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In 2013 considerable progress was made in global efforts to strengthen trade controls for conventional arms, with the United Nations General Assembly agreeing in April on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) after six years of negotiation. Multilateral efforts in the area of dual-use trade controls were not marked by similar landmark developments, but followed the incremental development path of recent years.
The final conference on the ATT in March 2013 ended with Iran, North Korea and Syria blocking consensus. The draft treaty text was subsequently put to a vote in the UN General Assembly in June 2013, with 155 states voting in favour, 3 against (Iran, North Korea and Syria) and 22 abstentions. The approval of the treaty text was the result of global efforts to reach a consensus on an international treaty to establish the ‘highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms’. The ATT will enter into force once 50 countries have ratified. By 31 December 2013 a total of 115 states—including the United States—had signed the ATT, of which 9 had ratified the treaty.
The ATT is the first agreement of an international treaty covering the brokering, transit and export of conventional arms. Sections of the treaty also apply to parts, components and ammunition. The ATT provides for information exchange on various aspects of the treaty, although the precise scope and mechanisms are yet to be defined. The treaty also includes an obligation to report on national implementation systems as well as on transfers of the seven categories of major conventional weapons established by the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA), as well as on transfers of small arms and light weapons (SALW). The compulsory reporting of SALW imports and exports distinguishes the ATT from UNROCA. However, the scope of the ATT is narrower than the Munitions List of the Wassenaar Arrangement and does not include dual-use items with conventional arms applications.
Advocates for an ATT sought to build on principles and standards that already exist in some conventional arms trade control instruments at the regional and national levels. The specific mention of gender-based violence as a criterion goes beyond most national and regional agreements, including the European Union (EU) Common Position on Arms Exports, although it is implied in the latter. The compromise agreement on the ATT sought to reconcile a wide spectrum of UN member states’ positions regarding the relationship between state security prerogatives and human security considerations—including obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law—as well as the interests of exporters and importers. This has resulted in language that leaves scope for interpretation as states translate the treaty into law, policy and practice.
United Nations (14 embargoes)
• Al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities • Central African Republic • Democratic Republic of the Congo (NGF) • Côte d’Ivoire • Eritrea • Iran • Iraq (NGF) • North Korea • Lebanon (NGF) • Liberia (NGF) • Libya (NGF) • Somalia • Sudan (Darfur) • Taliban
European Union (21 embargoes)
Implementations of UN embargoes (10): • Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated individuals and entities
• Central African Republic
• Democratic Republic of the Congo (NGF) • Côte d’Ivoire • Eritrea • Iraq (NGF) • Lebanon (NGF) • Liberia (NGF) • Libya (NGF) • Somalia (NGF)
Adaptations of UN embargoes (3): • Iran • North Korea • Sudan
Embargoes with no UN counterpart (8): • Belarus • China • Egypt • Guinea • Myanmar • South Sudan • Syria • Zimbabwe
Arab League (1 embargo)
NGF = non-governmental forces.
In the area of arms embargoes, results were mixed, given the continued failure to agree a UN arms embargo against Syria, with divisions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council playing an important role.
The Arab League’s embargo against Syria remained in force, while in June 2013 the EU allowed its 2011 arms embargo to expire, due to a lack of agreement among member states on whether to extend or adapt the embargo, and in particular on whether arms supplies to the opposition should be permitted. In April the EU had agreed to allow the supply of certain non-lethal equipment to Syrian opposition forces, but the supply of equipment and software for use in monitoring of communications by the Syrian Government remained prohibited.
In August EU member states suspended exports to Egypt of any equipment that might be used for internal repression, although this was not formalized in a legally binding embargo.
In 2013 the UN Security Council imposed one new arms embargo, on the Central African Republic. As in previous years, the UN panels tasked with monitoring violations of UN arms embargoes reported violations.
During 2013 four informal, non-legally binding regimes—the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies—continued to work on consensus-based decisions to strengthen strategic trade controls. These multilateral regimes routinely updated the lists of items subject to control, but did not agree on new guidelines or principles for export-related activities such as brokering, transit and transshipment.
Mexico joined the Australia Group in 2013, having already been admitted by the NSG and the Wassenaar Arrangement in 2012. Additional membership applications are pending. India’s interest in joining the regimes continued to be subject to considerable discussion, without results.
The relevance and importance of the Australia Group, which covers items that have applications in biological and chemical weapons, were highlighted through the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Continued supplies of nuclear reactors to China by Pakistan were subject to controversy inside and outside the NSG.