Draft Arms Trade Treaty Omits Explicit Reference to ‘Unmanned’ Weapons

Posted on 25 July 2012 by mbolton

On Tuesday morning, 24 July, the chair of the Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) released his long-awaited draft of an international instrument to regulate the trade in conventional weapons.

Unfortunately, as I explain in my commentary piece for Global Policy today, the draft treaty is…well…drafty. There are several major holes in the text that give states considerable room for maneuver at the expense of efforts to reduce human suffering in armed conflict.

In particular, the Scope of the ATT has been narrowed from some of the committee drafts, which aimed to regulate ‘all conventional arms, either manned or unmanned’ to the seven categories of arms covered by the UN Register on Conventional Weapons plus small arms and light weapons. The explicit reference to ‘unmanned’ weapons has disappeared and there are weak provisions for controlling technological systems with both potential dual uses — that could be weaponized. It is thus unclear whether the treaty would apply to Predator drones that have not yet been fitted with missiles.

If it passes, this draft ATT could establish norms against dealing arms — robotic or otherwise — to abusers of human rights and and humanitarian law. However, its lack of strong provisions in the Scope could also stymie efforts to regulate and constrain the  robotic weapons that are becoming increasingly popular in the military forces of industrialized countries.

UPDATE 30 July 2012: On 26 July, the chair of the conference released an updated draft of the treaty text, but it also failed to include strong provisions for unmanned systems, particularly dual use ones like drones. The next day, the conference collapsed as the US, Russia, China and a few authoritarian states stalled the negotiations. There is still a chance that a treaty, based on the draft text, will pass in the next year, but the exact shape of the Treaty and process for adoption is, as of  today, unclear.

Matthew Bolton, Department of Political Science, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Pace University New York City.

mbolton
Matthew Bolton, PhD, comes to Dyson College from the international humanitarian and development sector, where he has worked with several non-profits and UNICEF in over a dozen countries, including Bosnia, Iraq, Kenya and Uganda. Dr. Bolton joined the New York faculty in the Political Science department in January and is teaching classes in international relations. He will also take over as Model United Nations advisor in the fall. He brings first-hand experience to the classroom. Before joining Pace University, most recently he was the emergency coordinator and acting chief of mission for Outreach International’s educational program in Haiti, where he oversaw the response to the 2010 earthquake and the expansion of the program’s annual funding tenfold. Dr. Bolton’s PhD thesis, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, explored the politics behind the allocation and implementation of foreign aid for the clearance of landmines by the U.S. and Norway for demining in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan. His research, rooted in ethnographic fieldwork, focuses on global public and private provision of security and social services in conflicted countries. He has a Master’s in Development Studies, also from the LSE, and a BA(Hons) majoring in history and religion from Graceland University in Lamoni, IA. Dr. Bolton has written two books: Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance: Governance, Politics and Security in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan (published by I.B. Tauris) and Apostle of the Poor: The Life and Work of Missionary and Humanitarian Charles D. Neff (published by John Whitmer Books). He writes a weekly column on international and social issues for The Examiner (Independence, MO) and has published in a variety of media outlets, including The Guardian, Jane’s Foreign Report, Global Journalist and Transitions Abroad. He recently published a research paper on governance of the international aid effort in Haiti, “Human Security After Collapse: Global Security in Post-Earthquake Haiti”.

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