Prohibitions and Export Assessment: Tracking Implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty
Geneva Paper - Tracking Implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty
Prohibitions and Export Assessment: Tracking Implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty

Four years after the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), how do states parties implement its core provisions regarding the authorization of arms transfers?

By Tobias Vestner, Head of Security and Law

Rather than looking at what transfer decisions states are taking, this study examines how states implement Articles 6 and 7 of the ATT by national legislation, policies and practice.


This Geneva Paper shows that ATT states parties generally implement the ATT’s prohibitions set forth in Article 6 through national laws and policies. This paper also demonstrates that exporting states implement the ATT’s obligations regarding export assessment contained in Article 7 in many different ways. While the spectrum of how exporting states parties consider an arms exports’ potential effect on peace and security is very broad, their national frameworks contain similar or nearly identical export criteria on assessing the risk of arms being used for serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Few states parties have national export criteria regarding terrorism, transnational organized crime and gender-based violence. States also consider national criteria other than those specified in Article 7 before authorizing arms exports, including positive consequences of arms exports. Finally, states parties’ national frameworks mostly do not define clear thresholds for denying arms exports.

Given this divergence in states party implementation, in addition to a remaining lack of clarity on how states apply the ATT provisions in practice, this paper recommends reinforcing dialogue on ATT implementation. This could lead to better understanding and implementation guidance that strengthens the emergence of common standards and improves the quality of national export assessments. To increase states parties’ knowledge on risks to be avoided, institutionalizing cooperation with human rights bodies and establishing an ATT internal information exchange mechanism is also recommended.

Tobias Vestner is Head of Security and Law at the GCSP. He teaches, researches, and organizes dialogue on the intersection between security policy and international law. Before joining the GCSP, he was Research Affiliate and Global Futures Fellow at Georgetown University. Prior to that, he was Policy Advisor at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, where he managed political processes with regard to the export of conventional weapons, and participated in the UN negotiations of the Arms Trade Treaty. Previously, while at the Law of Armed Conflict Section at the Swiss Federal Department of Defense, Sports and Civil Protection, he contributed to bilateral negotiations on military cooperation, and trained military officers in international humanitarian law. Tobias Vestner holds a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a Master of Laws in International and European Law from the University of Geneva, and a Bachelor degree in Swiss law from the University of Lausanne.