The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Where is the American development and humanitarian voice in the ATT negotiations?

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If development is a core pillar of US national security, then development experts must have a seat at the table when decisions are made at multilateral forums that impact development.

On the road between Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul.  Arms control regulations must strengthen development efforts in countries like Afghanistan.  Photo by the Control Arms campaign.
On the road between Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul. Arms control regulations must strengthen development efforts in countries like Afghanistan. Photo by the Control Arms campaign.

Section 2773 of the US Arms Export Controls Act states that since “the problems of Sub-Saharan Africa are primarily those of economic development…the President shall exercise restraint in selling defense articles and defense services, and in providing financing for sales of defense articles and defense services, to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. “

I see this section of US law as an affirmation by Congress that guns and tanks alone do not make countries safe and that arms trade decisions must be linked to and strengthen poverty reduction efforts.

You’ve already heard that a person dies every single minute from armed violence, but this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the economic, social, and humanitarian impact that armed violence and conflict wreck on societies. Armed aggressors are a tangible, credible, and dangerous threat to the security and welfare of people in insecure areas. But insecurity generated by poverty, suffering, inequality, gender-based violence, corruption, and unaccountability, also pose threats to the entire global community. In Africa alone, Oxfam estimates that armed violence costs the continent 19 billion dollars a year, the equivalent of aid received in the same period.

But this is not reflected in the team the US government has chosen to send to the United Nations discussions on the Arms Trade Treaty this week. The voices of the US government departments that address the more subtle forms of violence and insecurity are conspicuously absent. The US delegation contains representatives from the State Department Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the Office of the Legal Advisor, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice. Many other government delegations attending the discussion in NY include staff from development ministries and humanitarian experts. And these governments fly their experts from across the world. So why is it then that USAID or the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration are not at the UN meetings? If Australia can fly aid experts to New York, surely the US can put some people on a quick 3-hour train ride up from Washington?

If development is a core pillar of US national security , then development experts must have a seat at the table when decisions are made at multilateral forums that impact development. The US National Security Strategy released last May by President Obama state that the US leadership “approach needs to reflect the fact that there are a set of development challenges that strongly affect the likelihood of progress, but cannot be addressed by individual countries acting alone…Particularly in Africa…these challenges are not adequately addressed bilaterally.”

On Tuesday the Obama administration’s negotiator for the ATT expressed his wariness to support the inclusion of a provision in the treaty that would require states to not authorize a transfer of arms if there is:

“a substantial risk that those arms would seriously impair poverty reduction and socio-economic development, seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient State or would not meet legitimate security needs with the least diversion for armaments.”

I can’t help but think that the Ambassador would not have made that intervention if the development voice of the Obama administration was present in New York.

US experts in development and humanitarian affairs sit in the same building in Washington as colleagues who are the leading exporters of arms and ammunition in the world. When the US decides how to use a multilateral treaty to control the unrestrained trade in conventional arms, the White House must force these people to start talking each other, if not at the water cooler, at the negotiation table in New York.

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