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Disarmament and arms control

Response of New Zealand to the United Nations Secretary General’s request for views on an arms trade treaty (UNGA A/Res/61/89)

Introduction

New Zealand is a strong supporter of the arms trade treaty initiative, having been an early co-sponsor of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/Res/61/89.

New Zealand believes that there is a growing need to consolidate into a single comprehensive legally binding instrument pre-existing controls over the international arms trade, both legally and non-legally binding. A global instrument that establishes robust and transparent norms in tackling the illicit and poorly regulated trade in conventional weapons will remove any present uncertainties and inconsistencies that might currently surround States’ commitments in this field.

It is crucial for an arms trade treaty to set the highest standards that represent a strengthening, as opposed to a watering down, of existing arms transfers commitments. This must however be balanced against the need for a treaty not to impinge on the inherent right of all States to self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, or curtail the right of all States to manufacture, transfer, import and export, and retain conventional arms for legitimate security and self-defence. The objectives of such a treaty must therefore be clear and unambiguous.

Feasibility

At a practical level, there is already a raft of international and regional instruments, both legally and non-legally binding, that provide a foundation for work on an arms trade treaty to proceed. An arms trade treaty should benefit from these previously agreed treaties and arrangements. Particularly relevant instruments for New Zealand include the UN Charter (and UN Security Council Resolutions), the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Wassenaar Arrangement’s 2002 Best Practice Guidelines for Exports of Small Arms and Light Weapons.

Discussion on an arms trade treaty will enable States to look afresh at what aspects of the international arms trade are already covered (and determine whether any updating is required), as well as identify gaps and emerging issues that such a treaty should also look to address.

One of the obstacles confronting the development of an arms trade treaty is the fact that States’ subscription to, and compliance with, existing agreements and arrangements on conventional arms trade is uneven and inconsistent. States need to be encouraged to be ambitious in their expectations of an arms trade treaty, which works in their broader interests for peace and security.

Scope

To the extent possible, an arms trade treaty should capture all conventional arms with minimal exclusions. Any such exclusions should be clearly defined. A treaty should also consider carefully the case for extending its coverage to the munitions for these weapons, as well as technology upon which the capability of the particular weapon depends. The UN Register of Conventional Arms provides a useful starting point in terms of the (military) items that might be covered. Whatever list is agreed upon, it must allow for the possibility of easy updating, taking into account new developments in technology. The list should also be made as widely available as possible to all relevant stakeholders, as well as being internally coherent and easily understood. Finally, the list must be consistent with current international law that already bans or restricts the use of certain types of conventional weapons eg. anti-personnel landmines.

The range of transfers that an arms trade treaty should cover must also be comprehensive and clearly defined. New Zealand believes that an instrument should apply not only to the import, export and transfers of arms, but also address other activities such as transit and transhipment, and brokering. It would be crucial to ensure that no opportunities are provided to States/weapons manufacturers/arms dealers to exploit loopholes that might enable arms to be traded illegally. However, it is equally important that clearly legitimate, “low risk”, activities eg. transfers of sporting rifles for legitimate purposes, are not made subject to additional, more onerous, restrictions that do not represent an improvement on existing controls.

Parameters

An arms trade treaty should codify and consolidate in a single instrument existing commitments, international legal obligations, and best practices on arms transfers. New Zealand believes that discussions on an arms trade treaty must play close attention to defining the set of conditions whereby States are obliged to withhold their approval for a particular arms transfer. Such conditions would include where the arms being traded are used:

The obligations that an arms trade treaty establishes must be clear and legally binding, as well as being consistent with existing international norms. They must also be easy to understand and administratively simple to implement. New Zealand agrees that there should be minimum standards applicable to all States (eg. in terms of the information provided on arms transfers transactions), though this should not preclude States from adopting more stringent measures. While the standards should not be overly prescriptive, there must be sufficient commonality in the understanding of these standards to truly facilitate action on the bilateral, regional and multilateral level.

New Zealand believes that there must be a rigorous and transparent system of enforcement and monitoring to ensure full compliance with the treaty. An effective system of information exchange (which does not compromise commercially confidentiality with respect to legitimate transactions), perhaps reinforced by a simple reporting mechanism, would improve transparency and international confidence in the treaty. While States are ultimately responsible for carrying out an assessment of whether or not to approve an arms transfer, there should be a mechanism for other States to raise concerns regarding compliance with the treaty. Breaches of the obligations and failures in compliance should also be addressed.

The particular circumstances of small States, such as Pacific Island Countries, need to be taken into account when defining the obligations of an arms trade treaty. International cooperation and assistance measures to help such states implement their obligations would be essential to the full and effective implementation of the treaty.

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Page last updated: Friday, 25 January 2008 11:25 NZDT