Arms Trade Treaty

Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Carnegie Endowment For International Peace
Washington, DC
February 18, 2010

[*Under Secretary Tauscher's remarks were delivered by Special Negotiator Donald Mahley.]

As prepared

Jeff, thanks so much for your introduction. I want to thank everyone here for your energy, your commitment to these issues and your patriotism.

It’s nice to see so many friendly faces – you are what I consider “my base.”

Let me start by thanking the sponsors of this meeting, the Center for International Trade & Security, Oxfam America, the Arms Control Association, and Project Ploughshares.

As everyone here knows, President Obama has set forth a bold arms control and nonproliferation agenda.

And, for good reason, and because so many of us have made such an effort to speak out about the Prague agenda, it has garnered a lot of support, attention and media coverage.

I know that conventional arms have gotten much less attention even though they kill more people every year than nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. I am here to make sure that everyone knows that the United States is strongly committed to addressing the problems posed by the irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons.

So last October, Secretary Clinton said that the United States “is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally-binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.”

We will work between now and the UN Conference in 2012 to negotiate a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and we’ll need your help in achieving it. We have made that a fundamental policy commitment. So let me explain what it means in practical terms and why we’re doing this now.

Like a lot of ideas, an arms trade treaty has been in the works for a long time. The UN Register of Conventional Arms opened the door to global discussions of a range of conventional weapons.

These discussions have broadened so that we now have an A to Z list of meetings and forums on how to limit or eliminate small arms, anti-personnel landmines and other indiscriminate weapons.

But conventional arms transfers are a much wider question than just small arms or voluntary registration of some information about transfers. We need a treaty that looks at regulating all conventional weapons, from small arms and light weapons to aircraft carriers.

Unlike chemical or biological weapons, an Arms Trade Treaty cannot be a ban on conventional weapons. When conducted responsibly, arms transfers are a legitimate commercial enterprise and support global stability.

The international arms trade provides nations with material necessary to fulfill the most basic functions of a government – protecting its citizens and enforcing its national sovereignty.

What we are after is a means to have all nations do what the United States already does: examine each conventional weapons transfer before it is authorized to be certain that it will enhance … not undermine … security and stability.

We all know that there is a dark side to arms transfers that can have devastating consequences for people and regions.

Irresponsible transfers can support terrorists, enable genocidal, and create, sustain, and compound proliferation nightmares.

The Arms Trade Treaty discussions have gained momentum by a shared recognition of the disruptive and oppressive impact of illicit or ill-advised arms transfers by a number of countries and organizations.

That is why we need to explore a legally binding measure to better control transfers across international borders.

For the Arms Trade Treaty to be effective at thwarting irresponsible transfers, it must ensure that members effectively implement national laws that criminalize such transfers and allow for the monitoring of commerce. Without this, it won’t necessarily deter or stop terrorism.

So-called “legally-binding instruments” are absolutely meaningless to such terrorists. They are criminals who don’t and won’t abide by any reasonable agreements.

This means that the most only effective way to inhibit their activity is indirectly.

All states must recognize the obligation to enact and enforce laws within their territory that criminalize, isolate, and punish those terrorist groups operating within their territory or profiting from transactions that originate in or transit through their territory.

And, if the state claiming sovereign jurisdiction does not have the capability for such enforcement, then the international community must make available the resources to create such capability, both in the short and long run.

This means that any international instrument hoping to make real impact on “illicit” arms transfers must focus on requiring each party to put in place those necessary means to eliminate such rogue non-state actors both from within their territory and on the receiving end of their international commerce.

It means that weak states, where terrorists operate with relative freedom, must adapt to the very real and very difficult requirements any effective instrument will lay out for them.

They must take all necessary steps to become an effective, law-abiding state.

At the same time, conventional arms transfers are a crucial national security concern for the United States.

Our government has always supported effective action to control and ensure responsibility in the international transfer of arms. That’s because we believe that stable societies and secure environments are the best places for the growth of freedom and prosperity.

So we are a leading advocate of ensuring that arms transfers are done only for legitimate purposes. We carefully consider them before they are approved – I should know since I sign off on some of them – and put in place safeguards designed to ensure that small arms are used in the manner for which the transfer was intended.

The United States has one of the most comprehensive sets of requirements in the world that must be satisfied before a U.S. manufacturer is authorized to transfer arms internationally.

Every month, literally thousands of applications for export of weapons are reviewed in detail by our Government.

We have a strong and robust regulatory body. The transfer of arms are approved only when there is realistic and reasonable evidence the intended recipient has shown that they have a legitimate need and sufficient safeguards are there to preclude either deliberate or unintended re-transfers to unapproved end uses. We also consider the effect of the transfer on regional stability.

This process requires enormous effort. It is expensive. And it results in denying exports in questionable circumstances.

Although this can work to the commercial disadvantage of U.S. firms, it is the price we have to pay to try to stem the flow of conventional arms to terrorist groups, rogue states, and others who would undermine the rule of law.

It is also why the United States believes that it is the responsibility of the entire international community to settle for no less than the highest possible standards in international agreements and reporting activities.

We believe that robust and vigorous regulation and enforcement would make it much more difficult for terrorist groups or rogue nations to destabilize regions or support terrorist activity.

This is why, after careful consideration, the Obama administration has decided to actively support international efforts to achieve an effective global framework and to set high the bar that everyone must meet.

The United States will seek a result that establishes high standards of expected conduct in international activity and in national enforcement.

The Arms trade treaty negotiations will likely be long and difficult. Some participants will be tempted to take the easy road of seeking the lowest common denominator just to get a quick agreement from those states who would like to continue to support… directly or indirectly … terrorists, pirates, and genocidal warlords for a quick profit or short-term advantage.

Let me be clear, we will not rush to judgment by approving a weak or loophole-laden agreement.

The United States is not interested in a vague or weak outcome just to feel good. That would not do anything to address the real issues in arms transfers.

The United States believes an Arms Trade Treaty is sufficiently important to national security and international stability that the deliberations need to produce consensus decisions in order to command the widest possible participation.

A document that failed to gain support from important international players capable of acting outside their reach will undercut the objectives and purposes would be worse than having no document at all.

Consensus is needed to ensure the high standards necessary for an effective ATT.

It is not, nor should others hope it to be, an excuse for avoiding hard choices or real, deliberative controls. There will no doubt be serious, lengthy negotiations over most of the elements of any outcome.

In fact, it has been our experience – sometimes painful – over the course of four decades of such negotiations that there is an inevitable rush by many of the participants in those negotiations to seek simplified or shallow provisions because they “sound good” or are easily agreed to.

The United States considers the subject of conventional arms transfers, with their pervasiveness, dual-use capabilities, and potential harm, too important to national security to be treated with less than the level of detail and engagement it deserves.

This will not make the negotiations any easier, but it will give them the greatest chance of being meaningful and of commanding both the attention and participation by those states necessary to its eventual success.

Now I know that some will argue that a consensus agreement will make it tough to get real progress. Let me say two things about that.

First, some state could attempt to derail negotiations to seek an individual concession. Our goal is to make such behavior transparent to bring public and diplomatic pressure onto the offending party.

It’s sort of like earmarking in Congress. The way to curb abuse is to force the process into the light of day with reporting transparency rather than letting some members slip them into a 1,000-page bill in the dark of night.

And, there are, as you know, a handful of states who make up the backbone of the worldwide arms trade. Excluding them or not getting a universal agreement would make any agreement less than useless. In political terms, this requires a big tent policy even if bringing some into the tent is time consuming and painful.

But it is the only way to address this issue and bring about an enduring and meaningful agreement that enhances our national security and international stability.

The treaty is worth doing because it can have, unlike many things we do, a more immediate impact. Lessening the arms trade, can lead to less killing and maiming.

But the reality is that this is a very big challenge. We’re going to need your help to build the political support necessary to get this done.

Thanks very much and, Jeff, I’ll be glad to take your questions.