Monday, June 8, 2015

Looking Ahead: Latin America and the Caribbean shaping the future of the ATT

"Latin America and the Caribbean shaping the future of the ATT"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Looking Ahead-blog
Forum on the Arms Trade
June 8, 2015
Originally published:

On August 24-27, Mexico will host the First Conference of the State Parties (CSP) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This is an important high-profile meeting aimed at establishing the permanent headquarters and a secretariat for the ATT. It is noteworthy that a Latin American nation will host the event. While not major weapons expenders a la the United States or Russia, in recent years Latin American and Caribbean nations have earmarked significant portions of their defense budgets for new acquisitions. Hence, it is important that these two regions are taking a pro-active stance on the future of the global arms trade by helping to shape the ATT’s future.

Just this past February, Trinidad and Tobago hosted the First Preparatory Meeting Towards The First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty. According to a press release by Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, the meeting in Port of Spain addressed issues like “the format, mandate and configuration of the future Secretariat,” as well as financial regulations.  Security expert Rachel Stohl from the Stimson Center noted, however, that the “only matter of substance agreed to … was that the first annual report on authorized arms exports and imports will cover calendar year 2015 with a submission deadline of May 31, 2016.” More meetings have since occurred and others are scheduled with the goal of seeing 
the August meeting bring momentum to the process.

For the time being, Mexico City has praised itself for having been chosen to host the CSP. In December, Mexican Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco declared that “[Mexico’s election] is, without a doubt, an example of trust and a form of recognizing our country as an important player of the international community; [we are] reliable [and] neutral.” Such self-praise is understandable, and it will hopefully be validated in a few months.

Apart from hosting major meetings, the Caribbean states are a major pillar of the ATT, Europe’s support notwithstanding. Several countries in that region have ratified it, like Dominica, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Meanwhile, Latin American states that have also ratified it include Argentina, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, and the CSP’s hosting nation, Mexico. In fact, Costa Rica, known for being a military-less nation in a violence-prone Central America, has not only ratified the ATT but was one of its original sponsors. Meanwhile, Brazil, with its strong military industry (i.e. EMBRAER), and other significant spenders like Chile, Colombia and Peru have only signed the treaty.

At this point, it is necessary to stress that Latin America is by no means undergoing a disarmament process. In recent years, we have seen a variety of major weapons sales by countries that have ratified or signed the ATT. For example, in 2013 Brazil signed a multi-billion deal for Swedish Gripen warplanes. Meanwhile, Peru has purchased FN Scar rifles and Gatling M-134D machine guns for its armed forces to crack down on narco-insurgency in the Peruvian Andes. As for Mexico, the U.S. has authorized the sale of Blackhawk helicopters to its southern partner. In addition, the region’s military industries remain vibrant and are looking to export their domestically made weapons. The prime example is Brazil, as it sold unarmed drones to an unnamed African nation in 2014.

Hence, it will be interesting to hear more detailed information about the concerns, priorities, and interests of Latin American states when they present at the CSP, as they will essentially be supporting an ATT regime, while also trying not to affect weapons sales sought by Latin American governments. Although support for the ATT is strong among these governments, national security threats, particularly drug trafficking and narco-insurgency, remain priorities for these regions and will continue to influence future arms procurement strategies.

The selection of Trinidad and Tobago as well as Mexico to host conferences that determine the future for this vital piece of global legislation is a big honor that stresses the nations’ support for the ATT’s success. Certainly, there are many challenges that the ATT must address before it becomes a relevant regime that regulates the arms trade. Hence, it is important that the ATT enjoys the support of violence-prone regions like Latin America and the Caribbean. Hopefully this momentum will translate into positive news out of Mexico City.

Alejandro Sanchez is Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

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