On February 24th and 25th of 2015, world leaders and policy makers from 86 countries gathered in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to finalize details of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The conference was the opening of the First Preparatory Meeting of the First Conference of States Parties to the Agreement. The Agreement has been signed by 130 countries, and ratified by 62 and will allegedly set the highest standards for cross-border transfers of arms and ammunition.
The ATT has been described by some as an important link in regulating the trans-national movement of small and conventional arms and ammunition. Foreign Affairs Minister to Trinidad and Tobago, the Hon. Winston Dookeran signalled the event and the Agreement as a new era of multilateralism that the United Nations has embarked upon.
In the face of increasing threats to global peace and security, global leaders felt it necessary to create a global institution to combat these risks, as the movement of illegal arms and ammunitions have also been linked to the worsening crime in these countries.
Delegates at the conference were to decide on the location of permanent Secretariat of the ATT, the institutional framework and terms of relations with State Parties, as well as the size, format and staffing requirements of the Secretariat. Attendees were also briefed on draft rules of procedure and financial rules. These are key pieces to facilitate full implementation of the treaty.

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Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors sign the Arms Trade Treaty At United Nations headquarters in New York, June 3, 2013 (Photo by INSIDER IMAGES/Keith Bedford).
However, while there is agreement in all quarters of the need to regulate the global arms trade, which is said to be valued at $85billion, some are still sceptical about the efficacy of the ATT.
The agreement stipulates that before arms transfers could be authorised, it must be assessed against a strict criteria. If there is substantial risk that the criteria will be breached, then the transfer will not be authorised. While this criteria includes whether or not the arms might be used for human rights violations or war crimes, there is still the possibility that “legitimate” shipments could fall into the wrong hands and or be used for illegal purposes. Evidently, the illegal gun trade has occurred on the underground/black market, and therefore the efficacy of a state-led formal treaty to eradicate these weapons is heavily questioned.
Some may argue that the purpose of the ATT is to combat the transfer of a quantity of arms into the hands of terrorist organizations and anti-human rights groups (if they could be so-called) or armed groups and nations involved in wars who rely on imports. In this region however, and for many small-island developing states, the proliferation of illegal guns and light weapons used to perpetrate individual crimes are of a major concern as opposed to large transhipments. Therefore the ability of the agreement to effectively drill-down to these micro-levels is important.
Analysts claim that there are gaps in the agreement. For example, the treaty only binds those states that have signed and ratified the agreement, which is completely voluntary. In that regard, it is interesting to note how some of the world’s largest arms exporters have and will treat with the agreement. Many posit that given the interdependency of countries today it will become difficult for countries to remain outside of the treaty regime, especially if countries signatory to the treaty apply the provisions rigorously.
Another gap identified is that the treaty does not cover technology transfer although arms deals today are more than just transfers of physical hardware. Today, the arms trade also entails knowledge and intellectual property transfers to allow the receivers to produce the weapons in their locale. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the treaty does not include sanctioning mechanisms which means that there is little repercussion for infringing states.
The ATT however, it must be remembered is not a panacea for the illegal weapons trade. The treaty, for what it’s worth, covers eight categories of conventional weapons including tanks, warships and aircrafts as well as small arms / handheld weapons. Signatories to the ATT must report their arms export to the U.N. and must not export the weapons if they know at the time of authorization that the recipient would use the weapons to launch attacks against civilians. Under Article 3, States party to the agreement also agreed to establish control systems for ammunition to regulate the export of ammunition fired, launched or delivered by conventional arms. The ATT is the first attempt at establishing rules for the international trade of arms, to “prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion, and for the purpose of contributing to international and regional peace, security and stability”.


Aurelia Bruce is a Research Officer at the TTCSI and has had experience conducting trade-related research in both the Caribbean and Canada. Bruce is passionate about regional integration and development and while her research centers around trade in services generally, some of her interests include the creative industries, ICT and ITeS, financial services, and trade law and policy. She graduated from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, with a Master’s degree in International Trade Policy (Distinction) and a BSc. in Political Science with Law (Hons).
Featured Photo By Sarah Myers, via Flickr Commons

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