- Armament and disarmament
- Conflict, peace and security
- Peace and development
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is the first international, legally binding, instrument that establishes national standards for regulating the trade in conventional arms and preventing their illicit trade. In August this year, states, NGOs and industry representatives will meet in Tokyo for the fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP4) to the ATT. On 29 May they are meeting in Geneva for the second CSP4 informal preparatory meeting and to review progress made by the working groups on effective treaty implementation, treaty universalization, transparency and reporting. A key topic of discussion in Tokyo and Geneva will be the efforts being made to help states implement the ATT. Since the ATT was adopted in 2013 a wide range of implementation assistance efforts have been launched that are aimed at helping states improve their arms transfer or small arms and light weapons (SALW) controls. However, both before and after 2013, there have been a wide range of activities carried out that – while not being focused on ATT implementation – are aimed on building state capacity in these areas. While the volume of assistance being provided is welcome, the number of states, NGOs and regional organizations involved can make coordination difficult and lead to gaps in coverage and duplication of efforts.
In order to address this problem, SIPRI built – and continues to maintain – an online database for Mapping ATT-relevant cooperation and assistance activities. The intention is to provide funders, activity implementers and partner states with an overview of the range of work carried out that is aimed at building state capacity in different areas of arms transfers and SALW controls relevant to ATT implementation. All activities are tagged and searchable by a range of different fields – including type, focus, implementer, donor and partner state – allowing stakeholders that are planning assistance activities to find examples of past work in that state, region or thematic area. They can then use this information to plan joint activities, build on past work and avoid duplication of efforts. In the long term, SIPRI also hopes that the website will assist the ATT Secretariat to perform ‘the matching of offers and requests for assistance for Treaty implementation’ called for under the Treaty. The database was launched in 2016 with information about activities involving states from Sub-Saharan Africa and in 2017 it was expanded to cover Latin America and the Caribbean. In early 2018 SIPRI completed work on expanding the database to include activities involving states in East Asia and South East Asia.
This expansion of the database to include East Asia and South East Asia was particularly important given the comparatively low rate of engagement with the ATT among states in the region. As a whole, Asia has the second-lowest level of both signatories and states parties (after the Middle East). Among the 16 eligible states in East Asia and South East Asia, there are only two states parties and six signatories to the ATT. At the same time, states in East Asia and South East Asia are facing a range of security challenges that the provisions of the ATT are designed to help address. For example, in Asia continued and re-emerging tensions and conflicts have led many states to significantly increase their military expenditure and arms imports over the last decade. The ATT’s reporting requirements on arms imports are – in part – aimed at increasing transparency in this area, which could help to reduce regional tensions and build mutual confidence. In addition, the ATT calls for the improvement of controls on arms transfers and information sharing mechanisms on routes of diversion. Both of these measures could improve the situation in the many parts of South East Asia where arms trafficking remains a major concern.
There are a diverse range of reasons why states from East Asia and South East Asia have so far chosen not to join the ATT. The working group on treaty universalization recently noted that some states have failed to pursue ratification or accession because they lack the capacity to implement the ATT. At the same time, other states that have the capacity to implement are waiting to see what others do before ratifying or acceding. Within East Asia and South East Asia, the limited penetration of the ATT may also be both a reflection and a consequence of the region’s low prior engagement with security cooperation, arms control and confidence-building measures. In other parts of the world, regional organizations have established common standards on arms export controls and mechanisms for sharing information on arms exports or imports. This is not the case in the regional and sub-regional groupings in Asia.
At first glance, the lower level of engagement with the ATT in East Asia and South East Asia appears to be reflected in the range of activities carried out on arms transfer and SALW controls. The SIPRI database now includes 50 ATT-relevant cooperation and assistance activities involving states from East Asia and South East Asia since 2013. This is far lower than the 269 activities involving states from Sub-Saharan Africa and the 131 activities involving states from Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, a majority of the activities carried out were aimed at increasing states’ awareness of the importance of the ATT – or arms transfer and SALW controls more generally – rather than building national capacity in specific areas. Furthermore, of those that were aimed at building national capacity, only a limited number included a focus on some of the specific areas that are potentially of greatest relevance to the region. In particular, while 31 of the 50 activities added included a focus on transfer controls, only 8 included a focus on either transit and transshipment controls, import controls, or brokering controls.
However, the raw data should not necessarily be taken as a sign of a lower level of interest among states in East Asia and South East Asia in engaging with ATT-relevant assistance activities or taking part in potentially sensitive discussions about arms transfer or SALW controls. In particular, while the number of activities may be lower than other regions so too are the number of states involved: 16 in East Asia and South East Asia, compared with 49 in Sub-Saharan Africa and 33 in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, a significant amount of work was carried out on SALW controls in the 1990s and 2000s, particularly in South East Asia. Finally, the entry into force of the ATT has provided impetus and funding for a range of ambitious new activities. For example, a number of substantial assistance projects are being implemented, such as the EU Partner-to-Partner (EUP2P) outreach project and the regional and national workshops implemented by the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD).
Using funds provided by UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR), SIPRI is currently expanding its database to cover the Middle East and North Africa. Here, the level of engagement with the ATT and states’ past willingness to be involved in the regional process of standard setting or information exchange on arms transfers and SALW controls is even lower than in Asia. The region contains only one state party (Palestine) and four Signatories (Israel, Lebanon, Libya, and the UAE). At the same time, the link between the range of security issues that the region is facing and the aims and objectives of the ATT is even clearer. The crisis in Libya – and the flows of SALW it generated – as well as the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen highlight the strong need in the region for tighter arms transfer and SALW controls. Given these facts, the need to get an accurate picture of the range of cooperation and assistance activities focused on building state capacity in arms transfer and SALW controls is even more acute.
As in previous expansions, SIPRI is collecting information about past activities that is already in the public domain and then giving the implementers the opportunity to edit and correct the information before it is uploaded to the database. However, SIPRI’s long-term objective is to make the database into a self-sustaining ‘live’ tool where organizations consistently submit information about their activities themselves. The site already allows activity implementers to create records and many stakeholders are making use of this tool. During 2018 SIPRI will be encouraging others to follow their lead. This will help transform the database into a user-generated information tool that will provide a more comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the range of arms transfer and SALW control-capacity building efforts in all parts of the world. This will enable the database to more effectively help stakeholders avoid duplications of efforts and build on past work when planning and implementing ATT-relevant assistance activities.