2013 Event


The Adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty: Overview and Assessment

3 April 2013

   On 2 April, the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted at the U.N. General Assembly by an overwhelming majority of Member States. The Final U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which had been ongoing at U.N. headquarters since 18 March, failed to adopt a draft treaty text by consensus on 28 March due to objections raised by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran and Syria. Nevertheless, the Treaty became a reality because of initiatives taken by a number of States, including Japan. The Final Conference on the ATT was chaired by Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia. Japan’s delegation was led by Ambassador Mari Amano and included Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano, Director-General of Disarmament, in the Non-proliferation and Science Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and Mr. Kensuke Yoshida, Director of Arms Control and Disarmament.


1.Overview of the Negotiation

(1)Last July, the Conference on the ATT was held with the aim of adopting an effective international agreement regulating the international transfer of conventional arms. However, it failed to adopt the Treaty text due to the wide range of positions held among States. The Final Conference convened to complete negotiations on the Treaty text in accordance with last year’s U.N. General Assembly resolution proposed by seven co-author States including Japan. (Note: Seven co-authors are the States which first proposed the General Assembly resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2006 and advocated that it should be negotiated at the United Nations. They are Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom.)


(2)On 18 March, the Conference started with a general debate. It was followed by the plenary meetings which addressed various elements of the Treaty, such as the preamble, the objective, the scope, transfer criteria, implementation and final provisions. These negotiations used the Treaty text drafted at the Conference last July as the basis. The President of the Conference issued a first revised draft on 20 March, taking into account results of the consultations and his work to improve legal clarity of the text (i.e. “legal scrubbing.”) The subsequent negotiations at the plenary were based on the first draft. Specific contentious issues were addressed at informal consultations held by facilitators who were nominated by the President.


(3)Due to the different positions and views by participating States regarding various elements to be included in the treaty, bridging gaps seemed a difficult challenge. The most contentious issues were whether or not to include ammunitions in the scope of the Treaty, strengthening of provisions on prohibition regarding the transfer of arms which could be used for serious violations of international humanitarian laws, the relationship of the Treaty with defense cooperation agreements and prevention of the diversion of arms.


(4)The negotiations entered into the final stage when the second draft text, which incorporated the substantial changes, was issued by the President on 22 March. The final text proposed by the President on 27 March was considered by an overwhelming majority of States as an acceptable compromise. However, that text was not adopted because of objections expressed by three States, namely, the DPRK, Iran and Syria when the President proposed to adopt the Treaty text. (Note: In accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Conference, the substantial matters are decided by consensus.) 


(5)In light of the situation, twelve States including the seven co-authors including Japan as well as other proponents of the ATT (Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway and the U.S.), submitted a draft resolution to adopt the Treaty at the U.N. General Assembly. On 2 April, the resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of U.N. Member States with 154 yes votes, 3 no votes and 23 abstentions. The ATT will be open for signature on 3 June at U.N. headquarters.



2. Japan’s Effort to Adopt the ATT


(1)Japan aimed to establish an effective Arms Trade Treaty with the broadest participation of States and actively participated in the Final U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to achieve such objectives. Japan served as Vice-President elected from the Asia-Pacific Group and supported the President of the Conference. Being one of the seven co-authors which initiated the ATT process, Japan also worked among negotiating States to bridge gaps between them. On the first day of the U.N. Conference, together with the other six co-authors of the ATT, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida issued a joint Foreign Ministerial Press Statement and called for a robust and universal ATT to be adopted at this Conference.


(2)Japan facilitated negotiations by proposing specific Treaty language on various issues. Among them, Japan made a proposal on one of the key issues on prohibitions of arms transfer. Its proposal regarding the article prohibiting the transfer of arms in violation of international humanitarian law (reflected in Article 6.3 of the Treaty) bridged differing views among States, which resulted in a breakthrough in negotiations to move forward. Japan also took an active role in jointly proposing a clause on the public reporting of arms transfer. Its joint proposal, presented with Costa Rica and Lithuania, gained the support of more than 60 States. Furthermore, Ambassador Mari Amano, who led the Japanese delegation, was appointed by the President of the Conference to facilitate negotiations on brokering of the arms trade, another key issue in the Treaty. His facilitation also paved the way for reaching an agreement among States on this subject.


(3)As a consensual agreement at the Final U.N. Conference became unattainable, Japan, together with other States, led the process of moving the adoption of the Treaty ahead at the General Assembly. With limited time available, Japan coordinated with 11 other States and submitted a letter to the Secretary-General with the draft resolution, calling for the ATT to be adopted at the General Assembly. After the end of the Conference on 28 March and until the voting of the ATT at the General Assembly on 2 April, Japan made strong efforts to win the support of many States in order to ensure the overwhelming majority would co-sponsor the resolution and vote in favor of the Treaty.



(1)Japan welcomes the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty by the General Assembly with an overwhelming majority of votes in favour. This was the result of intensive negotiations during the Final U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in March. Japan, along with other States, has taken a leading role in promoting the creation of the Arms Trade Treaty for the last seven years. Japan believes that the Arms Trade Treaty will contribute to international and regional peace and security and prevent illicit trafficking of conventional arms as it will provide a common international standard to regulate the transfer of conventional arms.


(2)Building on this achievement, Japan will continue to take a leading role in promoting international efforts to better regulate the global arms trade and combat the illicit transfer of conventional weapons.