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Thematic examination – Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty, Part 4

There are many areas, through which the ATT’s impact can be measured, this section will more thematically explore some of these areas concerning the ATT’s impact on civilian harm from explosive weapons.

The chapter, drawing on the case studies, wider research and interviews with experts working on matters related to the ATT, will pick up on some of the key issues associated with the effectiveness of the ATT, including universalisation, implementation, funding and assistance. While some of this section will address the impact of the ATT more widely, the effectiveness of the treaty as a whole is of course, hugely significant to the Treaty’s ability to reduce human suffering, including from explosive weapon use.

Kharkiv after the battle of the city. Northern Saltivka district, the most damaged by Russian shelling, 19 May 2022. Source:Такий вигляд сьогодні має Північна Салтівка. Оксана Іванець / АрміяInform

This chapter hopes to touch on many of the issues of most relevance to this report, though acknowledging that it is not within the scope of this report to assess the impact of the ATT more generally.

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Implementation

Much of this report has focused on implementation – whether ATT states have successfully and impactfully implemented the ATT, particularly in their role as arms exporters. In AOAV’s view, the successful implementation of the ATT would see states acting transparently, reporting in detail on all transfers, ensuring transfers do not breach articles 6 and 7 and preventing, as far as possible, the diversion of arms.

It has been made clear by the case studies that there have been some failures in implementation, when it comes to transfers in violation of articles 6, 7, and 11 of the treaty and explosive weapon use. There are also issues in implementation related to national capacity, which have been touched upon by this report, such as in Afghanistan.

This report has focused on the states worst impacted by explosive violence and are therefore where we are most likely to see violations or failures related to implementation. They are, however, necessary to examine as they highlight the areas where we might encounter the most challenges, can understand the weaknesses that still exist and consider what improvements may be most necessary. Nevertheless, the ATT has also resulted in many improvements within state controls, systems and legislation related to the ATT.

In a study carried out by UNIDIR, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) and the Stimson Center on Countering Diversion, they were able to assess eight case study countries, placed into three groups based on the UNDP’s Human Development Index – the countries remain anonymised.[i] Amongst the findings of this research, were that at least one country in all three of these categories had made improvements to national control systems since signature of the ATT.

The report demonstrates the impact of the ATT on State Parties, with countries, even those with well-established arms transfer control systems and legislation already, able to make improvements and address gaps. For most of the countries mentioned in the two categories that cover mid-range to less developed countries, the ATT had resulted in greater impact and changes. Some saw significant changes to legislation and control lists, for example, often with international assistance and support provided for these efforts.

Other findings from the report demonstrated the ATT’s impact in improving cooperation and information sharing among national authorities though there was still a lot of improvement that could be achieved in this area.

However, it is difficult to measure the impact such improvements have had on civilian harm from explosive weapons – the absence of violence is much more difficult to determine.

Diversion

Diversion, particularly, is difficult to measure and therefore it can be a challenge to understand where and how it takes place and the actions needed to address it. For the most part diversion occurs in the shadows and much of the work by states and civil societies in this area in the last decade has been focused on understanding diversion networks and trying to address them. However, it is perhaps an area that has seen the most dialogue and progress within the ATT.

One area that saw a significant improvement, in the study by CAR, Stimson and UNIDIR, for the most developed states was in the criminalisation of acts of diversion, with all three of the states examined in this group improving mechanisms to tackle this.

Further, in a recent webinar run by the Stimson Center, the panellists were asked if progress had been made in addressing diversion; had diversion decreased? The panellists were unable to answer whether diversion had increased or decreased, but they could say that in this time states had become aware of the issue and resources and tools were now available to tackle diversion, with efforts now being made by far more states to try and address diversion in a way that was not occurring a decade ago[ii]. For some states, addressing diversion had been a new concept, with some states going from no word that accurately covered ‘diversion’, to finding a phrase, addressing it in national discourse, and implementing legislation[iii]. This is significant progress.

While we have seen the impact in Afghanistan of what a failure to address diversion can mean, it is also clear that there have been actions taken through the ATT and its implementation which are likely to have helped better address this complex issue – despite the challenges that remain. Most importantly, there are far more states employing measures to reduce the chances of diversion, such as post-shipment verifications, tracing, improved record keeping and cooperation efforts. It is unlikely that these would have occurred without impact.

On the importers side, for many states ratifying the ATT meant improving controls around arms, including security and stockpile management practices. One expert highlighted that the ATT has acted as a type of hook to get states engaged in improving these areas, and also helped provide a framework for how.

Nonetheless, when it comes to exports, particularly to states that are not party to the ATT, exporters are often trying to balance diversion concerns against the need they see to provide arms. This was seen with exports to Afghanistan and is being seen in real time as states seek to supply arms to Ukrainian forces and balance this alongside concerns related to diversion. While arms are being provided to Ukraine despite a significant risk of diversion, experts report that lessons have been learnt from similar past scenarios, with mitigation efforts being implemented, such as improved record-keeping.[iv] Nevertheless, it remains the case that these arms transfers will be going to a conflict zone, where even before the Ukrainian invasion many states already refused to export to based on the known diversion risk.

A final piece of recent progress in this area has been the first meeting of the Diversion Information Exchange Forum (DIEF) at the CSP9. This is a closed meeting and it is unclear if the meeting resulted in the types of exchanges and dialogues expected of the Forum. However, the very fact that it took place and states were able to begin such exchanges, is seen by experts to be a sign of progress in this area, even if not the strides the international community hope for.

Articles 6 and 7

Perhaps of most concern to this report, with the focus on explosive weapon harm, is the implementation of Articles 6 and 7. With arms exports to states employing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas of most concern. This has come up repeatedly in this report already, particularly with arms exports to Saudi Arabia and Myanmar.

The case study focused on arms to Saudi Arabia also demonstrates how much of the ATT’s impact is determined by the State Parties themselves.[v] And enforcement of the ATT relies upon this implementation and often civil society. The ATT was also not central to many of the domestic legal proceedings, with most cases referring to domestic legislation, which implements the ATT. Nevertheless, experts have attributed some responsibility to the ATT when states have stopped supplying weapons which contravene Articles 6 and 7. For example:

“One interesting thing, which we also mentioned sometimes in our research is, and I don’t really know if this can be attributed to the ATT per se, but it has some impact is countries that in recent years were exporting weapons to conflict areas like Yemen or Myanmar or Ethiopia, some of them have stopped some of those transfers. I think that is a combination of several things: the media scrutiny, the civil society role in denouncing these transfers, reports from the UN investigative bodies.. But many countries have been influenced to stop and so that I would say is a positive trend, though ,not entirely attributed to the ATT – it is a combination of factors.”

Carina Solmirano, ATT Monitor Project Lead
Arms Trade Treaty Conference of States Parties 2017, 24 October 2017, Control Arms.

Still, the failure to meet commitments under the ATT by many state parties is perhaps the most alarming. It has a significant impact not just in terms of foreseeable civilian harm but also undermines the treaty itself; with state engagement, ratification and support rendered insignificant if not met in deed. Many of the experts stated their disappointment in the progress seen in relation to states implementing articles 6 and 7.

One of the key elements concerning Articles 6 and 7 that has been raised among experts in this area, is the need for reassessment of risks if the situation changes.[vi] This is an area which has been rarely addressed by state parties, despite being an aspect of the ATT, and remains a concern as states have often failed to respond to such changes promptly. The ATT Expert Group recommended States Parties look to implement lessons learnt, develop common approaches and improve transparency in this area.[vii]

It is clear State Parties still have much to do to improve their approaches to Articles 6 & 7 of the ATT. It is also one clearly tied to decreasing civilian harm from explosive weapons.

Transparency and Reporting

Another issue that has arisen throughout this document is transparency. One of the key aims of the ATT is to improve transparency within the arms trade and, indeed, this is key to understanding the impact and human suffering. The ATT does seem to have made the arms trade more transparent, with many states increasing the level of transparency around arms transfers. However, there remains work to be done, with some of the key arms exporters still not part of the ATT, and others failing to provide the level of transparency hoped for through the ATT.

The UK case study highlighted how states may circumvent transparency such as their use of ‘unlimited’ or ‘secret’ licences which inhibits understanding how many weapons the licence covers and the value of transfers covered. This obstructs transparency and accountability and is particularly concerning when these licences have covered arms transfers to states of concern.

The UK are certainly not the only state which has failed to provide the transparency hoped for through the treaty. In fact, the UK is still among the states with the highest levels of transparency, which perhaps speaks more to the strides yet to be gained.

Nevertheless, there has been progress made. While there is no tool focused on measuring this transparency, it is clear many states have made improvements. For some States Parties, their reports to ATT provided the first insights into their national controls systems or arms transfers,[viii] and even for states like the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, among the most transparent, there have continued to be improvements in this time. For example, according to the Small Arms Survey, which monitors the transparency of all those exporting small arms and light weapons, the Netherlands transparency score consistently increased in the last decade, from a score of 17 out of 25 in 2012 to 21 out of 25 in 2021.[ix] Their improved transparency demonstrates to other leading exporters that improving transparency does not harm export levels. That few developing states are among the most transparent indicates the prevailing capacity issues which need to be addressed to see improvements.

Reporting is also a mechanism for transparency and accountability which was built into the treaty. In recent years, however, there has been an alarming decline in the level of reporting and particularly public reporting. This prevents accountability and cooperation to address gaps. So, while the ATT has improved transparency and accountability through this reporting mechanism, the level attained in the years soon after entry into force has declined in recent years.

The ATT Monitor’s five-year overview of Party reporting acknowledged the improvements needed, with only a handful of states consistently meeting reporting deadlines and including all information required.[x] Their report which covers the years 2015-2019 found that only 12 States Parties[xi] had been fully compliant with Article 13.3 reporting obligations and submitted reports that ‘contribute to the transparency aims and objectives of the Treaty for every year a report was due’.[xii] While just eight States Parties had consistently complied with reporting obligations and provided further information in annual reports that supported a higher standard of transparency.[xiii]

It should be acknowledged that this is one of the areas where some states can need assistance, especially if state capacity for monitoring arms transfers is still in need of development. Of the 24 States Parties that have not yet submitted an initial report, 10 are among the least developed countries and 11 are small island developing states.[xiv] Again, this is where the assistance mechanisms of the ATT may continue to provide support and lead to improvements.

Reporting consistency and transparency are key to fulfilling the object and purpose of the ATT and monitoring the trade in explosive weapons. The downwards trend in reporting, therefore, is imperative to reverse. Additionally, that the ATT reporting mechanism allows states to withhold certain information can be particularly harmful when it comes to transparency around explosive weapon use. According to Carina Solmirano, the ATT Monitor  Project Lead, information around missile exports particularly has often seen a lack of transparency, with states withholding information. 

Another concern among experts was that some states may submit to the ATT but stop submitting to other bodies when they join the ATT, like UNROCA. However, it seems that this is largely not the case, with some potential exceptions. There do seem to be a handful of states which stopped submitting to UNROCA after they joined the ATT, but these have mostly continued to share their reports publicly. Exceptions to this include Croatia, El Salvador and Macedonia, which have now switched to private reporting to the ATT in recent years. While many who are not submitting publicly to the ATT were not submitting to UNROCA in any case, so it has not lessened transparency in this respect. Though interestingly, some that submit private reports to the ATT do continue submitting to UNROCA, where the submissions are public. The rise in private reporting to the ATT, of course, remains a concern.

Nonetheless, as experts highlighted, transparency is only one part of the ATT and some states can be very transparent even when their exports, including explosive weapon exports, seemingly violate other treaty commitments.

There were a couple of other flaws mentioned by the experts interviewed in relation to reporting requirements, including the need for longer record-keeping. Meredith Horne, of Conflict Armament Research, highlighted how the majority of the weapons recorded in their database date back to over 20 years ago, or much longer in some circumstances, making the 10-year requirement under the ATT. Though, it was noted in the interview that most these records relate to small arms, as opposed to explosive weapons. 

It is clear that while progress has been made in this area, there have also been some backward steps.

Universalisation

Some of the key issues associated with treaty effectiveness are related to the need for greater universalisation. Some of the key state importers and exporters of explosive weapons are not party to the ATT. Of note, are signatories like Israel, Turkey and the United States, who are also among the top arms exporters, as well as perpetrators of civilian harm from explosive weapons.

The slowing of states ratifying or acceding to the treaty in recent years is not ideal, though not unexpected given the time that has passed since the treaty came into force. Nevertheless, there continue to be states that become party to the treaty each year and further states that have signified their intention to join the treaty in the next few years. Importantly, some of these states, namely China and Canada, which became State Parties to the Treaty in 2020 and 2019 respectively, are among the top arms exporters, demonstrating the continued traction to be gained with key exporting states.

Further, other states that have recently acceded or ratified the treaty, though not key importers or exporters, are some of those most impacted by diversion and can, therefore, be key to improving the effectiveness of the treaty. These include the Philippines, Cameroon and Brazil, for example.

Though, interestingly, some experts also express the limitations associated with some key states joining the Treaty – it can be a trade-off as it can limit further progress. So for many, while it is hoped that key exporters will join eventually, there is also the desire to strengthen norms and commitments under the ATT before they do.

Rachel Stohl, Vice President of Research Programs at the Stimson Center and Director of the Conventional Defense Program, highlighted that when it comes to “norm creation and development of rules and acceptable behaviour – those things that we all believe in – there is potential to have great impact and for those countries [key importers and exporters] to be outside and then it is easier to, again, point to behaviours outside the convention of norms that exist.” Such assertions were echoed by others, with. Dr Mark Bromley, Director of the SIPRI Dual-Use and Arms Trade Control Programme, highlighting that Russia’s absence from the ATT allowed states at CSP8 to make stronger statements on arms transfers to and from Russia and engage in more ambitious norm promotion efforts than might be possible if it were a state party.

While similar views were expressed across the experts interviewed, the value of universalization was still recognised with progress continuing to be made and with the aim of these key exporters and importers eventually joining the ATT.

Romanian SA-2Volhov missile launch

Funding

Financial contributions have been consistently decreasing in recent years with more states not meeting their financial contributions as outlined under the treaty. Though it is unclear the impact this will have on the progress and effectiveness of the ATT; some of the consequences that were proposed included reduced numbers of meetings or conferences and reduced engagement and awareness efforts. This, of course, could have significant ramifications but until such steps are carried out, the magnitude of such changes and their effect is uncertain. Currently Switzerland has been compensating with additional funding.

Further, discussions around the states who have not been meeting their contributions have seen a variety of opinions arise. For example, when it comes to VTF funding, it has been suggested by some states that missing financial contributions should be a factor in considering applications, even if only a secondary consideration.

Many states expressed concern about conflating these elements of the treaty and potentially penalising states who cannot meet their financial contribution; such penalisations could also hamper the implementation and universalisation of the treaty.

The issue of funding is not unique to the ATT and is increasingly becoming an issue for a number of treaties, agencies and institutes. Experts identified many reasons why this might be the case, though it was acknowledged that it was frequently dependent on the individual states, with reasons including political tensions, government finances, or just bureaucratic challenges.

Assistance

The ATT has an assistance mechanism built into the treaty. This aims to ensure state limitations do not prevent ratification and implementation. The VTF, as specified in Article 16(3) of the ATT, provides funding for state projects which seek to support ATT implementation. The VTF has provided support covering a range of projects related to the ATT.

These projects specifically contribute to the implementation of the ATT for both those party to the treaty and those seeking to take steps towards treaty adoption. As of August 2022, 69 projects had been approved, of which 46 were completed, involving 49 states – some states have been supported for more than one project.[xv] More than $6.2 million has been spent on supporting such projects, with funding coming from those States able to financially contribute to the fund. Six states have become party to the ATT in the same year as, or in the years following, their VTF project.[xvi] While it appears such changes indicate the impact of the VTF and ATT generally, it is worth understanding a bit more about the states supported. 

Of the 42 states listed with approved projects on the VTF website,[xvii] seven have exported arms,[xviii] according to SIPRI data, in the last decade (2012-2021), while 40 have imported arms (see Appendix 16). The top importing countries among these were Kazakhstan, Philippines, Mexico, Nigeria, Chile, Sudan, Serbia, Lebanon, Cameroon and Argentina. Of the 42 states, 26 have seen no civilian casualties from explosive violence using manufactured explosive weapons since 2015, but – importantly – 16 have.

Among those to have seen the most civilian harm from these weapon types are: Nigeria, with 586 civilian casualties from manufactured explosive weapons since 2015; Philippines (with 452), Sudan (194), South Sudan (192), Mali (103), Madagascar (86), Cameroon (80) and Kenya (59).

Nevertheless, even where the states do not see the use of manufactured explosive weapons directly, many of these states are transit hubs for arms shipments or are hotspots for the trafficking and smuggling of weapons. Such weapon diversion can often include light explosive weapons such as mortars, grenades or rocket launchers, though most will be small arms.[xix]

Some of those worst impacted by explosive weapons and which see the most diversion have received support which is likely to combat these issues.

While it is hard to measure the impact of these initiatives, the states implementing the projects speak favourably on the projects’ outcomes and in many cases, it is in the interests of the states for improvements to be seen, particularly when it comes to preventing the diversion of arms to non-state groups. And, experts point out that this is one mechanism that did not exist before, where we can point to a clear impact and positive advances.


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?


[i] Wood, B. ‘THE ARMS TRADE TREATY ASSESSING ITS IMPACT ON COUNTERING DIVERSION’, UNIDIR, Conflict Armament Research and Stimson Center, 2022.

[ii] This was addressed by panel members at a ATT CSP8 side-event looking at arms to Ukraine. It was also addressed in a webinar organised by the Stimson Centre on September 7th 2022, titled, ‘Next Steps on Post-Delivery Controls for International Arms Transfers’, and available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pe93GUUhdc&utm_source=Stimson+Center&utm_campaign=fb4e16cf28-Prog%2FEvent%2FPost-Delivery%2FRSVP&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_15c3e20f70-fb4e16cf28-438327784 (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[iii] Highlighted in an interview with Anna Mensah from UNIDIR.

[iv] This was addressed by panel members at a ATT CSP8 side-event looking at arms to Ukraine. It was also addressed in a webinar organised by the Stimson Centre on September 7th 2022, titled, ‘Next Steps on Post-Delivery Controls for International Arms Transfers’, and available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pe93GUUhdc&utm_source=Stimson+Center&utm_campaign=fb4e16cf28-Prog%2FEvent%2FPost-Delivery%2FRSVP&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_15c3e20f70-fb4e16cf28-438327784 (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[v] Azarova, V., R. Isbister, and C. Mazzoleni, ‘ ATT Expert Group: Domestic accountability for international arms transfers: Law, policy and practice’, Saferworld, Briefing No.8 – August 2021.

[vi] Kirkham, E., ‘ATT Expert Group: Implementing Article 7.7 of the Arms Trade Treaty’, Saferworld, Briefing No.9 – August 2022.

[vii] Kirkham, E., ‘ATT Expert Group: Implementing Article 7.7 of the Arms Trade Treaty’, Saferworld, Briefing No.9 – August 2022.

[viii] Stimson, ‘Taking Stock of ATT Reporting’, August 2022, https://www.stimson.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Report_Taking-Stock-Web.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[ix] These reports can be found at the Small Arms Survey website https://smallarmssurvey.org/database/small-arms-trade-transparency-barometer (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[x] ATT Monitor, 2021. ‘LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: EVALUATING FIVE YEARS OF ATT ANNUAL REPORTING’, https://attmonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/EN-ATT_5-Year-Review_2021_v5.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xi] These were Czech Republic, Benin, Germany, Latvia, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. ATT Monitor, 2021. ‘LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: EVALUATING FIVE YEARS OF ATT ANNUAL REPORTING’, https://attmonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/EN-ATT_5-Year-Review_2021_v5.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xii] Pp. 3. ATT Monitor, 2021. ‘LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: EVALUATING FIVE YEARS OF ATT ANNUAL REPORTING’, https://attmonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/EN-ATT_5-Year-Review_2021_v5.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xiii] These were Benin, Germany, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovenia and Switzerland. ATT Monitor, 2021. ‘LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD: EVALUATING FIVE YEARS OF ATT ANNUAL REPORTING’, https://attmonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/EN-ATT_5-Year-Review_2021_v5.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xiv] Stimson Center, ‘Factsheet: ATT Reporting Compliance at a Glance’, August 2022.

[xv] ATT Secretariat, ATT CSP8, 24th August 2022.

[xvi] These countries are Cameroon, Lebanon, Mozambique, Namibia, Palau and the Philippines.

[xvii] ATT, ‘Voluntary Trust Fund’, https://thearmstradetreaty.org/voluntary.html (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xviii] These were, in order of export levels: Senegal, Chile, Sudan, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Mexico and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[xix] For example, see Saferworld, ‘Preventing and mitigating the risk of arms diversion in Africa’, April 2022; and, Sollazzo, R. and Nowak, M., ‘Tri-border Transit Trafficking and Smuggling in the Burkina Faso– Côte d’Ivoire–Mali Region’, Small Arms Survey, October 2020.