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12 July 2012, Vol. 5, No. 7

Editorial: 12 billion reasons to include ammunition in the ATT
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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“It takes two to tango,” noted Peru’s delegation during Tuesday morning’s plenary meeting. The Peruvian delegate was arguing that the arms trade treaty (ATT) needs balance between the rights and obligations of importing and exporting states. But these are not the only two elements tangoing in these treaty negotiations. The relationship between weapons and ammunition must also be taken into account in order to ensure that for any weapon included in the treaty, its ammunition is included as well.

The vast majority of delegations seem to support the inclusion of ammunition in the ATT. Only a few have argued that ammunition should be excluded. The US delegation, the most vocal member of this small group, has argued that it is too complicated. Speaking in an open committee meeting on scope, the US delegate argued that ammunition is a “fundamentally different commodity” than anything else being considered; that because it is “fungible, consumable, reloadable” and “cannot be marked in any practical way,” including it in the ATT would create too great a burden for licencing, authorization, and record-keeping.

However, ammunition is covered in many existing arms trade policies. The EU Common Position on exports of military technology and equipment and the Wassenaar Arrangement Munitions List both include ammunition. Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) noted in its 2011 report, Small, but lethal: small arms ammunition and the arms trade treaty, that the United States and other major arms exporters, including France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, adhere to one or both of these instruments, which “represents a pre-existing willingness and ability to control the export of ammunition.”

In terms of the “burden” of including ammunition, PRIO also points out that the current deficiencies in marking and tracing ammunition are irrelevant for an export control instrument such as the ATT. “In fact,” PRIO argues, “the lack of adequate tracing procedures for ammunitions makes it even more pertinent that the transfer of ammunition is controlled under a global instrument that harmonises export and transfer controls.”

The US delegation also argued that including ammunition in the ATT will do little or nothing to achieve the goals of the treaty. However, as has been expressed by countless other governments and civil society groups, the exclusion of ammunition would undermine the very goals and objectives of the ATT. As Benin’s delegation said on Tuesday, a gun without bullets is like an anchor without water. Many others have used a variety of such metaphors to emphasize the importance of including ammunition in the ATT. They argue that precisely because ammunition is consumable and reloadable, it must be covered by the ATT in order for the treaty to have any real effect on armed conflict, armed violence, gender-based or sexual violence, poverty, insecurity, or violations of human rights or IHL. If ammunition is not regulated, it will continue to flow to the countries and regions that are already awash with weapons, weapons which would otherwise be rendered useless without the constant resupply of ammunition.

More than 12 billion bullets are produced every year—nearly two bullets per person in the world. The Peruvian delegation demanded that “arms cannot continue being commercialized without regulations”. Neither can ammunition. The very fact of their mass production and mass export is what requires strict, effective regulation, especially if the ATT is truly to be an instrument for peace and security as the majority of negotiators and civilians desire. And the very fact of their mass production and mass export is what also requires the international community to address the excessive production, not just trade, of weapons worldwide. The economy of violence is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving the objectives of a robust ATT—and ammunition is one of its most deadly products. As the Holy See said during Wednesday’s meeting on goals and objectives, arms cannot be compared with any other goods. The world needs a treaty that does not merely protect commercial interests but that prioritizes human life and dignity.

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