Situating the Arms Trade Treaty in the Global Arms Control Context

Lidia Matias

Geneva Representative, SCRAP Weapons

30 August 2019, the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (SOAS – University of London), OXFAM, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and SCRAP – the Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation, organised a panel discussion entitled Situating the Arms Trade Treaty in the Global Arms Control Context, during a side event at the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the ATT (CSP5) .

Having chaired this event, I feel comfortable in summarising the content in the famous What, Why, When, Where and How.

  • What: The Arms Trade Treaty is a result of civil society campaigns in favour of arms control and general disarmament.
  • Why: Because of the moral imperative, but also because the financial investment used to develop new armaments diverts funds for more substantial achievements, like the Sustainable Development Goals;
  • How: a holistic approach to global disarmament, proposing the adoption of an international legally binding agreement for complete and general disarmament, based on tried and tested best practices.
  • When: Now. Not because the international political environment is especially welcoming; on the contrary, because tensions between states-parties are escalating to dangerous levels, through threats and miscommunication. Humankind cannot wait any longer to act. 
  • Where: In New York, during the General Assembly, or more specifically during the General Debate of the First Committee.

I hope this summary has convinced you to continue reading. I would like to argue the case that idealism on this issue has become the new sexy, and is actually quite realistic.

Mr Marc Finaud from the GCSP opened the discussion, providing a historical point of view on how civil society contributed to the international legal architecture in favour of disarmament and arms control. While explaining the nexus between ‘Controlling the Arms Trade’ and ‘General & Complete Disarmament’, Mr Finaud emphasised the role women played a century ago, at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in 1919, advocating for the need for universal disarmament. He Since the Covenant of the League of Nations, members of the League, have recognised (8) “that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations.” Those efforts, including the Geneva Arms Traffic Convention and Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, provided the grounds for the Non-Proliferation Treaty and recently the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

According to Finaud, the ATT is the realisation of a blend of circumstances and actors working together in the post-Cold War world, proving that a holistic and coordinated coalition of civil society organisations can convince States to support the regulation of the arms trade. Based on this precedent, it is reasonable to assume that a coalition of civil society actors, elected representatives and nation-states can also succeed in bringing about general and complete disarmament (GCD). 

The SCRAP Weapons project/Treaty could be the catalyst to mobilise such a joint force and make the world safer. 

Mr Martin Butcher, from OXFAM, spoke of the clear need for immediate and complete disarmament, as arms drain the resources that the world needs for development. Oxfam’s work on the relationship between disarmament & development is based on the idea that disarmament is a necessary precondition for societies to develop and attain SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), which includes targets on disarmament and arms regulations. In addition, it identifies connections between disarmament and SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals).

Nikhil Acharya, from BICC, demonstrated in practice how arms control can improve lives through simple actions like separating arms from ammunition. Such approaches, alongside many others, can promote respect for human rights and prevent Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

In his speech – entitled Getting To The How – Operationalizing Arms Control In Complex, Often Conflict-Affected Contexts – Nikhil demonstrated the need for capacity building; crafting trust and confidence; and creating a positive feedback loopby ensuring appropriate project design and tailoring activities to local political, security and cultural realities.

Last but not least, Dr Olamide Samuel, project coordinator of SCRAP Weapons, explained how the Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation inserts itself in the context of the Disarmament Agenda highlighted by the Secretary-General of the United Nations last year.

In his words: “It is our belief that international peace and security cannot be divorced from development – that global security is not achievable when enormous resources are diverted towards the acquisition and multiplication of destructive capabilities; while more than a billion people around the world continue to suffer from hunger and deprivation.

A new global campaign is needed to realise the Secretary General’s vision to scrap or control weapons of war in the world, to respond to the escalating humanitarian impact of regional conflicts, the renewed threat of global war and the vast waste of resources in weapons production.”

The control arms agenda and the general and complete disarmament are subjects that can no longer be dealt with separately. As such, ATT and other strategic weapons fora should dialogue with each other. Civil society can embrace both agendas as they reinforce each other, and SCRAP weapons can be the tool the world needs to achieve peace through disarmament. 

The role of Civil Society Organisations in disarmament processes has never been more critical. It is crucial that we support The SCRAP Weapons Treaty, and introduce it to the General Debate at the start of Committee 1 of the UN General Assembly.

Lidia Matias

Geneva Representative, SCRAP Weapons