I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Conventional Arms Control

Law Cuts U.S. Ties to Russian Arms Firm

Marcus Taylor

The Defense Department cannot purchase weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, under a provision of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

The ban lasts for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Congress passed the authorization legislation in December, and President Barack Obama signed it into law Jan. 2.

The provision, which was sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), came in response to continued Russian arms sales to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Since the start of the conflict in that country in early 2011, Moscow has sold Damascus more than $1 billion in arms, including heavy weapons that have been used against civilians, according to a March letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from a bipartisan group of 17 senators. (See ACT, April 2012.) The letter urged Panetta to end Pentagon business dealings with the Russian arms company.

Rosoboronexport has a contract with the Pentagon to provide Mi-17 helicopters to security forces in Afghanistan in preparation for U.S. withdrawal from the country in 2014. That contract is not affected by the new provision because the Defense Department paid for it with funds from fiscal year 2012. The Russian firm was also in negotiations to provide ammunition to U.S. armed forces.

In a Dec. 21 statement following Senate passage of the defense authorization act, DeLauro said it was “unacceptable” to use taxpayer dollars to buy helicopters “from a Russian state arms dealer that is also enabling President Bashar al-Assad[’s] regime to continue to commit mass atrocities against his own people.”

A Defense Department spokesman said in a Jan. 10 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the Pentagon “needs to utilize some Russian technologies to continue its efforts to enable” Afghan security forces and is “exploring” the impact of the new provision on those efforts.

The Defense Department cannot purchase weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, under a provision of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

ATT Conference Set for March

Daryl G. Kimball

The UN General Assembly last month overwhelmingly approved a resolution mandating a March 2013 conference to negotiate an arms trade treaty (ATT).

The resolution, which was co-sponsored by 105 states, affirmed that the text of the treaty that was put forward on July 26, near the end of a four-week conference that had sought to produce an agreed ATT text, will serve as the basis for further talks. The resolution also called on the UN secretary-general to identify a president for the March 18-28 conference.

The July conference came close to reaching consensus on the text, but fell just short as some states, including the United States, said they needed more time to address remaining concerns. (See ACT, September 2012.) The proposed ATT requires that all states put in place national regulations on international arms transfers, establish common international standards for approving the transfers, and mandate regular reporting on them.

The ATT resolution was approved Nov. 7 by a margin of 157-0, with 18 abstentions. Four of the world’s five largest arms suppliers—China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—voted in favor, while Russia abstained. Diplomatic sources say Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, has been tapped to be president-designate of the March conference.

UK Arms Dealer Sentenced for Smuggling

Marcus Taylor

A British arms dealer was sentenced to jail Oct. 26 for arms smuggling and tax fraud, the United Kingdom’s tax agency said in a press statement.

Gary Hyde was found guilty of arranging the illegal shipment of 40,000 AK-47s, 30,000 rifles, 10,000 Makarov nine-millimeter pistols, and 32 million rounds of ammunition from China directly to Nigeria some time between March 2006 and December 2007, according to the tax agency, which brought the charges against him. He coordinated the purchase and shipment of the weapons through his company in the United Kingdom, the agency said.

According to the agency’s statement, his conviction stemmed from his failure to acquire a license for the arms transfer, which violated a 2003 British law. Additionally, the statement said, Hyde hid his $1 million commission from the deal in an offshore bank account in Liechtenstein, which resulted in a conviction for concealing criminal property.

The tax agency said in the statement that it established Hyde’s involvement in the transaction through e-mail records and by using his cellphone’s GPS data to establish that he was in the United Kingdom when he negotiated the deal, thereby making him subject to British arms export law.

In response to the verdict, Hyde’s lawyer, Stephen Solley, said, “The idea Mr. Hyde sat down and made a decision to breach this law…knowing full well the consequences” is “ludicrous.” He added, “There’s nothing wrong with arms dealing,” describing the deal as taking place between two countries.

In January, the original charges against Hyde were dropped by the presiding judge in the case because the 2003 law was replaced by a new version in 2009. But the case was taken up again by the Court of Appeals, which, in handing down the Oct. 26 verdict, ruled that Hyde was responsible for following the law that was in force at the time of the transaction.

Hyde is currently facing separate charges in the United States, where he stands accused of illegally exporting to the United States 5,000 Chinese-made AK-47 drum magazines capable of holding 75 rounds each, in violation of U.S. arms import laws. U.S. court documents accuse Hyde and his co-defendant Karl Kleber of fraudulently altering the markings on the drums to indicate that they were manufactured in Bulgaria.

According to news accounts, Hyde is the former owner of two British firearms companies, York Guns and Jago Ltd.

A British arms dealer was sentenced to jail Oct. 26 for arms smuggling and tax fraud, the United Kingdom’s tax agency said in a press statement.

New ATT Plan Advances

Daryl G. Kimball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposed U.S. Arms Export Agreements From January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011

October 2012

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

Updated: October 2012

After a record high of an estimated $102.5 billion in proposed conventional arms sales agreements in 2010, government-to-government arms sales agreements fell to $25 billion in 2011.  The spike in the value of U.S. arms control agreements in 2010 was largely due to a proposed $61 billion in arms sales by Saudi Arabia.  The $25 billion in agreements requested in 2011 was $10 billion below the ten-year average from 2001 to 2010 ($35.9 billion), but was nearly identical to the average once the 2010 outlier is taken out ($25.6 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.

Taiwan requested the most expensive package of arms sales agreements in 2011, with $5.8 billion requested.  Approximately $5.3 billion of Taiwan's request was for the retrofitting of Taiwan's 145 aging F-16A/B aircraft, along with associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support.  The agreement also includes an extension of the Taiwanese pilot training program at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, as well as provides advanced radar systems and guided bombs.  However, Washington continued to deny Taipei the 66 F-16 C/D aircraft that it has been seeking since 2006.  The proposed sale of F-16C/D to Taiwan has been a contentious issue in U.S.-China relations since its proposal in 2006 and has recently caused domestic political problems for the Obama administration.  For instance, in 2011 Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Robert Menendez (R-NJ) attempted to pass an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 that would have forced President Obama to approve the F-16C/D deal with Taiwan.

Australia also requested $3.4 billion in arms from the United States in 2011, a 36% increase from 2010.  The Australian government sought 2 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, 10 C-27J aircraft, and 110 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles.  Additionally, the proposed agreement included 10-years of Through-Life-Support (TLS) for 24 MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters.  This is the second year in a row that Australia has been among the five countries that sought the highest value of U.S. arms exports.

The Middle East once again had three out of five of the nations seeking the highest values of U.S. arms exports in 2011 with Iraq ($3.4 billion), Saudi Arabia ($2.3 billion), and the United Arab Emirates ($1.4 billion) each requesting significant amounts of military equipment.  In 2011, Iraq requested the second-highest amount of U.S. arms exports at $3.4 billion.  Iraq's request included a variety of advanced radar and radio systems, 18 F-16IQ aircraft, 44,608 M107 155mm High Explosive Projectiles and 9,328 M485A2 155mm Illumination Projectiles.  Saudi Arabia sought a variety of thermal and night vision equipment, over 100 Light Armored Vehicles, and 450 High Mobility Multipurpose Vehicles of varying models.  The United Arab Emirates requested 218 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II tactical missiles, support for their existing F-16 fleet, 5 UH-60M Blackhawk VIP Helicopters, and over 750 Hellfire and Javelin missiles.

Below are the five countries that sought the highest values in U.S. arms exports in 2011 and some of their specific requests.


Total Value



$5.8 billion

  • Spare Parts for F-16A/B, F-5E/F, C-130H, and Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) Aircraft
  • Retrofitting of F-16A/B Aircraft
  • Pilot Training Program


$3.4 billion

  • 6 AN/TPQ-36(V)10 Firefinder Radar Systems
  • 18 AN/TPQ-48 Light Weight Counter-Mortar Radars
  • 750 50-Watt Vehicular Multiband Handheld Radio Systems
  • 900 5-Watt Multiband Handlheld Radio Systems
  • 50 50-Watt Multiband Handheld Base Station Radio Systems
  • 50 20-Watt High Frequency Base Station Radio Systems
  • 100 5-Watt Secure Personal Role Handheld Radio Systems
  • Support for TC-208s, Cessna 172s, AC-208s, T-6As, and King Air 350s
  • 44,608 M107 155mm High Explosive Projectiles
  • 9,328 M485A2 155mm Illumination Projectiles
  • 18 F-16IQ aircraft


$3.4 billion

  • 10-year Through-Life-Support (TLS) for 24 MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters
  • 2 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft
  • 110 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles
  • 10 C-27J aircraft

Saudi Arabia

$2.3 billion

  • 200 High-performance In-Line Sniper Sight Thermal Weapon Sights
  • 200 MilCAM Recon III LocatIR Thermal Binoculars
  • 7,000 Dual Beam Aiming Lasers (DBAL A2)
  • 6000 AN/PVS-21 Low Profile Night Vision Goggles (LPNVG)
  • 48 LAV-25mm Light Armored Vehicles (LAV), 17 LAV Personnel Carriers, 5 LAV Recovery Vehicles, 27 LAV Command and Control Vehicles, 28 LAV Anti-Tank (TOW) Vehicles
  • 404 CBU-105D/B Sensor Fuzed Weapons
  • AN/VRC-92E Export Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS)
  • 36 M777A2 Howitzers, 54 M119A2 Howitzers
  • 24 Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems (AFATDS)
  • 17,136 Rounds M107 155mm High Explosive (HE) Ammunition
  • 2,304 Rounds M549 155mm Rocket Assisted Projectiles
  • 60 M1165A1 High Mobility Multipurpose Vehicles (HMMWVs)
  • 120 M1151A1 HMMWVs
  • 252 M1152A1 HMMWVs
  • 124 M1152A1-B2 Up-Armored HMMWVs
  • Continuation of Services for Patriot Systems Engineering Services Program (ESP)

United Arab Emirates

$1.4 billion

  • 218 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II Tactical Missiles
  • Support and Maintenance of F-16 Aircraft
  • 5 UH-60M Blackhawk VIP Helicopters
  • 107 MIDS/LVT Link 16 Terminals
  • 500 AGM-114R3 Hellfire Missiles
  • 4,900 JDAM Kits
  • 260 Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

Below are all 28 countries that sought U.S. arms exports in 2011 according to FMS notifications and the total value of their identified requests (in billions of U.S. dollars):


Total Value
($ Billions)







Saudi Arabia


















































Below are the total values of all notified requests each yearfrom 1997 to 2011 in billions of U.S. dollars as compiled each year, in current dollars (unadjusted for inflation):


Total Value
($ Billions, current dollars)
































-Written by Marcus Taylor




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.


Conventional Arms Issues

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U.S. Dominated Global Arms Trade in 2011

By Daniel Horner

The United States concluded arms agreements worth $66.3 billion in 2011, representing more than three-quarters of the total value of such agreements worldwide, according to a recently released report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Agreements with developing countries in 2011 accounted for $56.3 billion of the U.S. total, said the report by CRS analysts Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr. That translated into a market share of 79 percent of that category, compared to a 44 percent share in 2010, the report said.

As Grimmett and Kerr noted, the figures were heavily influenced by U.S. deals with Saudi Arabia that were worth $33.4 billion. Under those agreements, the United States is to provide a variety of weapons and related items, most notably 84 new F-15SA fighter aircraft and upgrades to 70 planes in the existing Saudi fleet. Congress reviewed the deal in late 2010 and raised questions about it, but did not make a concerted effort to block it. (See ACT, December 2010.)

The U.S. total for 2011 is three times larger than the $21.4 billion that the report documents for 2010. The global totals were $85.3 billion for 2011 and $44.5 billion for 2010, the CRS authors said. Thus, the U.S. share increased from 48 percent in 2010 to 78 percent in 2011.

The report cautioned against drawing broad conclusions on the basis of the “extraordinary” U.S. increase, which “distorts the current picture of the global arms trade market” because it masks declines by most other major suppliers. The value of arms agreements for Russia, the second-ranking supplier in 2011, fell from $8.9 billion in 2010 to $4.8 billion in 2011. France, which ranked third, was an exception to the general trend, as the value of its worldwide agreements increased from $1.8 billion in 2010 to $4.4 billion in 2011, according to the data in the report (see table 1).

Click ImageThe $85.3 billion in arms agreements is particularly striking because the figure for 2010 was abnormally low. The report covers the years 2004-2011, and 2010 is the only year in that period in which the global total fell below $50 billion (in constant 2011 dollars). Nevertheless, the 2011 total is significantly higher than any other year covered in the report.

Notwithstanding the 2011 results, the global arms market is “not likely growing overall,” and the U.S. figure for that year “seems a clear outlier,” Grimmett and Kerr said. Worldwide financial conditions stemming from the 2008 recession and the European financial crisis have “generally limited defense purchases of prospective customers,” they said.

Nevertheless, some of the data and findings in the report suggest that certain aspects of the 2011 picture could continue. Although the United States faces stiff competition from other suppliers, “it appears likely it will hold its position as the principal supplier to key developing world nations, especially with those able to afford major new weapons,” the report said. In the report, the term “developing nations” includes all countries except Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, the United States, and European countries.

According to the report, Washington has a “large and diverse” client base, built up over many years, and these countries will want upgrades, spare parts, ordnance, and support services for the weapon systems the United States provided in previous years. “This provides a steady stream of orders from year to year, even when the United States does not conclude major new arms agreements for major weapon systems,” the report said.

In contrast, Grimmett and Kerr saw some unpromising signs for Russia’s long-term efforts. According to the report, “[T]he absence of substantial funding for new research and development efforts in [missiles, aircraft,] and other military equipment areas has hampered Russia’s longer-term foreign arms sales prospects” as “other major arms suppliers have advanced much more rapidly” in that respect. As evidence of this trend, the CRS analysts cited Russia’s decision to acquire French technology through the purchase of the Mistral amphibious warship rather than developing a similar vessel indigenously.

Yet, the report pointed to some potential growth areas for the Russian arms business. Citing Venezuela in particular, the report noted Moscow’s increased sales efforts in Latin America. More broadly, the study said, Russia in recent years has become more flexible and creative with regard to its customers’ financing and payment arrangements and “continues efforts to enhance the quality of its follow-on support services” as it pursues business with developing countries.

According to the report, Russia’s largest arms transfer agreements in 2011 were a $550 million deal with Syria for 36 Yak-130 fighter-trainer aircraft and a $500 million deal with China for 123 AL-31FN jet aircraft engines.

China also appears in the report as a supplier, ranking fourth with $2.1 billion in arms agreements for 2011. According to Grimmett and Kerr, “Most Chinese weapons for export are less advanced and sophisticated than weaponry available from Western suppliers or Russia.” China’s customers are likely to be Asian and African countries looking for small arms and light weapons, the CRS analysts said.

The report described China as having been “an important source of missiles to some developing countries.” The report said, “According to U.S. officials, the Chinese government no longer supplies other countries with complete missile systems. However, Chinese entities are suppliers of missile-related technology.” Making the same distinction between “entities” and the government, Vann Van Diepen, the State Department’s top missile nonproliferation official, said in a June interview with Arms Control Today that “right now, there’s a substantial problem of Chinese entities providing missile technology to programs in places like Iran and North Korea.”

According to the CRS report, the missile-related deals raise “questions about China’s willingness to fulfill the government’s stated commitment to act in accordance with the restrictions on missile transfers set out in the Missile Technology Control Regime.”

Much of the report focuses on arms transfers to the developing world. The data in the report indicate a general trend in which those countries represent an increasing share of the customer base for the global arms trade. From 2004 through 2007, the first half of the eight-year period covered by the report, developing countries accounted for 67 percent of the value of all arms transfer agreements made worldwide. For the period 2008-2011, developing countries represented 79 percent of those agreements, accounting for 84 percent in 2011.

In addition to documenting arms trade agreements, the report tracks arms deliveries. Arms agreements typically are implemented over years, and the deliveries may not represent the full amount contained in the agreement. The United States led decisively in that category for 2011, with $16.2 billion in deliveries, representing 37 percent of the market. Russia was second with $8.7 billion.

The CRS report on the conventional arms trade has been published annually since 1982 and is widely known as the Grimmett report. Grimmett retired at the end of September.

The United States concluded arms agreements worth $66.3 billion in 2011, representing more than three-quarters of the total value of such agreements worldwide, according to a recently released report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Raising the Bar for Negotiations on an ATT

By Jo Adamson

As delegates filed away from the United Nations on the evening of July 27 at the end of the conference that had sought to conclude negotiations on an arms trade treaty (ATT), there was a palpable sense of disappointment among diplomats and civil society participants that we had fallen at the last hurdle and failed to adopt an ATT. In a cruel irony, the magnificent opening ceremony of the London Olympics was being broadcast in the UN as the hours ticked down on our conference. Our marathon gathering was over, as others were about to begin theirs.

I do not believe that we left empty-handed—far from it. In just a few weeks, we had produced a draft treaty that should forever raise the standards to be applied to global arms exports. The draft treaty was not adopted, but more than 90 countries, including the United Kingdom, declared that the draft “has the overwhelming support of the international community as a base for carrying forward our work.” That group of key supporters of the ATT draft said, “We are disappointed, but we are not discouraged.”

The July 26 working paper issued by Roberto García Moritán, the conference president, provides a sense of what we accomplished and where we are heading next. The draft text includes

• an overall agreement to legally binding global regulation of the international arms trade;

• for the first time, legally binding controls on the export of small arms and light weapons, the weapons that fuel conflicts around the world on a daily basis;

• controls, including a risk assessment, on proposed exports of ammunition and parts and components;

• strict criteria to be applied before arms exports are approved, covering international humanitarian law, human rights, corruption, gender-based violence, and the impact on sustainable development, as well as the potential impact on international and regional security. In the first week, no one thought we could keep even sustainable development in the draft. Yet, by the final week, we did and agreed to even more;

• the creation of national export control structures and systems where none exist at present, forming a new global community of export control practitioners; and

• cooperation and assistance to help with implementation in those countries that lack the capacity to set up such systems on their own.

This adds up to a lot. It reflects many of the standards already in place in some of the most stringent export control systems, such as in the European Union and the United States.

We can always do better, but to have produced such a text under time pressure and with widely varying levels of ambition in the room should be acknowledged as an achievement—short of the ultimate goal, for the time being, but still beyond the expectations of the many participants and observers who thought it could not be done.

How the diplomatic conference worked together was as important as what it did. Many people commented throughout the month that only the skeptics’ voices were being heard. A person could be forgiven for such thoughts if he or she followed only the plenary sessions or the late-night sessions in the Indonesian Lounge, where García Moritán listened patiently to comments on his various drafts.

Joint Statement on an Arms Trade Treaty

On July 27, Mexico submitted the following statement to Roberto García Moritán, the president of the arms trade treaty negotiating conference:

Mr. President,

I am speaking on behalf of Albania, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, the CARICOM member states (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Burundi, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago), Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, El Salvador, the European Union and its Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom), Fiji, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Iceland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Serbia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Uruguay, Vanuatu.

We would like to thank you for your leadership and for your tireless efforts in leading this Diplomatic Conference.

We came to New York a month ago to achieve a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty. We had expected to adopt such a draft Treaty today.

We believe we were very close to reaching our goals. We are disappointed this process has not come to a successful conclusion today. We are disappointed, but we are not discouraged.

Compromises have had to be made, but overall the text you presented yesterday has the overwhelming support of the international community as a base for carrying forward our work.

In order to make this Treaty a reality, additional work and efforts are needed.

We had believed that this would have been possible with extra work today and only very reluctantly now see that this is not possible.


Mr. President,

We call on you to report to the General Assembly on the progress we made, so that we can finalize our work.

We are determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible. One that would bring about a safer world for the sake of all humanity.

Thank you.

Away from the microphones, however, in the coffee shops and in smaller rooms, groups of countries from different regions were pushing each other to accept a stronger text and working together to turn aspirations into treaty language. In that way, many different countries became more invested in the process. The conference began to forge the community that will implement the future ATT. This common drive for high standards, reinforced by more than 90 countries on the final day, was an accomplishment in itself in an institution where lowest-common denominator is the usual currency.

Yet, we did fail to adopt the treaty text by consensus on the final day. A number of countries asked for more time to work on the text. A number of days had been lost to procedural wrangling in the first week of the conference, and despite many nights and weekends spent at the UN, we all struggled to catch up.

It was not for lack of encouragement by García Moritán, who pushed himself as hard as he pushed delegates. It was not for lack of effort by many delegations and by civil society. It was not for lack of support from our politicians. I spoke at least daily to my ministers in London, who always wanted to know how negotiations were progressing and what they could do to help delegates in New York to clinch the strongest possible treaty. I was fortunate to have two ministers come to New York in July, at one of the busiest times of the year, before London played host to the Olympics.

In the end, the request for more time meant that we could not achieve consensus. My biggest regret is that the international community has not yet been able to respond to the victims of conflict, to the families of those killed in conflict, with a strong treaty. Yet, this is an ATT postponed, not an ATT abandoned.

That brings me to what we should do next to capitalize on the momentum created over six years in the UN and many more years by civil society campaigners.

The United Kingdom was one of seven countries, the “co-authors,” that launched the ATT process at the UN in 2006, building on work by civil society since the early 1990s. The British approach always has been that we must aim for a treaty that is strong and enjoys the broadest possible participation, a message repeated by Foreign Secretary William Hague in his statement on July 28, the day after the conference ended.

There will be calls to go for the highest standards, irrespective of whether the major arms exporters are in or out. It is much easier to reach agreement with those who agree with you in the first place. There can be no shortcuts. A strong treaty on paper is not enough to achieve the global reach we seek. For an ATT to make the most impact on the ground, treaty supporters must continue to press all the arms exporters to join a strong treaty.

This is another reason why the British government is taking some time to reflect on the best course of action to bring a strong treaty home within the UN system. This pause is not because we do not sense the urgency, are not committed to the project, or do not have a plan. It is to allow time to talk to partners and think about the optimal way to navigate the next few months at the UN and lay the foundation for effective implementation.

After six years of work and an intensive month of negotiations in July, ATT supporters have achieved a great deal and have nearly reached our goal. The British team is determined to get an ATT across the finish line soon and in good shape. We know that the next step will be for García Moritán’s report, which included his draft treaty of July 26, to be sent to the UN General Assembly, which begins its session in September. It is likely that the UN General Assembly First Committee will take up the ATT issue.

It is premature to say at this time what the United Kingdom’s approach will be. I can say that if our work in July is any indication, then I foresee some sleepless nights for the British team and other delegations and persistent lobbying for the highest-possible standards. Some of our work may be invisible—negotiations need space to produce results—but we will not relent in the quest to make the world a safer place through an effective and robust ATT. ACT


Jo Adamson was head of the British delegation to the July 2012 arms trade treaty diplomatic conference at the United Nations and is the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the British government.




As delegates filed away from the United Nations on the evening of July 27 at the end of the conference that had sought to conclude negotiations on an arms trade treaty (ATT), there was a palpable sense of disappointment among diplomats and civil society participants that we had fallen at the last hurdle and failed to adopt an ATT. In a cruel irony, the magnificent opening ceremony of the London Olympics was being broadcast in the UN as the hours ticked down on our conference. Our marathon gathering was over, as others were about to begin theirs.

The ATT Talks: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?

By Alexander Kmentt

On July 27, after four weeks of negotiations, the diplomatic conference to negotiate an arms trade treaty (ATT) closed without accomplishing its goal of adopting a treaty. After the president of the conference, Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, submitted his revised final draft treaty on July 26, hopes and expectations rose among delegations and civil society that a successful outcome of the six-year process to achieve an ATT would be possible.

Following a U.S. statement that the treaty was not ready for adoption and further negotiations would be required, these hopes were dashed. Several other delegations, including Cuba, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela, immediately echoed this line of argument, effectively ending the conference and any chance of reaching consensus on a treaty. The conference concluded by adopting a procedural report to be submitted to the UN General Assembly, which must now decide how to proceed.

After this inconclusive ending of the conference, the future of the ATT negotiation process is highly uncertain. There are widespread concerns as to whether the momentum for a strong treaty can be maintained and that additional negotiations in this format may result in a further weakening of the draft treaty. Despite the frustration at this missed historic opportunity, there is also a degree of relief that the window for a yet more ambitious treaty remains open, at least in theory. An assessment of what the ATT conference did or did not achieve, why it ended without accomplishing its goal, and whether this augurs well or badly for the future process is necessarily difficult.

Progress and Loopholes

Despite the unsatisfactory outcome, some significant progress was made in the four weeks of negotiations. First, a very significant level of convergence emerged among an overwhelming number of states on the desirability of a strong and effective ATT and on the key elements that such a treaty must contain. On several occasions during the conference, joint statements were delivered on behalf of a large, cross-regional group of states expressing commitment to a strong and robust ATT. At the beginning of the last conference week, 74 countries underscored that “[w]e need a treaty to prevent authorization of transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that those weapons would, inter alia, be used for or facilitate serious violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, having a destabilizing effect or exacerbating existing conflicts[, or be] diverted to unauthorized users…. We need a treaty that encompasses all conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons and ammunition.”

The draft treaty that emerged by the end of the conference contained a number of more or less acceptable compromises on some of these key issues. The scope of the future treaty—that is, which weapons it would cover—was one of the most hotly debated aspects of the conference. In the end, the draft treaty stuck to the seven categories of weapons contained in the 1991 UN Register of Conventional Arms, but also included small arms and light weapons. Owing to resistance mainly from the United States, however, all attempts to include ammunition in the scope of the treaty—a key condition for a meaningful ATT, for the vast majority of states—were unsuccessful. Attempts to include “parts and components and technology” of weapons also were resisted by a group of several developing countries. Ammunition was finally included in a more limited manner in the implementation section addressing exports.

The negotiations to establish which criteria and parameters should be applied to the export of conventional arms under an ATT proved to be similarly difficult and contentious. In the final draft treaty, a three-layered structure emerged. In the first layer, violations of obligations under UN Security Council measures (for example, arms embargoes), violations of other international obligations or transfers that would facilitate genocide, and crimes against humanity or war crimes would trigger an automatic prohibition of transfers. A second layer of criteria would be applied in a national assessment and include whether a proposed export would undermine peace and security or could be used for serious violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, or terrorism. If a national assessment demonstrated an “overriding risk” of such violations, the state-party would be obliged (“shall not”) not to authorize the export. The third layer of criteria to be considered when authorizing an export includes the possible diversion of arms into the illicit market, risk of gender-based violence or violence against children, corruption, and an anticipated negative developmental impact on the importing state.

Although the exact formulation of these key provisions in the draft treaty is far from ideal and hardly “the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms,” as mandated by the UN General Assembly, it is undeniable that an ATT comprising this scope and these export criteria and implementation measures would represent a significant improvement on the status quo. This was expressed in a joint statement of more than 90 countries at the closing of the conference, indicating that “the draft treaty had the overwhelming support of the international community as a base for carrying forward our work.”

At the same time, the draft treaty contains significant loopholes and deliberate ambiguities that could have a seriously negative impact on the effective implementation of an ATT or undermine its credibility. For instance, under its terms, states establish a national control list specifying which arms fall under the scope of the treaty, thereby leaving it up to states and their national legislation to decide to include or to exempt certain types of arms. This clearly opens the door to inconsistencies in the interpretation or possibly to circumvention of the treaty provisions.

Another key concern was the sweeping exemption, included in the section of the draft text on general implementation, that “[t]he implementation of this Treaty shall not prejudice obligations undertaken with regard to other instruments. This Treaty shall not be cited as grounds for voiding contractual obligations under defense cooperation agreements concluded” by ATT states-parties. With the provision formulated this way, states obviously could cite it as grounds for widespread exemptions from treaty obligations and thus potentially undermine the treaty. The provision on relations with states not party to the treaty represents another potential loophole by seemingly excluding the export of ammunition and parts and components to nonmember states from the treaty’s coverage. Other criticisms include the draft’s narrow definition of “trade,” excluding “gifts or loans” of arms from the scope of the treaty.

The concept of “victims’ assistance” was also not included in the draft. For many stakeholders, this demonstrated that the draft ATT was indeed merely a trade treaty and as such lacked a humanitarian underpinning. Finally, future amendments of the ATT would require consensus rather than a two-thirds majority, thereby raising the bar of future improvements to an unrealistically high level.

In short, although the sincere disappointment among states committed to achieving an ATT is understandable, it is apparent that the draft on the table contained serious flaws. The time available to rectify them was extremely limited, and furthermore, as the loopholes and ambiguities were specifically included to accommodate skeptical countries, revision was unlikely. As consensus on a text without these loopholes may have proved impossible, the lack of agreement on the text and the resulting requirement for additional negotiating time over the next few months may not be such a bad thing.

Why the Conference Fell Short

When García Moritán closed the conference, he graciously assumed sole responsibility for the lack of consensus, a claim that a number of delegations immediately rejected. Two questions prompted by the meeting’s result are whether another outcome could have been possible and who is ultimately responsible for the fact that the conference fell short of expectations.

García Moritán conducted the conference in a flamboyant and unusual style that might have left him open to criticism by some delegations. Much of the work of the conference in the final phase was conducted in informal open-ended consultations. Their chief purpose seemed to be to demonstrate how far apart the positions were, thus preparing the ground for the acceptance of the compromise text that García Moritán would submit toward the end of the conference.

These meetings were conducted in a conversational style that lasted until the early hours and can only be described as torturous. They were characterized by filibustering tactics by those countries apparently not interested in a strong treaty, such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Venezuela, and some other states also frequently and lengthily complained about the process or reiterated that the approach being followed would be discriminatory and that the treaty should be more balanced.

Yet the tactics of these countries are not the reason that the conference failed. Although they seized the opportunity provided by the United States to delay agreement on the text, these countries had been largely marginalized in the negotiations. Whether they would have actually blocked consensus at the end of the conference remains uncertain. Interestingly, some of these states normally used to assuming leading roles on disarmament issues within the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) found themselves directly opposed by the very progressive and ambitious positions of large numbers of NAM countries. African, Caribbean, and several Latin American countries consistently expressed commitment to a strong and robust ATT.

García Moritán conducted the actual negotiations in very small and informal groups, comprising the skeptical large arms-importing and -exporting states, several states pushing for a strong treaty, and a few other states with mediating roles. For some of the most progressive states, among them several African countries, the Caribbean Community, Mexico, New Zealand, and Norway, the final text would have been difficult to accept due to its loopholes and the overall modest level of ambition. Despite these misgivings, these states probably would not have blocked consensus at the end of the conference.

Among the large arms-importing and -exporting countries, India had voiced several reservations and concerns during the negotiations about possible discriminatory export denials. Yet, it appeared relatively comfortable with the final draft and the ambiguous language it had promoted in several sections.

China had conceded to the demands for inclusion of small arms and light weapons in the scope of the treaty and of international humanitarian law and human rights law. At the same time and with direct reference to the EU arms embargo against it, China rejected the possibility of accession to the treaty by regional organizations. This clause was not included the final draft put forward by García Moritán despite the strong requests by the European Union. At the end of the conference, China seemed to be in a position to accept the text.

Russia’s stance on the final draft is difficult to assess. Throughout the conference, Russia had questioned the value of an ATT, stating that it should focus on the prevention of illicit trade of arms and complaining that the conference had not taken up most of its proposals. Russia immediately supported the U.S. call for further negotiations. On balance, it is more likely, albeit not certain, that China, India, or Russia would not have objected to an eventual adoption of the final text.

The United States has been widely blamed for having “pulled the plug” on the conference. It had been very active and engaged during the conference and seemed to have achieved most of its objectives in terms of the structure of the draft treaty and the overall compatibility with existing U.S. legislation. The key U.S. redline was the inclusion of ammunition into the scope of the treaty, thereby requiring reporting, marking, and tracing of ammunition. In what appeared to be a workable compromise, García Moritán put ammunition into the implementation section, avoiding reporting obligations but still requiring that ammunitions exports be regulated in accordance with the criteria of the treaty. When the U.S. delegation in its final statement requested negotiations to continue beyond the July conference, it nevertheless declared that it did not have any “core objections” to the draft. It is speculative but not implausible that agreement on the draft treaty might have been possible if the United States had come out in support on the last day of the conference.

It is also a widely held view that the final U.S. position was motivated chiefly by domestic politics rather than the actual content of the draft ATT. Indeed, the degree of manipulative misinformation and vitriolic anti-UN rhetoric in much of the conservative U.S. media about what an ATT would aim to achieve and what its alleged impact on the rights of U.S. citizens under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution would be was quite shocking, at least from a European perspective.

In light of this fierce domestic opposition, one wonders whether the Obama administration could have afforded to agree to any ATT in an election year, almost irrespective of its actual content. As such, the decision to call for more time may have been an understandable way out, seen as the least damaging. Yet, it would seem that a potentially historic first step toward regulating the international arms trade has been missed due to primarily domestic political considerations.

Where to Go From Here?

Given the positions of the different stakeholders outlined above and the requirement for consensus, it is difficult to envisage how more time and further negotiations will fundamentally alter the situation and facilitate the adoption of an ATT. The process and scenarios are unclear.

Most likely, a resolution on an ATT will be tabled in the 2012 UN General Assembly First Committee. The resolution could propose the establishment of a new forum and mandate for negotiations. In that scenario, the timing could be contentious, with the United States and others favoring 2013 and like-minded pro-ATT states pushing for an earlier start. There could be a drive for the General Assembly itself to complete the negotiations. The more progressive pro-ATT countries may see this as an attractive option, as it would be a way to circumvent the requirement for consensus. For the same reason, it would be rejected by others, notably China, India, Russia, and the United States. The option of simply putting the final draft treaty to a vote without additional negotiation is a theoretical possibility but both unlikely and undesirable given the current status of the draft. Other scenarios may still emerge in the following months.

There are serious concerns among most stakeholders that the ATT process may have lost critical momentum and that, through more negotiations, the draft treaty may become diluted rather than strengthened. Can an effective ATT even be achieved in a consensus forum, or is it impossible for a UN process to deliver an outcome without watering it down so much that it becomes practically meaningless?

All outcomes are still possible. They range from a meaningful ATT achieved with consensus (or very near consensus) to a complete failure and unraveling of the process. The ATT process serves as a reminder that all constructive forces need to work together in order to demonstrate that viable solutions to urgent global challenges can be found through the United Nations and through multilateral cooperation. ACT



Alexander Kmentt is director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Austrian government.




On July 27, after four weeks of negotiations, the diplomatic conference to negotiate an arms trade treaty (ATT) closed without accomplishing its goal of adopting a treaty. After the president of the conference, Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, submitted his revised final draft treaty on July 26, hopes and expectations rose among delegations and civil society that a successful outcome of the six-year process to achieve an ATT would be possible.

African States and the ATT Negotiations

By Guy Lamb

Africa is arguably the continent that has experienced the most destructive consequences of the largely unregulated global arms trade.

This point was pertinently emphasized by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who, in a video address to the arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiating conference this July, reminded government delegations that the “Liberian experience and other experiences in Africa and other parts of the world show that, without such a treaty, armed violence and wars will continue to be fueled by irresponsible arms transfers.”

Nonetheless, African states did not have a shared vision for an ATT during the period from the 2006 establishment of the ATT consultations at the United Nations until the start of the actual treaty negotiating conference this past July. In fact, the majority of African states played a relatively minor role in shaping the outcome of the ATT preparatory meetings, overshadowed by states that are major arms producers and states that devoted considerable diplomatic capital to securing a robust ATT.

The principal exceptions were Algeria, Egypt, and Kenya. Kenya was one of the co-authors of the key 2006 UN General Assembly resolution on the ATT and remained a major proponent of a robust treaty to govern the arms trade. Algeria and Egypt actively engaged in the ATT consultations and raised repeated concerns about the content of an ATT and manner in which it would be negotiated. In the 2012 ATT negotiation conference, however, sub-Saharan African states became more active, which led to them having a relatively influential role in the negotiations.

Prior to the 2012 negotiating conference, the absence of African unity on the content of a future ATT was evident in the formal statements prepared by the African Group. These statements typically included uncontroversial commitments to an ATT, but were short on detail.[1]

The fault lines between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa were particularly prominent. Some North African states, concerned that a treaty regulating arms transfers might undermine their ability to defend themselves in the context of the precarious Middle East dynamics, particularly relations between Israel and its neighbors and issues related to the ongoing Arab Spring, were apprehensive about an ATT. A large majority of sub-Saharan African states were supportive of the ATT process, largely because sub-Saharan Africa is the region most undermined by armed violence. In that region, there have been concerted efforts to combat the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons, along with ammunition. Zimbabwe was one of the exceptions, as it voted against the UN General Assembly resolutions in 2008 and 2009 to initiate and sustain formal discussions that would be the basis for ATT negotiations. Zimbabwe’s decision might have been due to internal political developments and diplomatic squabbles at the time.

According to a 2011 report,[2] 28 sub-Saharan African states were ranked in the top 58 countries experiencing lethal violence. In many of these African countries, small arms and light weapons and ammunition were among the main instruments of violence. In most cases, such weapons and ammunition would have originally been transferred from foreign countries to these African states, either legally or illegally. The high levels of violence have seriously undermined poverty reduction efforts.

More than three-quarters of African states have existing legal obligations that are directly relevant to an ATT, particularly subregional conventions and protocols to regulate and monitor the trade in small arms and light weapons and ammunition. This is especially the case in the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa, southern Africa, and West Africa. For example, all of the African subregional instruments dealing with small arms and light weapons require member states of the relevant subregional organization to cooperate in and share information on the implementation of these instruments, establish national controls to implement the provisions of these instruments, and adhere to UN Security Council arms embargoes.

There were a variety of general statements by more than half of the sub-Saharan African states during the four ATT preparatory committee meetings that took place in New York between July 2010 and February 2012. These states particularly highlighted the need for international standards to regulate the conventional arms trade, for the future treaty to include small arms and light weapons and ammunition, for humanitarian and human rights law to be taken into account in decisions on arms transfer authorizations, and for adequate international cooperation and assistance with regard to treaty implementation. Despite the firm normative commitments, however, the majority of statements lacked sufficient technical detail to have a sustained and noticeable impact on the outcome of the preparatory discussions. There are two main reasons for this state of affairs.

First, only a handful of sub-Saharan African states have industries that manufacture conventional arms and related technology, with even fewer states consistently exporting these weapons. South Africa, which is the most prominent arms exporter on the African continent, was the 16th-largest global exporter of conventional arms between 2007 and 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Given the concentration of arms exports in the hands a small number of states, however, South Africa’s actual annual contribution to global arms exports during that period did not exceed 2 percent. In terms of imports, Africa accounted for only 9 percent of global trade, but South Africa was the principal African arms importer, accounting for 41 percent of sub-Saharan arms imports.[3] Consequently, conventional arms controls in most African countries were relatively unsophisticated compared to major arms-exporting states. As a result, for many of the states in question, there was insufficient national experience to formulate detailed technical interventions at the meetings.

Second, during the preparatory committee meetings, a significant number of African states did not include relevant arms control specialists on their delegations, mainly because of budgetary constraints. In many cases, states were represented by officials from their permanent missions to the UN. Lacking the necessary expertise, these officials tended to limit their interactions to reading out previously prepared statements from their capitals. These circumstances restricted the opportunities for African states to devise cooperative strategies, establish lobbying blocs, or to join interregional lobbying efforts. Certain African states did not actively engage in the preparatory committee meetings, perceiving that their views were sufficiently covered by the statements prepared by the African Group.

During the July negotiating conference, sub-Saharan African states were noticeably more outspoken in their views on an ATT and regularly presented substantial recommendations that had practical applications. These states also established lobbying initiatives, with the one pursued by the states from the Economic Community of West African States being the most prominent, or participated in multiregional petitioning efforts. Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia were some of the more prominent states in this regard. During the third week of the conference, at a critical point of the negotiations, a group of 74 states, 23 of which were from sub-Saharan Africa, compiled a statement that was read by the Malawian delegation. The statement called for an ATT to be comprehensive in its scope and to include robust arms transfer criteria.

The more proactive approach to an ATT by sub-Saharan African states was not an anomaly. Since September 2011, there had been considerable efforts by a variety of governments, intergovernmental organizations, UN agencies, and civil society entities to encourage more-substantial African involvement in the ATT process. Meetings, workshops, and seminars were held; research was undertaken; and ATT-related documents and resources were produced and distributed. In addition, the majority of African states included arms control officials or legal advisers on their delegations, which enhanced the states’ capacity to interact more substantively in the negotiations.

A key initiative was the attempt by the UN Regional Centre on Peace and Disarmament in Africa to facilitate the drafting of an African Union (AU) common position on an ATT. AU member states met in Togo in September 2011 to compile such a document, but it was not finalized because of the opposition from some North African states. Following consultations by the AU Secretariat, a second meeting was held in May in Ethiopia, with the financial support of the Australian government, in an attempt to reach greater consensus on a draft common position. Primarily due to the postponement of the 19th AU summit, the AU did not officially endorse the draft document.[4] Nonetheless, these developments empowered a greater number of African states to engage in the ATT negotiations more vigorously and substantively.

Three related processes also made important contributions to more-effective sub-Saharan African involvement in the ATT negotiations. First, in late February, government representatives from southern and East Africa participated in an ATT seminar in Kenya organized by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research with the support of the European Commission. Second, representatives from Amnesty International, Control Arms, and the International Action Network on Small Arms enthusiastically lobbied African governments to support a robust ATT. Third, in consultation with a number of African governments and with the financial support of the British government, the Institute for Security Studies compiled an ATT negotiation tool kit for African states in an attempt to contribute to a leveling of the ATT negotiation “playing field.”

On the final day of the negotiating conference, it became evident that, despite the efforts of numerous states, the conference participants would not be able to agree on a treaty text. Shortly before the closure of the conference, Mexico took the floor and read a statement that had been signed by 94 states, 15 of which were from Africa. The July 27 statement said in part,

We came to New York a month ago to achieve a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty. We had expected to adopt such a draft Treaty today.

We believe we were very close to reaching our goals. We are disappointed this process has not come to a successful conclusion today. We are disappointed, but we are not discouraged.

Compromises have had to be made, but overall the text [that Roberto García Moritán, the conference president] put forward yesterday has the overwhelming support of the international community as a base for carrying forward our work.

Successfully negotiating an ATT within the UN system was always going to be a tall order, as the international conventional arms business is intrinsically linked to considerations of national security and national interest. Arguably, it was these considerations by two of the largest arms-producing states, namely Russia and the United States, that ultimately trumped the ATT aspirations of the majority of UN member states. The future of an ATT now will be determined by the UN General Assembly First Committee later this year. Either the treaty will be finalized by means of a General Assembly resolution, or UN member states will decide that they need a second round of negotiations. Given the significant amount of diplomatic capital that most African states have devoted to the ATT process, it is likely that these states will continue to advocate for a robust ATT in the coming months.

In light of the harm that African people and governments have suffered as a result of the poorly regulated arms trade, most African states have the moral authority to apply pressure on major arms-producing states to support the finalization of a robust ATT. The delayed outcome of the ATT process provides the AU with a key opportunity to make use of the enhanced African commitment to an ATT to revisit the AU common position on an ATT, as well as devise a strategy for the next round of negotiations.


Guy Lamb is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa. He has been working with various African governments for nearly a decade to improve arms control and disarmament systems and measures. He is principal author of the ISS report “Negotiating an Arms Trade Treaty: A Toolkit for African States” (2012).


1. For statements by the African Group, see www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/statements/.

2. Geneva Declaration Secretariat, “Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011,” October 27, 2011, www.genevadeclaration.org/fileadmin/docs/GBAV2/GBAV2011-Ex-summary-ENG.pdf.

3. Paul Holtom et al., “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2011,” SIPRI Fact Sheet, March 2012, http://books.sipri.org/files/FS/SIPRIFS1203.pdf.

4. See African Union, “African Union Common Position on an Arms Trade Treaty,” September 2011, www.gca.org.za/LinkClick.aspx?link=AU_common_position_ATT.pdf&tabid=1120&mid=7919&language=enUS (draft).

Africa is arguably the continent that has experienced the most destructive consequences of the largely unregulated global arms trade.

Bid to Craft Arms Trade Treaty Stalls

Farrah Zughni and Daryl G. Kimball

A month-long UN diplomatic conference to negotiate the first-ever treaty to regulate the international arms trade failed to reach consensus on a final document by its July 27 deadline as a handful of key countries, including the United States, said they needed additional time to resolve their concerns with the proposed draft of the pact.

The meeting, which brought together more than 190 countries at the United Nations July 2-27, overcame procedural difficulties as well as numerous conflicting positions on substance and appeared to be close to agreement on a 12-page treaty text that was circulated by conference president Roberto García Moritán on July 26. The general aim of an arms trade treaty (ATT) is to require that all states put in place national regulations on international arms transfers, establish common international standards for approving the transfers, and mandate regular reporting (see box).

The apparent momentum for an agreement was halted by the unexpected announcement by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman of unresolved U.S. objections to the July 26 draft treaty text. Addressing the plenary meeting on July 27, Countryman said he did not see problems with the document’s general framework but that he still had concerns about a few aspects of the text.

The United States “wishes to see all progress preserved for a successful treaty, but I have to say that my capital does not have the time that is needed to address these issues; we need to not take a step backward but to get this right,” Countryman told the conference.

Shortly after Countryman spoke, Russia and a handful of other delegations joined the call for more time to negotiate a final text. In a July 27 story, the Associated Press quoted a Western diplomat as saying the United States had “derailed” the process and that it was likely that no further action would be taken on the treaty until after the U.S. elections in November.

Many states expressed disappointment with the outcome, particularly because the July 26 draft negotiated by the conference had incorporated major U.S. proposals and avoided U.S. negotiating “redlines,” according to several diplomats.

“We came to New York to achieve a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty. We had expected to adopt such a draft Treaty today. We believe we were very close to reaching our goals,” said the Mexican delegation in a written statement on July 27 on behalf of more than 90 countries, including major arms exporters France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

“Compromises have had to be made, but overall the text…put forward yesterday has the overwhelming support of the international community,” the governments’ statement said.

Some major human rights organizations blamed the United States for the outcome. “This was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a July 27 statement. “It’s a staggering abdication of leadership by the world’s largest exporter of conventional weapons to pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing an historic breakthrough,” she said.

Key Elements of the Proposed ATT

The July 26 draft text of an arms trade treaty (ATT) would require all states-parties to adopt basic regulations and approval processes for the flow of weapons across international borders, establish common international standards that must be met before arms transfers are authorized, and require annual reporting of such transfers. In particular, the July 26 ATT text would

• require that states “shall establish or update, as appropriate, and maintain a national control list” and “shall designate competent national authorities in order to have an effective and transparent national control system regulating the international transfer of conventional arms.” (Currently only 90 countries have international arms transfer regulations.)

• prohibit arms transfers 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;” other “relevant international obligations;” or would be “for the purpose of facilitating the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, [or] war crimes constituting grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions”;

• prohibit an arms transfer if the state determines there is an “overriding risk” that the transfer could be used to “commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” “a serious violation of international human rights law,” or an act of terrorism;

• require that states “shall establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition for conventional arms under the scope” of an ATT and shall apply the authorization criteria and prohibitions established by the treaty prior to authorizing any export of ammunition;

• require that each state “shall take the appropriate measures, within its national laws, to regulate brokering taking place under its jurisdiction for conventional arms under the scope” of an ATT; and

• enter into force when 65 states ratify the treaty.

Tough Negotiations

Before and during the July conference, it was not clear whether it would be possible for so many states to achieve consensus on a treaty in such a short time. The start of the conference’s work was delayed for two days when a group of countries, led by Egypt, proposed that the Palestinian Authority be granted voting status at the conference. A walkout by some states that oppose voting status for the Palestinians was avoided when a compromise was forged that granted the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican observer status.

Through long hours of parallel working sessions and informal consultations, the diplomats offered divergent perspectives and struggled to reach agreement on core elements of the treaty, including its scope and the criteria for evaluating arms transfers. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) By the last week, bottom-line positions became more apparent, and García Moritán presented a consolidated draft text on July 24. A revised version followed on July 26, just one day before the scheduled close of negotiations.

Some states pushed for an ATT with a relatively broad scope, while others sought a narrower one. In the end, the states could agree only that the draft treaty text should cover seven categories derived from the existing UN Register of Conventional Arms—battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers—plus small arms and light weapons.

Most states argued that the treaty’s scope should include transfers of ammunition, but some, including the United States, resisted its inclusion in the scope section of the treaty. The July 26 text struck a compromise that would obligate states-parties to regulate only the export of ammunition.

There also were competing proposals on how the treaty should address arms transfers that contribute to human rights abuses. The July 26 treaty text contains a compromise formula that would prohibit an arms transfer if the state determines there is an “overriding risk” that the transfer could be used to “commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” “a serious violation of international human rights law,” or an act of terrorism.

Toward the end of the conference, treaty supporters were most concerned about the possibility that countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, and Syria—all of which had voiced strong opposition to central components of the agreement—might decide to block consensus. Prior to Countryman’s statement, however, no delegation had publicly declared that consensus at the conference would not be possible.

Once it became clear that adoption of a final treaty text was out of the question, the conference approved a report for the UN General Assembly relaying the meeting outcome.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement July 27 calling the forum’s “inability” to conclude its work a “setback.”

“There is already considerable common ground and states can build on the hard work that has been done during these negotiations,” he said.

U.S. Concerns

In his July 27 remarks, Countryman listed a number of specific issues that the U.S. delegation found problematic in the July 26 text. None of the points he raised, however, disputed the core treaty elements, such as the scope, criteria for determining whether an arms transfer should be authorized, and prohibitions on certain transfers.

Countryman criticized language in Article 5 that says the treaty “shall not be cited as grounds for voiding contractual obligations under defence cooperation agreements.” Diplomatic sources say the provision was included at the insistence of India over the objections of many states. Countryman argued that the language was “so broad that it threatened to undermine the treaty’s goals” of setting the highest common standards to regulate the international arms trade. Countryman said a provision of Article 3 stipulating that a state-party shall not authorize a conventional arms transfer that would “violate its relevant international obligations” was too ambiguous. He also said that Article 9, which calls on importing and exporting states to “cooperate and exchange information” with “transit and transshipment” states, would need to be rewritten in a manner that is “consistent with international law.” Countryman did not elaborate on the U.S. objection or how it could be addressed.

Some aspects of Countryman’s critique echoed concerns outlined by a group of 51 U.S. senators in a July 26 letter to President Barack Obama. Referring to the first consolidated treaty text of July 24, the senators said the draft treaty text’s requirements for national regulations on international transfers, including those that transited through national territory, and for national reporting of arms transfers potentially infringe on individual gun-ownership rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The lawmakers, including eight Democrats, said they “will oppose the ratification” of any ATT that does not “explicitly recognize the legitimacy of lawful activities associated with firearms.”

In a July 31 press briefing, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell underscored that, “from our perspective, this treaty and this text, and indeed, in all of the rounds of the text that we saw, in no way would infringe on Second Amendment rights.”

The July 26 text explicitly recognizes “the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems.”

Next Steps Unclear

Most ATT supporters said the July conference’s failure has postponed but will ultimately not prevent the treaty’s adoption. “An ATT is coming. It did not happen on [July 27], but it is coming soon,” said Jo Adamson, British permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, in a July 31 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The July 27 multicountry statement affirmed its signers’ determination “to secure” an ATT “as soon as possible.”

The French government said in an Aug. 1 statement, “France is not resigned to this situation. The UN General Assembly…must follow up on this process. The efforts made in recent weeks were not in vain. The text of July 26 must be considered the basis for negotiations whose accomplishments must be preserved.” France said that “this text is not perfect.… [W]e would have liked to see more robust, clearer language on munitions and technologies.”

In an Aug. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Egyptian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil said the draft text was “a work in progress” that “provides ample material for proceeding further.”

“Any negotiations for a future arms trade treaty,” Khalil wrote, “must take place within a multilateral framework and under the auspices of the United Nations…. It is important to keep in mind that the value of an ATT depends on its universal adherence including from major arms exporters and importers.”

According to diplomatic sources, treaty backers are considering their options ahead of the next session of the UN General Assembly, which convenes in September. Unlike the ATT diplomatic conference, the UN General Assembly does not operate by consensus, and resolutions can be approved with the support of a two-thirds majority of UN member states.

The United States has maintained that it would accept an ATT only if it were adopted on the basis of consensus. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a July 27 written statement that the United States did not support the adoption of an ATT in the General Assembly. Rather, Nuland said, the U.S. government favors “a second round of negotiations, conducted on the basis of consensus” on a treaty “next year.” At the July 31 briefing, Ventrell acknowledged that, with respect to getting a commitment to another round of ATT negotiations, “We’re not there yet.”

A month-long UN diplomatic conference to negotiate the first-ever treaty to regulate the international arms trade failed to reach consensus on a final document by its July 27 deadline as a handful of key countries, including the United States, said they needed additional time to resolve their concerns with the proposed draft of the pact.


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