Power and Change: The Arms Trade Treaty

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In October 2003, Oxfam, together with Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and many other organizations across the world launched the Control Arms campaign. The aim of the campaign was to reduce armed violence and conflict through global controls on the arms trade, and the primary objective was an international Arms Trade Treaty. In April 2013, a decade of campaigning paid off as the Arms Trade Treaty, the world
  OXFAM ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP CASE STUDY www.oxfam.org   POWER AND CHANGE The Arms Trade Treaty By Duncan Green and Anna Macdonald In October 2003, Oxfam, together with Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and many other organizations across the world launched the Control Arms campaign. The aim of the campaign was to reduce armed violence and conflict through global controls on the arms trade, and the primary objective was an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). In April 2013, a decade of campaigning paid off as the Arms Trade Treaty, the world’s first global treaty to regulate the transfer of conventional arms and ammunition, was adopted by overwhelming majority at the UN in New York, and opened for signature two months later. As of June 2014, the ATT looks set to enter into force around a year after it opened for signature, which will make it one of the fastest ever multilateral treaties to become international law.  BACKGROUND Oxfam’s involvement in arms control dates back to advocacy to control arms exports from Europe to South Africa in the early 1980s and the landmines campaign of the 1990s. The rationale was that armed violence and poverty are a vicious circle, and that development efforts are greatly impeded by conflict and armed violence. In the late 1990s, NGOs in Europe including Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Saferworld worked together to successfully advocate for a review of Europe’s arms exports, resulting in the EU Common Position on arms exports. At the same time, a group of Nobel laureates and NGOs had been in discussion about the idea of greater international arms controls, at that time called a ‘Framework Convention on International Arms Controls’. Following this work, and discussions with other NGOs as to what should be the next campaign priority to try and reduce conflict, Oxfam and Amnesty decided to join forces to launch a campaign to secure an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) joined during 2003, enabling many grassroots and national organizations around the world to also engage. By the early 2000s, the political environment was propitious. The adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 had created confidence that campaigning could achieve change within the arms sector, and many grassroots organizations around the world saw conflict and armed violence as the next big issue. THEORY OF CHANGE Power analysis While there were a handful of governments sympathetic from the outset, and some spillover momentum from the Mine Ban and Cluster Munitions Treaties, there were also strong opponents to the ATT. The USA was the only public ‘no’ voting government at the UN until 2009, when the Obama administration changed its stance, but Russia, China and many Middle East states were also significant opponents, albeit not always overtly. The campaign followed and responded to the shifting tides of government positions through regular exercises in stakeholder mapping. Beyond governments, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and various associated pro-gun groups, predominantly from the USA, campaigned against the ATT, attended UN meetings as accredited NGOs to speak against Control Arms and mounted expensive campaigns within the USA to create domestic fear of the ATT as a treaty which would ‘take away US guns’. At a global level, perhaps, the extremity and the obviously fundraising-driven bias of their campaigns actually worked against them, since most delegations dismissed their views. Oxfam’s change strategy When the Control Arms campaign launched in 2003, only three governments (Mali, Costa Rica and Cambodia) would publicly associate themselves with the call for an Arms Trade    Treaty. The rest were quite clear that this ambition was ‘too idealistic’, ‘unrealistic’ and was pitted against too many vested interests. The initial strategy, therefore, was to try and get one government in each region to ‘champion’ the idea of an ATT, the theory being that this would gradually build global support for the treaty, as the countries around each regional champion gradually followed their lead in a snowball effect. So the early focus was on getting the concept of an ATT on to the political radar in key countries, often achieved by first getting widespread popular support through the ‘Million Faces’ petition and other campaigning activities. By mid-2005, the snowball was rolling: at the Biennial meeting of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms, 55 states included a positive reference to the need for an ATT.  As work progressed at the UN, power analysis became increasingly sophisticated. States were categorised by their support not only for the ATT overall, but for the inclusion of individual elements within the treaty (e.g. human rights or sustainable development). By 2006, campaign planning involved regular updating of complex spreadsheets that were colour coded into ‘champions’, ‘progressive supporters’, ‘swingers’, ‘undecided’, and ‘sceptics’. Put simply, the strategy was to work with the champion governments, try to move more of the mainstream and swingers into this category, and to isolate or undermine the arguments of the sceptics. The most active campaigning took place in countries with active Oxfam affiliates or country programmes (UK, Australia, Spain, Netherlands, France, Kenya, Cambodia and West Africa as a region); Amnesty member sections (UK, America, Finland, France, Peru, Senegal and many others); and active national level Control Arms partners in important locations, such as Brazil and South Africa. Over time, and with many Oxfam country programmes moving on to other issues, the work with partner organizations in the global south became more and more important. Up to 2010, the lead group of governments involved with the campaign were the ‘co-authors’, also known as the group of seven (Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and UK) who wrote and led all of the ATT resolutions at the UN, led largely by the UK. From 2011 through to the final negotiations and beyond, an additional group of progressive governments approached by the Control Arms campaign became increasingly important in maintaining pressure for a strong treaty. The campaign had long wanted a progressive group that could put pressure on the crucial but more mainstream co-author group, and speak out forcefully for the strongest possible language to be included in the treaty. Finally, Norway, Mexico and New Zealand, later joined by Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago began coordinating together with Control Arms, and invited others from progressive nations from across all regions (although the Middle East and Asia proved a struggle). The progressive group became a key ally, working closely on tactics such as joint statements on particular treaty content, anticipating and planning for treaty opponents’ tactics and strategizing together on who to influence at every stage of the negotiations.  Specific strategies were developed for particular opponents. For China, the focus was always on African campaigners being the ones to engage directly with Chinese officials, and to encourage African states to engage bilaterally. China’s interest in stability in Africa, combined with its deep resistance to perceived western NGOs, meant this was a much more effective strategy, and China’s acceptance of inclusion of both small arms and ammunition within the treaty can at least in part be attributed to this tactic. For the Middle East, there was never the possibility of winning round the whole region, so the focus was instead on trying to ensure that there was not a united Arab group against the  ATT. This succeeded, in as much as Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Jordan voted in favour consistently, while others from the region abstained. Always ensuring Arabic speaking campaigners from the region took the lead in engaging with officials was also important, as was an emphasis on trying to show the growing global (rather than western-only) support for the ATT. Strengthening regional arms agreements were seen as a stepping stone to a global agreement. For example, campaigners worked to strengthen Europe’s ‘Code of Conduct’ which later became the ‘EU Common Position’, and after concerted lobbying, West Africa’s ‘ECOWAS Moratorium’ on arms transfers evolved into the ‘ECOWAS Convention’, on Paper 1 of the strongest regional agreements. They consciously sought to include at a regional level the same elements that they wanted to see in the global ATT – e.g. a requirement for a clear risk assessment, with no transfers authorized where there were high risks of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Progress at a regional level meant those states were much more likely to advocate for the same thing at international level. It also helped create regional blocs of support. Tensions and challenges  A key challenge, mentioned earlier, was the constant battle to prevent the content of the treaty being diluted. Throughout the process the big tension was between the universalists, who argued that the most important aspect was to keep sceptics such as Russia and China on board and were willing to make concessions in treaty content to do so; and governments like Norway and Mexico, plus civil society, who argued for a stronger treaty, which would establish strong international norms that would ultimately affect even non-signatories. This tension manifested itself in different ways throughout the process, from the bitter arguments over the rule of consensus for decision making, through to detail on every aspect of the text. The difference was a mix of a genuine difference in analysis, and seeking an excuse for foot dragging and dilution. Major successes for the progressive groups included the inclusion of ammunition within the provisions of the Treaty, relatively strong assessment criteria around international human rights and humanitarian law and references to gender-based violence. Weaknesses included not securing a completely comprehensive scope, and the loss of an explicit reference to sustainable development. In addition to these topics, a particular flashpoint was provisions to prevent the diversion of arms transfers – critical, since diversion is the main way in which arms find their way from the licit to the illicit trade. While the vast majority of states had always maintained that reducing the spread of illicit weapons was a key motivating factor for greater arms controls, opinions on how to achieve this varied sharply.
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