Thursday, July 12, 2012

Waste not, want not

© Jesper Waldersten
"If we said that we had wasted two weeks of the Diplomatic Conference, that would be unfair." So said Iran at the end of the day. "But", the Iranian representative continued, "it would be contrary to reality to say we'd started the real negotiations." As Pakistan observed, it is "unusual" not to have a rolling text at this stage of the negotiations. And negotiations "need to take place in a structured manner."

Apart from the veiled attack on the apparent lack of dynamism, structure, and organisation of the diplomatic conference, the day's most notable--and troubling--event was the statement by the United Kingdom on behalf of the P5. The P5 now supports the Russian Federation's proposal to incorporate criteria within the section of the treaty dealing with national implementation. This is supposed to be purely a "structural" rearrangement (though the UK still felt constrained at the end of the agreed statement to speak in its individual delegation capacity to underline that it was not a change of "substance or content"). So even though the treaty is supposed to be establishing the highest possible common international standards, the P5 thinks it would be a good idea to put the standards in a national implementation section. A section that will put national discretion and sovereignty at the heart of the provision. 

How could the UK and France be so naive? Or are they deliberately torpedoing the treaty? Is this the beginning of the P5 pre-cooked treaty that a number of delegations have feared from the start?

In its general statement, the US was unable to bring itself to use the phrase "human rights" with reference to the criteria. The closest they came was in referring to "unacceptable or inhumane purposes". Instead, they launched an attack on Iran for its election to the Conference bureau, despite its record as a major supplier of arms to those who violate international law. Iran exercised its right of reply asking who was more peace loving, Iran or the US? It claimed that the US had supplied chemical weapons to Iraq and white phosphorus to Israel and that the US "proudly supported all dictators".

At least we had the last of the general statements today. Yes, nine days into a 20-day negotiating conference, delegates were still having to listen to general statements of states' positions. How was this a good use of time?

In other notable interventions, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Moldova called for a ban on transfers to non-state actors. During the long session on criteria, Pakistan said there was "no prospect" of emerging consensus on the issue. It claimed that the controversy is not related to international human rights or humanitarian law per se, but on the manner that these criteria have been applied. Legal provisions need to be precise and any legal treaty should be based on the sovereign equality of states. The way they are presented is in favour of the exporting states. They called for parameters on the production of arms, which are the main problem, to be incorporated. As to why the risk assessment fails to work in practice, Pakistan felt that it is because political interests tend to trump legal provisions.

So where do we go from here? Tomorrow we should receive rolling texts for the preamble/principles; goals and objectives; scope; and criteria.  But what sort of rolling text will we get? Another compilation, as Cuba, Egypt, Iran, and Syria, among others, are seeking? Surely not. The time for compilations has come and gone. We need the chairs of the two committees to do their job and present a possible compromise text (even with a plethora of square brackets around controversial text) that can be negotiated as would occur in a normal diplomatic conference. As India noted poetically, "It's time to cook this dish." 


  1. Thank you so much for this excellent blog. Could you give us some insight on the position of developing states wanting technology transfer to allow them the increase of production of armament, but at the local level. This seems surreal! It seems it is not only the larger states want to retain certain warring privileges. Greetings from The Hague (former HEI!)

    1. It's certainly a complicated dynamic. A couple of days ago the UK pleaded that this was not about developed versus developing or exporter versus importer. If only the choices were so stark and clear. It's more of a political spectrum with a few placing themselves on the extremes. But many see national security as an overriding principle.

  2. The UK's statement is ridiculous... i get the feeling that the we may be better off without an ATT than with the terrible one that is prefigurating. but maybe there is still hope? which state/coalition do you see as being able to carry forward some serious text?

    1. There's always hope. But if that is to lead to a treaty that will truly save lives we need a solid, better organised enlightened group of states that coalesce around a set of core positions. We're not there yet. And if we run out of time, as we may well do, we think it's better to come back later (or go elsewhere) in order to get a meaningful treaty.

    2. Hi ADH ATT Bloggers,

      You think "going elsewhere" would be good for conventional weapons? I am not convinced, particularly for small arms. However, I see that is a fall back position for us who really want an arms trade treaty.

    3. Hi Endo,
      I would agree it's a fall-back, and I hope it won't be necessary, but it may come to that. We're running out of time, even if there were buckets of political will to agree on a good treaty. And we don't see much of that in the room...