Arms Trade Treaty talks begin next month

Negotiations on a multilateral Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are scheduled to take place for four weeks next month at a United Nations conference in New York. From July 2nd to the 27th, participating Member States will meet

to elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.

The need for such a treaty and input from Member States was acknowledged during the 2006 General Assembly, but concrete plans to meet for discussions were stalled when the proposed treaty was met with opposition from former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration, based on the argument that national controls (or the lack thereof) were better. When the Obama administration overturned this position in 2009, their support as the world’s biggest arms exporter was key for launching formal negotiation plans.

Canada’s position on the treaty made headlines earlier this month when it revised its controversial stance that favoured exclusion of hunting and sports firearms from the ATT, dropping the proposal to exclude these weapons from its latest position paper.

The 2009 General Assembly resolution that set the negotiation process rolling stresses the need to ensure the broadest effective participation possible in the conference, acknowledging the right of States to manufacture, retain, and transfer conventional arms for self-defence, security, and peace support needs and operations. First, however, it recognizes that

arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Importantly, it also recognizes that

the absence of commonly agreed international standards for the transfer of conventional arms that address, inter alia, the problems relating to the unregulated trade of conventional arms and their diversion to the illicit market is a contributory factor to armed conflict, the displacement of people, organized crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable social and economic development.

Prominent human rights organizations Oxfam and Amnesty International strongly support the negotiation of such a treaty, adding that an effective arms trade treaty must aim to stop the export of weapons to countries where they risk being used for violations of human rights and other international laws.

Huge obstacles stand in the way of the completion of such a treaty, however, and the likelihood that a strong treaty will emerge from the July negotiations must be considered somewhere between slight and nil. But the discussions may help to advance the long-term goal of bringing the arms trade under some degree of international control.


Alison Crawford, “Canada revises stance on UN arms trade treaty,” CBC News, 4 June 2012

Arshad Mohammed, “U.S. reverses stance on treaty to regulate arms trade,” Reuters, 14 October 2009

Photo credit: Basil D. Soufi

Tags: Amnesty International, Arms trade, Arms Trade Treaty, conventional weapons, Oxfam, United Nations, United Nations General Assembly