From 2 to 27 July government representatives, as well as a variety of intergovernmental organisations and civil society groups, will gather at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York to negotiate a treaty to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. This initiative is widely referred to as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This process is unprecedented as until recently many governments had been reluctant to formulate such an arms control agreement. This was due to the sensitive security, political and commercial considerations attached to arms transfers, especially concerns that such a treaty would undermine the ability of governments to defend themselves. However, the destructive and destabilising nature of the illicit arms trade, which has thrived in an unregulated environment, combined with effective lobbying and advocacy campaigns, prompted UN member states to eventually agree to enter into negotiations on an ATT.
As there is significant variation between national arms control systems and processes, it is highly likely that the ATT negotiations will be complex and arduous. Agreement will have to be reached on, among other issues, three key contentious elements, namely the types of conventional weapons that will be covered by such a treaty; the elements of the criteria that states will have to adhere to when they authorise arms transfers; and an extensive array of measures and processes that are geared towards the implementation of an ATT. However, it is apparent that governments are unevenly equipped in terms of arms control experience and knowledge, with major arms-exporting states likely to have a negotiation advantage over other states, particularly African states (the vast majority of which do not manufacture and export arms).
Consequently, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has compiled an ATT Negotiation Toolkit for African states in an attempt to contribute to a levelling of the ATT negotiation 'playing field'. The main objective of this toolkit is to be a reference guide for those African government representatives who will be negotiating the provisions of the ATT. The idea for the toolkit emerged in 2010 following a series of consultations with African government officials and civil society activists who expressed a keen interest for such a document to be developed.
This toolkit provides impartial descriptions and explanations of relevant conventional arms control issues, as well as an objective analysis of the various viewpoints on the key aspects of a future ATT that are applicable to Africa. Nonetheless, the drafting of this toolkit was motivated by the ISS' aspiration for the July 2012 ATT negotiations to result in an effective and comprehensive treaty. The compilation and publication of the toolkit was made possible through a grant provided by the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through the British High Commission in South Africa.
As a leading pan-African policy research and training organisation, the ISS works towards the vision of a peaceful and prosperous Africa for all its people. The mission and overall goal of the ISS is to advance human security in Africa through evidence-based policy advice, technical support and capacity building. The ISS, through its Arms Management Programme, has been working on arms control and disarmament issues for more than 15 years, and has undertaken research and provided technical support to governments, intergovernmental organisations and civil society organisations in Africa.
The ISS will make a presentation on, and distribute copies of, the toolkit to African government delegations in New York on 2 July at a meeting hosted by the African Union, the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa and the International Action Network on Small Arms. In addition, the ISS will host a side event with the South African Permanent Mission to the UN on 5 July to officially launch the toolkit (also in New York).