Civil Society Wins the Discursive Victory, Despite Collapse of Arms Trade Treaty Conference

Posted on 30 July 2012 by mbolton

After a month of procedural wrangling, intense lobbying, heavy campaigning and frantic late night negotiations, the Arms Trade Treaty conference came to a frayed inconclusive end last Friday as skeptical states like China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba, joined by the United States, called for more time to complete what they saw as an incomplete draft.

While disappointed, activists from the civil society campaign Control Arms beleive that by showing up in New York City and engaging in good faith negotiations, the majority of states are beginning to accept the norm stigmatizing the transfer of arms to those who abuse human rights and violate humanitarian law. They are winning the discursive victory, changing the global conversation about the human cost of the market in weapons.

“If there is one thing that has been gained from the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations this month, it is the clarity that there is an unflinching determination by the majority of the world’s nations to ban the transfer of weapons when there’s a substantial risk of human rights and humanitarian law violations,”  Thomas Nash and Matthew Bolton, members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), said in a statement for the disarmament advocacy group Article 36.  “Even without adoption of the treaty, this norm has been advanced by these negotiations over the past month.”

Nash and Bolton have followed the negotiations closely for this past month and advocated for strong provisions on “unmanned” and robotic weapons to be included in the Treaty.

Control Arms was similarly defiant. “The fight to end the illegal and irresponsible arms trade goes on,” they declared in a statement to the media. “The lack of agreement on a final text was disappointing but not the end of the story. In spite of today’s lack of agreement, momentum is gathering for an international and legally-binding treaty to bring the arms trade under control.”

For a detailed account of the final hours of the Arms Trade Treaty Diplomatic Conference, by ICRAC member Matthew Bolton, click here.

Matthew Bolton is associate professor of political science at Pace University in New York City. He is an expert on global peace and security policy, focusing on multilateral disarmament and arms control policymaking processes. He has a PhD in Government and Master's in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. Since 2014, Bolton has worked on the UN and New York City advocacy of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Bolton has published five books, including Political Minefields (I.B. Tauris) and Imagining Disarmament, Enchanting International Relations (Palgrave Pivot).

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