1301 Towards better control of arms transfers

In December AEFJN participated at the yearly meeting of COARM (EU Council Working Group on Arms Control) with NGOs working on arms transfers. Representatives from the EU member states, ministries and civil society questioned whether the Common Position criteria were fit for purpose and discussed the upcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations in March 2013. On the second day, NGOs established an action agenda for the coming year.


Review of the EU Common Position. The European Union has made efforts to strengthen and harmonize member states’ arms export policies, particularly through the 1998 EU Code and its successor, the 2008 EU Common Position on arms exports, a legally binding instrument. The aim of both legislations was to strengthen and harmonise member states’ arms export policies and to create mechanisms of consultation and information exchange to achieve a common interpretation of agreed criteria for assessing arms transfers. Yet these instruments met with criticism when some EU member states exported arms to states in the Middle East and North Africa in the years preceding the Arab Spring. This called into question the extent to which the EU Common Position has truly led to a harmonization of member states’ arms export policies. In 2012 EU member states undertook a Review of the EU Common Position. The discussion at the COARM-NGOs meeting focused mainly on improved guidance on export licensing decision-making. Different ministries presented the state of the Review and the changes. This was followed by discussion on the Review additions to the user’s guide that will concern criteria 7[1] (danger of diversion of the arms) and criteria 8[2] (compatibility of the economic capacity of the recipient country and its arms expenditure regarding the impact in the social sphere). Safeworld has an analysis of how Criteria 7 has been applied by different member states in order to avoid diversion of weapons. While governments believe that the current criteria are sufficient, though specific information on “end users” is hard to come by, civil society sees these criteria are not sufficient in “practice” and they should be strengthened to include governance, corruption, democracy and gender-based violence. As a resolution, Civil Society decided to contact Members of the European Parliament interested in arms transfers to see what they can do to influence the strengthening of Criteria 7 and 8 in the Review of the Code of Conduct.


Other themes of discussion were: the Embargo enforcement when weapons transit by EU Member States; the new technologies, patterns of industrial cooperation and control mechanisms, and their implications for EU transfer controls; and the use of drones and the future use of autonomous systems and other emerging technologies that might impact on transfer controls.


The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Conference in March 2013. The second part of the meeting was dedicated to the final push needed for the ATT. Consensus is not an issue anymore in the future Conference on the ATT, but Syria, Iran and Russia (main arms exporter) could block it. In that case the president of the Conference will have to take it to the UN General Assembly where it would be put to the vote. The 2012 document will be the basis for negotiations. Though we will not obtain the “perfect ATT”, we need to keep a balance between ambition and realism, while striving for a strong treaty. To obtain a legal document it is important to have the main arms exporting countries on board. Even if weak, the ATT will represent a “revolution” as international norms in arms transfers did not exist previously.


The struggle for a strong ATT aims to diminish the suffering of people, direct or indirect victims of weapons. We have just to look at what is happening in Syria, DR Congo, and Mali… When in Burundi a grenade costs the same as a glass of beer, the question that comes back is: “how can the sale of bananas be more regulated and controlled than the sale of arms that kill?”


The role of civil society in these months leading up to the negotiations is to keep the issue in the media, putting pressure on governments. The issue of ammunition is vital for Africa. As an advocacy strategy it was proposed to use key ministries such as the UK, Germany and Denmark that are very outspoken about the ATT, as well as African women and Nobel Peace Delegates. Religious leaders and communities could also be influential in lobbying for a strong ATT just like the religious leaders gathered in Kigali in March 2012 when they made the Interfaith Declaration in Support of an Arms Trade Treaty.   


The NGOs’ meeting focussed on how to cooperate in the future for greater efficiency.  The organisations working on arms control in Brussels will meet regularly to follow what is happening at EU level and to influence the EU institutions.  The group will draft another Black Book on arms exports from EU countries from existing material. 


Begoña Iñarra

AEFJN Executive Secretary

[1] Criteria 7 of the EU Common Position on arms export: member states shall examine the risk that the goods may be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.

[2] Criteria 8 of the EU Common Position on arms export: member states shall assess the compatibility of the arms export with respect to the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country and its legitimacy by considering the relative levels of military expenditures vis-à-vis its expenditures in the social sphere.




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