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Conclusion – Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty, Part 5

It is clear that some aspects of the arms trade have improved more substantially than others since the ATT entered into force. The ATT has the potential to significantly reduce civilian suffering, particularly from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. However, it is held back from meeting this potential with some that are Party to the ATT continuing to act in violation of the articles within the treaty. Transparency also remains a particular concern.

In many cases, there remains a disconnect between state commitments and statements, and their decisions and conduct; particularly with ATT state parties that have not terminated transfers to major importers despite violations of IHRL and IHL. Frequently, economic reasons, or public interest, have been cited in such cases. This remains one of the biggest challenges to reducing harm from explosive weapons.

Nevertheless, the ATT has had an undeniable impact on improving export controls, addressing diversion and other areas covered under the ATT. It has often been states with poor control systems that are most at risk of diversion, and capacity-building efforts and improvements across arms controls for many of these states has seen increased security, cooperation and awareness. While this impact cannot be easily measured, it is clear that measures exist that did not exist before the ATT.

Such measures are likely to influence non-state actors’ use of manufactured explosive weapons, as well as hopefully reduce the availability of materials for IEDs.

The funding mechanisms within the ATT have also enabled more states to carry out such improvements. These have played a significant role in assisting developing states.

While there have certainly been improvements due to the ATT that are likely to have contributed to reduced human suffering, there are many more that could be made through improved implementation and universalisation.

It should be remembered that in terms of treaties, the ATT is still in its early years. This has seen a lot of dialogue and improvements and while there have been ups and downs in this progress, if momentum can be sustained then it is hoped that such progress may continue. In the meantime, ATT States Parties must ensure their actions reflect their ATT commitments and, most importantly, that their actions support the purpose of the Treaty: to reduce human suffering.

Photo recorded during 2021 protests in Myanmar against the coup, 6 February 2021. Maung Sun.

Read the full report here. This report was generously funded by a grant from UNSCAR: UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation.


Navigate the report:

Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty – Executive Summary

Part 1: Nation-by-nation review analysis

Part 2: Who is causing the most harm?

Part 3: Who is providing arms?

Part 4: Thematic examination

Part 5: Conclusion

Part 6: Recommendations 

Part 7: Case studies – Myanmar’s military

Part 8: Case studies – Saudi Arabia in Yemen

Part 9: Case studies – Non-state armed groups in the Philippines

Part 10: Case studies – the Taliban

Part 11: Case studies – China before and after ATT accession

Part 12: Case studies – the United Kingdom, from key ATT architect to key violator?