7 The UK Government and the Arms Trade
88. The progress towards an international Arms Trade
Treaty (ATT) was of interest to our predecessor Committees. The
first two preparatory committees (PrepComs), which looked at recommendations
to the Diplomatic Conference on the contents of the treaty, took
place from 12-23 July 2010. The dates of the subsequent PrepComs
are: 28 February - 4 March 2011 and 11-15 July 2011. The four-week
long final Diplomatic Conference will be in 2012. During our inquiry,
we considered several aspects of the ATT negotiations and the
particular concerns raised by the NGOs and the industry.
The UK Government's role in negotiations
89. Our predecessor Committees commended the last
Government for their support of an ATT and the leadership role
played by the UK over a number of years.
However, in evidence from the NGOs we heard that the Coalition
Government appeared to have stopped performing that leadership
role. Mr Martin Butcher of Oxfam said:
It does seem that the new Government have pulled
back somewhat. There is a difference in positioning on the ATT,
and the leadership role appears to be waning. There is a reluctance
to commit, for example, to specific aspects of treaty content.
In the strategic defence and security review, and in recent responses
to parliamentary questions, the Government have said that they
are supportive of the ATT, but not that they are leading. During
the July PrepComs, some states that looked to the UK for leadership
over the past few years have been concerned that in contrast to
previous ATT discussions within the UN, the UK has been taking
a back seat. It was very noticeable, for example, at the first
committee that the UK was very reluctant to make a statement at
all. There is an international perception that the UK is stepping
back from leadership. Because the leadership has been so marked
over the past four years, that shift is being interpreted as a
change in the level of support for the treaty.
Mr Rob Parker of Saferworld, added:
...in addition to the lower profile, the content
of the [UK's] statements is also less around the need for the
treaty to be based on human rights and humanitarian issues and
perhaps more hinting at the idea that it's a trade agreement,
as opposed to something more.
90. Mr Martin Butcher of Oxfam also feared an absence
of leadership of the UK's negotiating team if the Geneva-based
post of Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament
was removed. He said:
We do have significant concerns; there seems
to be a strong possibility that when Ambassador Duncan leaves
his role at some point in the first half of next year ,
he won't be replaced, and that role of arms control, non-proliferation
and disarmament ambassador will be at least suspended, if not
done away with. We have strong concerns that that would lead to
a lack of co-ordination of British policy and a lack of ability
to input strongly into the process.
91. The NGOs also questioned the adequacy of the
level of specialist resources being deployed during the negotiations
and of the instructions given to the relevant personnel. Mr Rob
Parker of Saferworld suggested the UK had reduced its support
for the ATT:
...it might also be a case of conflicting priorities.
At crucial points in the process, the nuclear non-proliferation
treaty was running at a similar time. Some of the personnel were
pulled in different directions.
I also wonder if it's an issue of prioritisation,
in terms of the resources put into thinking through what's coming
up. It feels that in some respects, the UK Government is on the
back foot as opposed to the front foot in terms of the issue of
consensus, thinking through scenarios of how to build support
among reluctant states and actually taking this issue by the scruff
of the neck, if you like, and being proactive as opposed to reacting
92. The NGOs also expressed concern about the tight
timescale for the preparatory stage, and the intensive, specialist
resources this would require of the UK's negotiating team.
They told us that the timescale was unlikely to "slip,"
but rather the "quality of the product" might suffer.
Mr Rob Parker of Saferworld said:
Our concern is that unless progressive states,
like the UK, start putting the time into developing draft treaty
text and applying that at the preparatory committees over the
next year or so, very soon the negotiating conference is going
to be upon us and there will be little chance of getting something
with teeth at that conference. That's where the leadership role
comes back in, because we would very much welcome stronger leadership
on the drafting of treaty text, the running through of scenarios
and ideas, and producing a strategy on how to bring on board some
of the more reluctant states in the very short time that we have.
93. The FCO Minister, Mr Alistair Burt, in a letter
to the Chair of 10 February 2011 stated:
The Government is fully committed to securing
a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and hence is keen
to ensure sufficient resources are in place for the negotiation
of the Treaty. I can confirm that multilateral arms control and
disarmament continue to be a high priority for FCO.
Following an internal reorganisation to our multilateral
diplomatic posts in Switzerland, the responsibilities currently
held by the Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament
have been redistributed to ensure that FCO resources are best
placed to service both Geneva and non-Geneva based work. When
the current ambassador's term ends in July 2011, we will continue
to retain a dedicated ambassador for the arms control and disarmament
work that takes place in Geneva via the post of UK Permanent Representative
to the Conference on Disarmament. However we have decided that
leadership of the UK delegation to the ATT negotiations, which
take place elsewhere, should revert to the head of Counter Proliferation
Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London who
will report to me as the Minister with lead responsibility. Hence
I can confirm that leadership of ATT work will continue at the
same level of seniority.
We will also continue to operate as a cross-
government team under an FCO lead, including experts from BIS,
MOD, DFID and others. This cross government team is proactively
engaged in our efforts to achieve a robust and effective ATT,
and continues to consult with, and draw in expertise from, NGOs
and industry. This consultation, which is at both a strategic
and technical level, greatly adds value to UK efforts on ATT by
enabling us to benefit from the expertise of others outside government,
and to work in a co-ordinated way as we approach the critical
UN Negotiating Conference on an ATT in 2012.
94. We conclude that the Government's statement
that it is fully committed to securing a robust and effective
Arms Trade Treaty is to be welcomed. We look to the Government
to deliver on its commitment.
A strong ATT or one based on
95. Our predecessor Committees considered the relative
merits of a strong ATT and one which obtained the widest possible
support. In its
2010 report, our predecessor Committees noted that finding a consensus
would be difficult.
In written evidence to this inquiry, the NGOs said:
scope: cover all types of weapons transfer, and all types of conventional
arms, ammunition, parts and components. It is of great concern
that the US is currently opposed to the inclusion of ammunition.
Robust criteria. the parameters of an
ATT must include tough criteria around international human rights
and humanitarian law and socio-economic development, which need
to be translated into strong text ("a transfer shall not
be authorised if...").
Some states are already arguing for language ("take
into account") which would render these criteria extremely
A transparent and effective Implementation
96. Mr Sprague of Amnesty told us the UK and US Governments
differed on the scope of the Treaty. He said that the NGOs "remain
concerned that the US will want to remove ammunition from the
scope of the arms trade treaty..." whereas the UK position
was still in favour of including ammunition in the treaty.
97. Transparency International (TI) said there was
the need for an independent anti-corruption mechanism in any ATT.
without anti-corruption provisions in the ATT,
bringing arms trading under closer control will create new incentives
and opportunities for those who, either as suppliers or customers,
would want to avoid or circumvent those proper controls. It will,
in short, offer new opportunities for corruption.
98. TI agreed that "a strong anti-corruption
provision in the ATT would not create additional burdens for UK
industry" as existing laws, including the new Bribery Act
2010, already applied to the UK arms industry:
A strong anti-corruption mechanism in the ATT
will encourage other exporting countries to put in place similar
measurements and legislations, ultimately creating a level playing
field for UK firms who may currently be somewhat disadvantaged
by other countries.
99. At the first two PrepComs, the need for an anti-corruption
mechanism was emphasised by many participants, including the EU,
and 'corruption' was included in the Chair's Draft Paper.
TI argues that a robust ATT would have 'corruption' as a stand-alone
criterion/parameter as the "inclusion of corruption within
only one parameter risks ignoring the important cross-cutting
role that corruption plays..."
As regards the tension between a strong and a consensus-based
treaty, Mr Rob Parker of Saferworld said "I think we would
agree that if everyone is happy to sign up to it, the chances
are it's not really going to take us much further."The
previous Government had been committed to a "robust"
ATT, even at the price of it not being consensus-based. For example,
in its Response to our predecessor Committees' 2009 Report, the
Government agreed priority should be given to securing the strongest
possible treaty rather than one based on consensus.
100. Our predecessor Committees made the same recommendation
in their 2010 report. However, in its response to that report,
the Coalition Government appeared to announce a shift in policy:
As for the Committee's conclusion, the Government
will continue to strive for consensus to ensure that the correct
balance is struck between the strongest possible treaty and the
widest participation of states.
101. In oral evidence before us, the FCO Minister,
Mr Alistair Burt, discussed the balance further, saying he considered
a "robust" treaty to be one that included key players:
If by consensus we mean that we want to ensure
that it is a robust treaty because the key players are a part
of it, that might in a way give you a sense, Mr Gapes, of squaring
the difference. To have a treaty that doesn't have the major players
involved and part of it will negate its value and all the work
that's been done. Equally, to have something that isn't worth
the paper it's written on won't do the job...
...I think at present, our position that we should
strive to get both a robust and a consensual treaty is a good
one. I don't think we've yet reached the point of saying, "We
now have to decide between these two objectives," but certainly,
if the treaty lacks the support of key and important players,
then I'm not sure that our work won't have been in vain.
102. We conclude that the Government seems to
have adopted a different policy from its predecessor; appearing
to be prepared to weaken the Arms Trade Treaty in order to try
to ensure that key arms exporting countries become signatories.
We recommend that the Government continues to try to achieve the
strongest possible Treaty, including exports of ammunition, with
the maximum number of key countries including the United
States, as signatories, but should not adopt a strict consensus
or lowest common denominator approach which is likely to result
in an Arms Trade Treaty being ineffectual.
103. We further recommend that the Government,
in its response to this report, sets out its policy on including
anti-corruption provisions in the Arms Trade Treaty with details
of the provisions it would wish to see incorporated.
142 See for example Q47 of EGAD Written Evidence Back
E.g. HC (2008-09) 178, para 122 Back
Q 16 Back
Q 17 Back
Q 18 Back
Q 17 Back
Q 18 Back
Q 35. See also Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2010), Session
2009-10, HC 202, p44. Back
Q 20 Back
Q 20 Back
Ev 41 Back
For example, see CAEC, Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2010),
Session 2009-10, HC 202 pp42-44; and CAEC, Scrutiny of
Arms Export Controls (2009), Session 2008-09, HC 178 pp43-44.
CAEC, Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2010), Session
2009-10, HC 202 p43 Back
Ev 49 Back
Q 155 Back
Ev 46 Back
Ev 46 Back
Ev 46 Back
Ev 47 Back
Q 20 Back
HC (2008-09) HC 178, para 122; Committees on Arms Export Controls,
Government Response to Committee Report, Scrutiny of Arms Exports
Controls (2009) Cm7698, p10 Back
Committees on Arms Export Controls, Government Response to Committee
Report, Scrutiny of Arms Exports Controls (2008).Cm 7938,
Q 132 Back