and the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which would conduct the first review of the treaty should it be sent to the Senate, applauded the General Assembly vote in an April 3 statement. He promised “a vigorous and fair review” if the treaty were submitted to the Senate and commended the U.S. negotiating team for “crafting what appears to be a strong, effective and implementable treaty” that “applies only to international trade in arms and reaffirms the sovereign right of any State to regulate arms within its territory.”

Arming Syria, Subnational Groups

The ongoing conflict in Syria and issues of arming Syrian government forces and rebel groups served as a backdrop to the ATT negotiations.

Before the conference, the United Kingdom and France made clear that they would like to amend or remove the European Union’s embargo on arms exports to Syrian government and rebel forces in order to give EU countries the ability to arm rebel groups in a conflict during which tens of thousands of people have died.

Russia continues to defend the Syrian regime, although it joined an April 11 statement by the foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries declaring that “[t]he humanitarian situation in Syria is deplorable and continues to worsen,” and has worked to prevent the UN Security Council from adopting an arms embargo on the country. Russia, Syria, and a number of other countries called for the ATT to prohibit arms transfers to subnational armed groups.

Given the interest of states in retaining the option of arming resistance groups and the U.S. interest in providing arms to Taiwan despite China’s claim of sovereignty over the territory, it is not surprising that the ATT contains no provisions banning arms transfers to subnational groups.

Yet, the treaty does establish criteria for defining responsible arms trade. Article 6 requires a state not to authorize the transfer of conventional weapons or of their ammunition and parts and components if the transfer violates UN Security Council arms embargoes. That article also prohibits authorizations when the state has “the knowledge” that the arms 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 as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party.” Many states and experts read this article as prohibiting transfers to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (See ACT, April 2013.)

In Article 7, the treaty 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. If an “overriding risk” of “negative consequences” remains after the state considers measures to mitigate the risk of these violations, the treaty requires that a state “shall not authorize the export.” The treaty does not provide guidance on determining what threshold the risks must meet to be considered “overriding.”

Article 7 also requires states to consider whether the weapons in these transfers would be used in serious acts of gender-based violence or violence against women and children. Separate articles call on states to take measures to prevent diversion of weapons, which had been a risk assessment criterion in earlier treaty drafts and was reformulated in the adopted text.

States indicated that the treaty’s criteria would be applied to decisions to arm Syrian opposition fighters or similar groups in other countries. Asked directly about the treaty’s impact on potential arms transfers to Syrian rebels, Countryman said April 5 that Articles 6 and 7 would “require a careful study by a national government on making that decision.”

Jo Adamson, the United Kingdom’s lead negotiator, said in an April 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the ATT “creates global standards, which will be applied nationally.” Her country analyzes arms export requests “case by case” and applies “a number of criteria to the decision-making process,” she said. The new treaty “will not change that but will build on that approach.”

Room for Improvement

Numerous states had called for a broader range of weapons and ammunition to be included in the treaty’s scope, more criteria to be included in arms transfer risk assessments, and an explicit requirement for public reporting. Instead, in many places, the ATT provides a baseline of required activities and “encourage[s]” states to do more, leading to the possibility that the encouraged activities would become treaty practice as states join and implement the accord, according to diplomats.

Under the ATT, states will be required to establish national control lists that “cover not less than” the so-called 7+1 formula, the seven categories of major offensive weapons under the UN Register of Conventional Arms plus small arms and light weapons, as that term is “used in relevant UN instruments.” That language was included because there are widely accepted descriptions of small arms and light weapons other than the one in the UN Register.

States also will be required to establish a national control system for the export of ammunition fired by those weapons and parts and components that enable their assembly. These definitions, although encompassing armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers, will not necessarily include military support or training vehicles or grenades that are thrown rather than being rocket propelled. In addition, some treaty provisions are not applied to ammunition and parts and components, such as those requiring reporting or measures to prevent diversion.

A group of governmental experts is scheduled to meet this year to review and possibly change the UN Register to explicitly include armed drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, within the convention. (See ACT, November 2010.) A U.S. State Department official said April 23 that the United States proposed such an expansion in the 2009 meeting of experts, where it was not adopted, and continues to support it now. Because the register will provide the baseline definition of the treaty’s major weapons, inclusion of armed drones in the register would in turn expand the ATT’s scope.

In his e-mail, Beijer, who acted as the facilitator on scope issues during the March conference, expressed optimism that states would implement “a higher standard than the 7+1 minimum.” He pointed to Article 5.3, under which states are “encouraged” to apply the treaty to “the broadest range of conventional arms.” He added that states developing new export control systems will want to use existing lists that already are broader than the 7+1 standard, rather than create entirely new ones. He cited as an example the lists coming from the Wassenaar Arrangement, a voluntary group of 41 countries that develops nationally implemented lists of munitions and dual-use goods. He also suggested the possibility that states simply would share updates at conferences of states-parties and then make changes on a national basis, rather than formal changes to treaty structures.

Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s lead negotiator and ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), also suggested that nonbinding measures would be available to keep the treaty up to date. In an April 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, she suggested that conferences of states-parties could pass resolutions calling for the parties to “act as though new weapons or technologies were indeed included.”

In an April 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Paul van den IJssel, the Dutch lead negotiator and the facilitator on record-keeping and reporting at the March conference, pointed to the conference of states-parties as important to further developing transparency under the ATT.

The ATT requires that states make an initial report to the treaty secretariat on measures to implement the treaty and annual reports of authorized or actual exports and imports on treaty-covered weapons, but not on transfers of ammunition or parts and components. According to the treaty, the secretariat is to make these reports available to the other parties.

The ATT makes no specific provision for public reporting. But in the April 15 e-mail, van den IJssel expressed his personal views that the treaty’s reporting requirement, in spite of its limitations, will still improve transparency because “many states do not report at all so far.” Van den IJsell, who is the Dutch ambassador to the CD, wrote that “there was too much resistance to making reporting explicitly public” during the treaty conference, but expressed “hope that over time the resistance against making reports public will diminish.” That has been the path of the UN Register, which does not require public reporting, but for which such reporting has become the norm.

The adopted treaty text provides another path for change by allowing for amendment by a three-quarters majority starting six years after the treaty enters into force. Earlier drafts allowed for amendment only by consensus. Nevertheless, Beijer and Higgie cautioned against the likelihood of the treaty improving through amendments, in part because of the paucity of examples of successful amendments to treaties.

Reconsidering Consensus

The last time a major arms control agreement failed to reach consensus in its drafting conference yet succeeded in garnering General Assembly approval was 1996, when the president of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) moved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the assembly for adoption. Since then, the requirement for consensus essentially has prevented the CD from even adopting an agenda. Some feared that application of consensus to the ATT negotiations, even though conducted outside the CD and its disarmament mandate, would lead to a similar stalemate. The success of the ATT in overcoming the inability to achieve consensus could provide a precedent for future UN-sponsored agreements, although some diplomats said they did not expect changes in the CD.

On March 28, near the end of the diplomatic conference, Mexico introduced a resolution to simply adopt the treaty “without a vote, in the understanding that there is no definition of what consensus is in the United Nations.” Although consensus often allows for a single state to withhold approval, Mexico has long insisted that consensus is not defined as unanimity. Mexico’s resolution immediately garnered the support of a small number of states, including Costa Rica and Japan, two of the seven original co-authors of the 2006 resolution that started the ATT process within the United Nations. Peter Woolcott of Australia, who chaired the March conference, cut off discussion of the resolution after Russia intervened; he ultimately declared that the existing support for the treaty did not constitute consensus.

The decision to move forward at that point without consensus marked an apparent shift in the position of the United States, which had demanded a consensus approach in 2009. Washington later took advantage of the requirement for consensus to be the first state, later joined by others, to prevent the adoption of the treaty text on the final day of the July 2012 ATT conference. (See ACT, September 2012.)

During the March 28 conference call, Countryman said championing the move to a vote showed no inconsistency with supporting consensus. Consensus will remain important to the United States in “defense of our interests,” he said, but added that the option of a vote in the General Assembly meant that “a strong treaty that has the overwhelming support of the world can’t, in the end, be blocked by a few who fundamentally disagree with the purpose of the treaty.”

In their e-mails, Higgie and van den IJssel, while agreeing that the ATT negotiations should not have been bound by strict consensus requirements, said that they did not expect the CD’s unanimity-based definition of consensus to change. Van den IJssel said consensus “has too many advocates on different sides of the aisle.”

Higgie echoed that sentiment, saying that “many states—and of a variety of backgrounds, not just the biggest guys—like the comfort of having in effect a ‘veto’ and I haven’t seen anything to suggest from the ATT [process] that this has changed, or will change.”

Daniel Prins, secretary-general of the March conference and chief of the conventional arms branch at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, suggested that the ATT experience may strengthen the hands of majority-decision advocates. In an April 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he said that if there is another case in which “a very small minority will use the consensus rule to block a broadly carried disarmament agreement, then it will only strengthen the position of those who say that future disarmament negotiations need to be held on the basis of majority decision making.”

China’s decision on whether to join the treaty could be telling for the future of consensus and impact of the ATT. In explaining its decision to abstain from the April 2 UN General Assembly vote on the ATT, China stressed the importance of not setting a precedent that undermines the consensus approach.

According to data released in March by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China is—for the first time since the end of the Cold War—one of the top five major arms suppliers, replacing the United Kingdom on the list for such trade for the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. Beijing also is one of the top five arms importers.

China, along with Russia and India, was one of the major players in the arms trade that abstained in the April 2 vote on the ATT. According to the SIPRI data, Russia is one of the top five arms suppliers, and India is the largest arms importer. All other top-five arms suppliers—France, Germany, and the United States—and all other top-five arms importers—Pakistan, Singapore, and South Korea—voted for the accord. So too did emerging regional arms players Brazil and South Africa.

When asked whether they were concerned about the Chinese, Indian, and Russian abstentions, Adamson and Beijer recommended caution in drawing conclusions. Adamson wrote that “we should read very carefully what China, India and Russia each had to say in their final statements.” Arguing that the three countries “said that they would carefully study” the treaty text, she said she thought it was possible to have a discussion with all the abstainers about their objections.

“We very much hope that all countries will join the ATT,” she said, “and we should be inclusive in our future engagement.” She added, “The vote on the ATT has given us the potential to forge a new global community.”

What the Arms Trade Treaty Would Do

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”; and

  • enters into force 90 days after the 50th state ratifies the treaty.

Jeff Abramson, an independent arms trade analyst, is former director of the secretariat at Control Arms, an international coalition that pressed for a strong and comprehensive arms trade treaty during the negotiations. From 2009 to 2011, he was deputy director of the Arms Control Association.

UN member states on April 2 adopted the Arms Trade Treaty, a pact that, for the first time, mandates a common set of global standards for transfers of conventional arms. Now the focus turns to bringing the treaty into force.

ACA Applauds UNGA Support for New Arms Trade Treaty

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Urges President Obama to Sign Promptly

For Immediate Release: April 2, 2013, 2pm EST            
Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association, 202-463-8270, ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)--Today, the independent, Arms Control Association welcomed the United Nations General Assembly's endorsement of the new Arms Trade Treaty, which will for the first time establish common international standards that must be met before states authorize transfers of conventional weapons or export ammunition and weapons parts and components. The treaty will be open for signature beginning in June.

The vote was 155 in support, 3 opposed, and 22 abstentions. The treaty will be open for signature beginning June 3.

"The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) represents an important, historic step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

"We commend the strong leadership of the United States and other treaty supporters to move forward on the new Arms Trade Treaty, which will strengthen, global security, raise the standards for global arms transfers, and help to fulfill our responsibility to protect civilians from armed conflict," Kimball said.

"The United States played a key role in shaping this historic global Arms Trade Treaty. Now, President Obama can help build support for the treaty and move it closer toward entry into force by agreeing to be among the first world leaders to sign the pact," he said.

The Arms Trade Treaty:

  • requires states to establish regulations for arms imports and exports in eight major categories: battle tanks; armored combat vehicles; large-calibre artillery systems; combat aircraft; attack helicopters; warships; missiles and missile launchers; and small arms and light weapons;
  • requires states to assess the potential that the transfer "could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law" and "international human rights law," terrorism, organized crime, and take into account the risk of serious acts of gender-based violence or acts of violence against women and children. If there is an overriding risk of any of these negative consequences, states are required not to authorize the export;
  • prohibits transfers of arms or exports of ammunition or weapons parts & components if the state "has knowledge" that the transfer 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, or other war crimes;"
  • requires that all states establish effective regulations on the export of ammunition and weapons parts & components, which often allow conflicts to continue long after original arms transfers have been executed;
  • requires regular, annual reporting on all arms transfers, which would help improve transparency and public accountability for states' actions; and
  • calls for regular conferences of states parties to review implementation of the treaty and developments in the field of conventional arms, which should allow states to consider new types of conventional weapons that may emerge.

"The treaty's prohibition section, if it were in force today, would prohibit the ongoing supply of weapons and parts & components to the Assad regime in Syria," Kimball noted.

"At the outset of the negotiations, several states opposed the inclusion of ammunition in the treaty in any way. The end result on ammunition is a net plus," Kimball said.

"Going forward, the value of the treaty depends on prompt entry into force and effective implementation by member states, especially the major arms exporting states," Kimball said.  

"Over time, the treaty will help tip the scales in favor human rights and human security when states consider arms sales in the future. It will help close the gaps in the current international system by requiring countries to adopt basic regulations and approval processes for the flow of weapons and ammunition in and out of their borders and for arms brokering," Kimball said.

"The Arms Trade Treaty was negotiated by hardworking diplomats with support from key government leaders, but it would not have happened without years of work and campaigning by human rights organization including Amnesty International, development and aid groups such as Oxfam, religious leaders, and security experts from around the world that were brought together through the Control Arms campaign," Kimball said.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Description: 

Today, the independent, Arm Control Association welcomed the United Nations General Assembly's endorsement of the new Arms Trade Treaty, which will for the first time establish common international standards that must be met before states authorize transfers of conventional weapons or export ammunition and weapons parts and components. The treaty will be open for signature beginning in June.

Arms Experts Urge States to Move Treaty Forward to UNGA for Approval and Signature

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Arms Experts Welcome New Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Text and Urge States to Move Treaty Forward to UNGA for Approval and Signature

For Immediate Release: March 28, 2013, 7:30pm EST         
Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107

(United Nations, NY)--Today, the independent, Arms Control Association welcomed the new, compromise Arms Trade Treaty text that has emerged from two intense weeks of final negotiations and years of multilateral talks among the 193 members states of the United Nations.

"The treaty represents an important, historic step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent, U.S.-based Arms Control Association.

"The ATT will set a new global standard and new sense of responsibility for all types of arms transfers and ammunition exports. The new treaty says to every United Nations member that you cannot simply 'export and forget,'" he said.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, a handful of states objected to the text -- Iran, North Korea, and Syria -- and blocked the adoption of the text by consensus. India also expressed strong objections to the text, largely on the basis its concern about how the treaty will affect its defense cooperation agreements and ability to buy conventional weapons. India is one of the world's largest arms purchasers.

However, the governments of Kenya, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Finland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States said in a joint statement that the will of the majority cannot be blocked by a small number of states and they formally requested that the UN Secretary General bring the treaty forward to the UN General Assembly for consideration "as soon as possible."

The Kenyan delegate said: "The people of the world need this treaty. This is a strong text. The time for a strong Arms Trade Treaty is now." The U.K. delegate declared that: "Today is success deferred and not for very long."

"We agree. The vast majority of states can and should take the Arms Trade Treaty forward to the United Nations General Assembly for endorsement as early as next week and, later, for its opening for signature," Kimball said.

"We commend the strong leadership of the United States and other treaty supporters to move forward on the new Arms Trade Treaty, which will strengthen, global security, raise the standards for global arms transfers, and fulfill our responsibility to protect civilians from armed conflict," Kimball said.

"The United States played a key role in shaping this historic, first-ever global Arms Trade Treaty. President Obama should help move the treaty forward to a conclusion and be among the first to sign the pact," he said.

"While text could have been more comprehensive, the ATT is strong and effective and will make an important difference in the lives of people across the globe," Kimball said.

The new Arms Trade Treaty will establish common international standards that must be met before states authorize transfers of conventional weapons in eight major categories: battle tanks; armored combat vehicles; large-calibre artillery systems; combat aircraft; attack helicopters; warships; missiles and missile launchers; and small arms and light weapons.

The treaty requires states to assess the potential that the transfer "could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law" and "international human rights law," terrorism, organized crime, and take into account the risk of serious acts of gender-based violence or acts of violence against women and children. If there is an overriding risk of any of these negative consequences, states are required not to authorize the export.

The ATT will also prohibit transfers of arms or exports or export of ammunition or weapons parts & components if the state "has knowledge" that the transfer 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," or other war crimes.

"The treaty's prohibition section, if it were in force today, would prohibit the ongoing supply of weapons and parts & components to the Assad regime in Syria," Kimball noted.

The treaty also requires that all states establish effective regulations on the export of ammunition and weapons parts & components, which often allow conflicts to continue long after original arms transfers have been executed.

"At the outset of the negotiations, several states opposed the inclusion of ammunition in the treaty in any way. The end result on ammunition is a net plus," Kimball said.

The treaty also requires regular, annual reporting on all arms transfers, which would help improve transparency and public accountability for states' actions.

"Going forward, the value of the treaty depends on prompt entry into force and effective implementation by member states," Kimball said.  The treaty allows for regular conference of states parties to review implementation of the treaty and developments in the field of conventional arms, which should allow states to consider new types of conventional weapons that may emerge.

"Over time, the treaty will help tip the scales in favor human rights and human security when states consider arms sales in the future. It will help close the gaps in the current international system by requiring countries to adopt basic regulations and approval processes for the flow of weapons and ammunition in and out of their borders and for arms brokering," Kimball said.

"The Arms Trade Treaty that emerged today is the product of negotiations by government leaders, but it would not have happened without years of work and campaigning by human rights, development and aid groups, religious leaders, and security experts from the world over that were brought together through the Control Arms Campaign," Kimball said.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Description: 

Today, the independent, Arm Control Association welcomed the new, compromise Arms Trade Treaty text that has emerged from two intense weeks of final negotiations and years of multilateral talks among the 193 members states of the United Nations.

'Final' Arms Trade Treaty A Good Step Forward

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For Immediate Release: March 27, 2013, 3pm EST
Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association, 202-277-3478

(United Nations, NY)--Today, arms control analysts welcomed the new, compromise Arms Trade Treaty text that has emerged from intense negotiations and that states may endorse on the final day of the March 18-28 UN diplomatic conference.

"The emerging treaty represents an important first step in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent, U.S.-based Arms Control Association.

"The ATT should help set a new global standard and new sense of responsibility for all arms transfers and ammunition exports. The new treaty says to every United Nations member that you cannot simply 'export and forget,'" he said.

"While text could have been stronger and more comprehensive, it can make an effective and important difference. This text represents what major exporters, importers, and the states most affected by the illicit arms trade can agree to at this point. It represents a floor, not a ceiling for common sense behavior. In the remaining hours, states should clarify their understanding of the text in ways that strengthen the treaty, and in the coming years, through its effective implementation and tougher national regulations and practice," Kimball said.

At its core, the treaty would establish common international standards that must be met before arms transfers are authorized. It would require states to assess the potential that the transfer "could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law" and "international human rights law," terrorism, organized crime, and take into account the risk of serious acts of gender-based violence or acts of violence against women and children. If there is an overriding risk of any of these negative consequences, states are required not to authorize the export.

The ATT also prohibits transfers of arms or exports or export of ammunition or weapons parts & components if the state "has knowledge" that the transfer 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" or other war crimes.

The treaty also requires that all states establish effective, regulations on the export of ammunition and weapons parts & components.

"At the outset of the negotiations, several states opposed the inclusion of ammunition in the treaty in any way. The end result on ammunition is a net plus," Kimball said.

"The treaty also requires regular, annual reporting on all arms transfers, which would help improve transparency and public accountability for states' actions," Kimball noted.

"Over time, the treaty will help tip the scales in favor human rights and human security when states consider arms sales in the future. It will help close the gaps in the current international system by requiring countries to adopt basic regulations and approval processes for the flow of weapons and ammunition in and out of their borders and for arms brokering," Kimball said.

"We urge the United States and other arms exporters and importers, including China, Russia, the U.K., and India, to support the emerging treaty. President Obama should be among the first to sign the treaty as its advances U.S. and global security, raises the standards for global arms transfers, and will help fulfill our responsibility to protect from armed conflict," Kimball urged.

When states gather on Thursday to consider final approval by the conference, some states may choose to block consensus, in which case the vast majority of states would likely take the draft treaty forward for approval by the UN General Assembly.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Description: 

(United Nations, NY)--Today, arms control analysts welcomed the new, compromise Arms Trade Treaty text that has emerged from intense negotiations and that states may endorse on the final day of the March 18-28 UN diplomatic conference.

MANPADS at a Glance

March 2013

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

Updated: March 2013

Man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) are surface-to-air missiles that can be fired by an individual or a small team of people against aircraft. These weapon systems often are described as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. The United States and the Soviet Union first deployed MANPADS—the Redeye and Strela systems respectively—in the 1960s to provide their infantries with portable anti-aircraft weapons. Since their introduction, more than 20 states have manufactured an estimated one million MANPADS for national stockpiles or export. At least 102 countries have or have had MANPADS in their arsenals. The US government estimates that approximately 500,000-750,000 MANPADS remain in stockpiles around the world, though it is difficult to estimate the number of operable systems.

Three general types of MANPADS exist: command line of sight, laser guided, and infra-red seekers. Command line-of-sight MANPADS are guided to their targets through the use of a remote control. Laser-guided or laser beam rider MANPADS follow a laser projected onto the target. The most common MANPADS, however, are infrared seekers that acquire their target by detecting the heat of an aircraft’s engine. They are considered the easiest to operate and include the Soviet-era Strela and Igla weapons, as well as the U.S. Stinger. Today average MANPADS can reach a target from a distance of 3 miles, which means commercial aircraft are most vulnerable during periods of takeoff and landing.

Although MANPADS production was originally limited to a few states, including the U.S., U.K., Russia and China, today over 30 countries manufacture MANPADS. Major MANPADS producing states today include China, France, Russia, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. The most commonly produced MANPADS are the Soviet SA-7 and the U.S. Stinger.

MANPADS Proliferation

Although the vast majority of MANPADS are in national stockpiles, terrorists and other non-state actors have acquired the anti-aircraft missiles through deliberate transfers, the black market, or theft. All told, the Department of State estimates that as many as several thousand MANPADS exist outside state control, including in the hands of al Qaeda. Exacerbating the proliferation concern is the very long shelf-life of MANPADS, which can remain functional for up to twenty years.

The U.S. supply of Stingers to anti-Soviet Afghan fighters during the 1980s illustrates how MANPADS spread. Between 1986 and 1989, Afghan forces used the missiles to down an estimated 269 aircraft and helicopters. Many Stingers, however, remained unaccounted for after the conflict despite U.S. efforts to have unused missiles returned to U.S. control. Some of the missiles made it into the international black market and the hands of terrorists. Estimates of black market prices for MANPADS range from just a few hundred dollars for basic technology models to thousands for more advanced units.

The problem is not confined to U.S.-origin missiles. The Soviet Union supplied its allies with MANPADS and apparently some were re-transferred to non-state actors or stolen. Libya reportedly shipped Soviet-supplied MANPADS to at least the Irish Republican Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Numerous reports claim significant MANPADS looting from insecure military stores of the Soviet Union after its 1991 collapse. Similarly, after U.S.-led military forces in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein and his regime from power, as many as 4,000 MANPADS went missing from Iraqi military holdings.

MANPADs were discovered in use in recent conflicts in Libya, the Gaza Strip, and Syria. Iran has been accused of smuggling weapons, including MANPADS, into other countries in the region to armed insurgents. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented to the Wall Street Journal, “There is no question when you start passing MANPADS around, that becomes a threat, not just to military aircraft but to civilian aircraft. That is an escalation.”

After the Libyan civil war, many feared that weapons from the Gaddafi regime may have been smuggled out of the country during the conflict to other countries in the region and into the hands of armed groups or terrorist units, like al Qaeda in the Magrheb, Hamas in Gaza, Boko Haram in Niger, or Syrian insurgents. At the end of the war 5,000 MANPADS left from the Gaddafi regime were located and destroyed by a multinational team, though some reports suggest that the regime was in possession of over 20,000, most of which remain unaccounted for.

During the November 2012 skirmish between Israel and the Gaza Strip Hamas released a video displaying its possession of MANPADS. A cable by Israeli Defense Intelligence also claimed Hamas possessed SA-7 MANPADS. These were likely smuggled into Gaza from Libya after the end of the civil war. It also suspected the smuggled Libyan MANPADS were transported into Mali and used by insurgents in that country.

In the Syrian civil war, video and photographic evidence proved rebel opposition forces possessed SA-16 and SA-7 MANPADs for targeting the aircraft of al-Assad’s government forces. Rebels acquired at least 40 MANPADS through captured government military stockpiles and international smuggling, including from Qatar, in their efforts to drive out the regime.

The Threat to Civil Aviation

The first successful MANPADS attack against a civilian aircraft occurred Sept. 3, 1978, when rebels of the Zimbabwe Peoples Revolution Army shot down Air Rhodesia Flight 825. The MANPADS attack with arguably the most severe consequences was the 1994 downing of a plane carrying the leaders ofRwanda and Burundi. That attack helped precipitate a war that killed more than 800,000 Rwandans; conflict in the region continues. More recently, in 2002, al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists in Mombassa, Kenya, fired two MANPADS at an Arkia Israel Airlines plane. Both missiles missed, but the act marked the first attack on a civilian airliner outside a conflict zone.

More than 50 MANPADS attacks against civilian aircraft have occurred, mostly in Africa and Asia. Aircraft are most vulnerable after take-off, during the initial climbing period, and while gaining altitude when the planes are at slow speeds and in regular flight patterns.  Some thirty attacks have been fatal and have resulted in almost 1,000 civilian deaths.  Most attacks against civilian plans occurred within active war zones.  Since 1998, an estimated 47 non-state groups are thought to be in control of MANPADS systems. While there has never been a MANPADS attack on a U.S. civilian plane, the estimated consequences of terrorists shooting down a U.S. airliner are severe. A 2005 RAND Corporation study projected that the direct costs of such an attack would approach $1 billion. The indirect economic costs, according to the study, would soar much higher. For example, if all U.S. airports stopped operating for one week after the attack, losses could climb past $3 billion. Depressed demand to fly in the following months could result in losses totaling up to $12 billion. In sum, RAND concluded that one anti-aircraft missile purchased for as little as a few thousand dollars on the black market could kill hundreds of people and cause economic damage exceeding $16 billion. The costs could be even higher if consumers shunned flying or airports remained closed for a long period.

Efforts to Reduce the MANPADS Threat

The U.S. government is pursuing three main strategies to prevent MANPADS proliferation and protect civilian aircraft: stiffening global export controls and transparency, funding MANPADS stockpile security and destruction worldwide, and researching defensive countermeasures.

Although the United States had been promoting new MANPADS security and export controls since 1998, the 2002 Mombassa attack galvanized U.S. efforts. In 2003, governments added MANPADS exports and imports to the list of weapons transactions that should be volunteered annually by states to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. That same year, the voluntary Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), a group of arms suppliers that seeks to coordinate their export controls, agreed to strengthen export procedures governing MANPADS transfers and urged governments to equip newly-manufactured systems with safety devices to prevent unauthorized use. Today the WA includes 41 participating states. Other international institutions, such as the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, have also focused more attention on strengthening MANPADS controls and stockpile security. A number of OCSE country plans have included destruction of MANPADS stockpiles as a priority.

Some countries exercise poor accounting and security of their MANPADS, making them vulnerable to theft. Aiming to mitigate this problem, the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement and the Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction Agency operate programs to help foreign governments destroy excess weapons and improve protection of their missile stockpiles. The State Department claims these programs have destroyed approximately 32,500 MANPADS in over 30 countries since 2003, amounting to about 5-10% of the total world inventory.

The prospect of terrorists using MANPADS to attack U.S. airliners has led to some calls for equipping civilian airliners with defensive countermeasures, such as onboard lasers to confuse infra-red seeking missiles. Multiple versions of these counter-MANPADS technologies exist, such as the MANTA (acronym for MANPADS Threat Avoidance), a “multi-spectral multi-band high-energy laser-based system” that can counter several MANPADS attacks simultaneously, though the system is bulky and only suitable for certain types of planes. Other examples of active countermeasures include missile approach warning systems, flares, offset decoys, infrared countermeasure systems, and high-energy lasers.  The estimated cost of outfitting all U.S. airline planes with antimissile technologies would exceed $40 billion. This high cost is so prohibitive that the majority of civilian planes around the world do not have countermeasures and are thus vulnerable to attack. More behavioral safety precautions against MANPADS include improved pilot training on surviving a MANPADS hit on an aircraft, better airport security and improved stockpile safeguards.  While a MANPADS hit on an aircraft does not necessarily result in bringing down the plane, nearly 70% of recorded attacks on civilian planes caused crashes and fatalities.

New technologies are available to attempt to reduce the threat of MANPADS. These include infrared decoy flares that can confuse infrared seekers on the weapons. Directed Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCMs) cause the missile’s seeker to misread the location of the aircraft and miss its target. Missile warning systems (MWS) can alert an aircraft of an incoming missile. However, some studies have concluded that current available anti-MANPADS countermeasures would take years to install, cost upwards of $1-4 million per plane, and likely be ineffective against next-generation MANPADS given technological advancement. A solution that might be available in future MANPADS technology would be including GPS chips in the weapons that could be used to only allow activation of the weapon with a certain code or automatic disablement in the presence of U.S. or allied aircraft to prevent misuse of MANPADS in the wrong hands.

-Updated by Alexandra Schmitt

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Proposed U.S. Arms Export Agreements From January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012

January 2013

Contact: Jeff AbramsonNon-Resident Senior Fellow for Arms Control and Conventional Arms Transfers, [email protected]

Updated: January 2013

The value of proposed conventional arms sales agreements doubled from 2011 to 2012.  The increase in proposed arms sales was largely due to Qatar's request for $23.6 billion in arms, which was nearly equal to the total amount of arms sales requested in 2011.  The $53 billion in agreements requested in 2012 was $20 billion above the ten-year average from 2002 to 2011 ($33.5 billion).

The United States conducts government-to-government transfers through the Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Not all notified sales result in final transactions. Under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, Congress must be notified of proposed sales of “major defense equipment,” as defined on the U.S. Munitions List, that equals or exceeds $14 million; defense articles and services that are not defined as “major defense equipment” which total $50 million or more; and construction or design services amounting to or surpassing $200 million.[1] However, if the proposed sale involves NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, or New Zealand, the notification thresholds are $25 million for major defense equipment, $100 million for other defense articles and services, and $300 million for construction or design services.[2] Once notified, Congress has 30 calendar days (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand) to block a sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, though it has never stopped a sale once formally notified.

Qatar requested the most expensive package of arms sales agreements in 2012, with $23.6 billion requested--a nearly $23 billion increase from 2011.  Doha requested two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Fire Units for $6.5 billion and 11 Patriot Configuration-3 Modernized Fire Units for $9.9 billion, totaling over $16 billion for anti-ballistic missile defense systems alone. In addition, Qatar requested over $6 billion in attack helicopters from Washington in 2013, including Black Hawks, MH-60Rs and MH-60Ss, and Apaches.

The Republic of Korea also requested $8.8 billion in arms from the United States in 2012. $7.2 billion of the total consisted of requests for various attack helicopters, such as $1.0 billion for the MH-60R Seahawk, $2.6 billion for the AH-1Z Cobra, and $3.6 billion for the AH-64D Apache. In addition, Seoul also requested four RQ-4 Block 30 (I) unmanned aerial vehicles and several UGM-84L Harpoon missiles.

For the first time cince 2007, the Middle East has been supplanted by another region, this time Asia-Pacific, as the region that requested the highest value of conventional arms from the U.S. in 2012. Three of the top five countries that sought the highest values of U.S. arms exports were located in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea). The Obama administration's "pivot to Asia" is clearly illustrated by U.S. conventional arms sales in 2012 and is a pattern that is likely to continue in the near future as countries in the region attempt to bolster their conventional forces in the face of China's growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.


Below are the five countries that sought the highest values in U.S. arms exports in 2012 and some of their specific requests.

Country

Total Value

Weapons/Services

Qatar

$23.6 billion

  • 12 UH-60M Blackhawk Utility Helicopters
  • 10 MH-60R Seahawk Multi-Mission Helicopters
  • 24 AH-64D Apache Block III Longbow
    Attack Helicopters
  • 700 AGM-114K3A or AGM-114R3 Hellfire
    tactical missiles
  • 2 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Fire Units
  • 11 Patriot Configuration-3 Modernized Fire Units
  • 7 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System
    (HIMARS) Launchers with various rockets

Republic of Korea

$8.8 billion

  • 8 MH-60R Seahawk Multi-Mission Helicopters
  • 18 UGM-84L Harpoon Block II All-Up-Round Missiles
  • 367 CBU-105D/B Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser (WCMD) Sensor Fuzed Weapons
  • 36 AH-64D Apache Longbow Block III Attack Helicopters
  • 36 AH-1Z Cobra Attack Helicopters
  • 4 RQ-4 Block 30 (I) Global Hawk Remotely
    Piloted Aircraft

Saudi Arabia

$8.2 billion

  • 10 Link-16 capable data link systems and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) suites
  • 20 C-130J-30 Aircraft and 5 KC-130J Air Refueling Aircraft
  • Spare parts in support of M1A2 Abrams Tanks, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, equipment, support vehicles and other related logistics support
  • Technical services to recertify the functional shelf life of up to 300 Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) (MIM-104D) Guidance Enhanced Missiles
  • Follow-on support and services for the Royal Saudi Air Force

Australia

$1.7 billion

  • 12 EA-18G Modification Kits to convert F/A-18F aircrafts to the G configuration

Japan

$1.6 billion

  • Provide regeneration, overhaul, modifications and support for 6 KC-130R aircraft and associated engines
  • 4 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft with an option to purchase an additional 38 F-35 CTOL aircraft
  • Upgrade of previously provided Aegis Combat Systems

Below are all 26 countries that sought U.S. arms exports in 2012 according to FMS notifications and the total value of their identified requests (in billions of U.S. dollars):

Country

Total Value
($ Billions)

Qatar

23.56

Korea

8.81

Saudi Arabia

8.24

Australia

1.70

Japan

1.59

Indonesia

1.51

UAE

1.17

Morocco

1.12

Poland

.647

Israel

.647

Iraq

.613

Singapore

.435

Mexico

.412

Kuwait

.409

United Kingdom

.300

Norway

.300

Oman

.299

Finland

.264

Thailand

.253

Brazil

.233

Bangladesh

.180

Turkey

.140

Belgium

.88

Columbia

.87

Lebanon

.63

Netherlands

.60

Below are the total values of all notified requests each year from 1997 to 2012 in billions of U.S. dollars as compiled each year, in current dollars (unadjusted for inflation):

Year

Total Value
($ Billions, current dollars)

201253

2011

25

2010

103

2009

39

2008

75

2007

39

2006

37

2005

12

2004

12

2003

7

2002

16

2001

19

2000

12

1999

21

1998

12

1997

11

 

-Written by Marcus Taylor

 


 

ENDNOTES
1. The Department of State is also required to report to Congress any commercial sales it approves of “major defense equipment” that amount to $14 million or more, defense articles and services that equal or exceed $50 million, and any items defined as “significant military equipment.” As in the case of FMS sales, Congress can block the sale with a joint resolution of disapproval within 30 calendar days of notification (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea). There are no official compilations of commercial agreement data comparable to the FMS notifications and what exists is often incomplete and less precise than data on government-to-government transactions (Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2001-2009, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service, September 10, 2010, p. 23). The annual Section 655 report, prepared by the State and Defense Departments for Congress, details commercial licenses approved, but states have four years to act under the licenses. The State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls has final responsibility for license applications for commercial defense trade exports and all issues related to defense trade compliance, enforcement, and reporting.

2. Congress approved the higher notification thresholds for NATO members, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand in legislation passed in September 2002. South Korea was added to this list in 2008, and Israel was added in 2010.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and Department of State.

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Mine Policy Review Near End, U.S. Says

Daryl G. Kimball

The Obama administration is nearing the end of its ongoing, three-year-long review of its landmine policy and expects to announce the results in 2013, a U.S. official said Dec. 6.

In a prepared statement in Geneva delivered during the annual meeting of states-parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Steven Costner, deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, said the United States “expect[s] to be able to announce a decision soon.” At a briefing later on Dec. 6, he specified that the decision would be announced before the parties’ 2013 meeting, scheduled to take place at the end of the year.

Part of the decision is whether Washington will join the convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of landmines. The United States, which has stockpiled approximately 10 million anti-personnel landmines, is one of a group of 36 countries, as well as the only NATO member, that has not yet joined the treaty. Since it entered into force in 1997, the treaty has mandated the destruction of tens of millions of anti-personnel mines and advanced programs to rehabilitate mine victims and survivors.

When he was a U.S. senator from Illinois, President Barack Obama was supportive of restricting procurement of victim-activated landmines. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told Arms Control Today that he would “regain [U.S.] leadership” by “honoring U.S. commitments to seek alternatives to landmines.”

 

The Obama administration is nearing the end of its ongoing, three-year-long review of its landmine policy and expects to announce the results in 2013, a U.S. official said Dec. 6.

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