Cover: Towards a Universal Arms Trade Treaty

Towards a Universal Arms Trade Treaty

Understanding barriers and challenges in South-East Asia

Published Oct 26, 2016

by Giacomo Persi Paoli, Elli Kytomaki

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السبيل إلى إقرار معاهدة دولية لتجارة الأسلحة: فهم العوائق والتحديات في جنوب شرق آسيا

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Research Questions

  1. What are the national and international obstacles to the ratification and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty?
  2. What steps can be taken at the national and international level to help overcome these obstacles?

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), adopted in 2013 and in force since 24 December 2014, is the first international legally binding treaty to control the transfers of conventional arms. It aims to establish the highest possible common standards for regulating the international trade in these weapons to prevent and eradicate their illicit trade and to prevent diversion in order to contribute to regional and international peace, security and stability.

The ATT does this by setting minimum standards that all countries should introduce and implement at the national level, such as comprehensive legislation, national control lists, case-by-case risk assessment of licence requests, and transparency measures.

Since the adoption and entry into force of the Treaty, the goal of the international community has been twofold: to support the Treaty's implementation, and to promote its universalisation.

This project aims to support universalisation of the Treaty by identifying barriers and obstacles (e.g. political, administrative, legal, budgetary, technical) to its ratification or accession, and by generating a set of proposals for actions to overcome these, be they at the national, regional or international level. As such, this project contributes to the goals of the United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR), which include supporting the ratification of, or accession to, the ATT as well as improving the effectiveness of assistance.

In addition, this project contributes to UNSCAR's efforts in promoting.

Key Findings

The barriers to the ratification and implementation of the ATT include:

National political landscapes

  • In some cases the ATT agenda is supported at the civil service level, but lacks traction or drive in the political arena where factors such as general elections or other strategic considerations tend to generate conflicting priorities among political leaders and governmental agencies/ministries.

Regional security

  • In some cases, unstable regional security influences a country's willingness to join a treaty that has the potential to limit its ability to transfer arms.

National legislation

  • Countries are particularly conscious of the legally binding nature of the ATT and do not seem willing to proceed with ratification/accession until its text is fully analysed against the national legislation.

Limited access to qualified human resources

  • The limited availability of prepared and qualified staff challenges the ability of a country to build and maintain momentum during the ratification/accession process, but poses a more direct challenge to implementation.

Limited inter-agency cooperation

  • This problem results from a combination of multiple factors including a lack of established formal guidelines for cooperation, a lack of adequate formal and informal networks among key stakeholders across government and in other sectors (e.g. industry), and a lack of adequate infrastructure to facilitate information sharing and exchange.

Attitudes towards transparency and corruption

  • Issues related to transparency and corruption are difficult to measure, assess and, consequently, address. In any case, such issues may pose challenges in the ATT implementation (for example, in the form of incomplete or inaccurate reporting), but may also covertly undermine the progress of national ratification/accession.


  • The identification and appointment of 'ATT national champions' (either an agency or a senior figure in the civil service), could act as a catalyst for the ATT process at the national level.
  • The conduct of a full audit of national capabilities and regulations (either internally or with the support of external actors) could help to identify specific areas requiring further development for which assistance could be requested.
  • Assistance could be provided to member states by means of both basic and specialist training and capacity building to support both individual upskill and organisational learning.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) and conducted by RAND Europe.

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