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The Arms Trade Treaty: Half Full or Half Empty?

GCSP Policy Paper 2013/6

Release Date:

August 2013

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Key Points

  • The adoption by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a significant achievement considering the traditional resistance to dealing with conventional armaments, and in particular small arms and light weapons (SALW) within the UN framework as well as the enormous weight of the lobbies that opposed such as treaty.
  • The ATT has the main advantage of setting for the first time international legally binding norms on arms transfers by states.
  • The criteria for assessing whether exports or imports can be authorised may be subject to unilateral interpretations, but the mere existence of the treaty will offer serious grounds to the international community, including civil society, to monitor its implementation.
  • Apart from licit trade, which will be under scrutiny, the treaty will also strengthen the existing, rather weak, instruments to prevent illicit trafficking, in particular of SALW, which cause the most violence and victims both in conflict and peacetime.
  • The implementation of the treaty will depend on national resources required in particular for export and import control, reporting, legislation, border control, etc., which can be challenging for developing countries.
  • In the end, the effectiveness of the treaty will derive from the political will of governments of exporting states to act responsibly in keeping the arms industry and trade under control, as well as the mobilisation of civil society organisations to maintain the necessary pressure so that arms are sold and used only in self-defence and not for fuelling violence and conflict.
Image © Flickr/Håkan Dahlström