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


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Posted on 30 July 2012
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by mbolton


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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.


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


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Posted on 25 July 2012
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by mbolton


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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.


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