Transparency is fundamental for the success of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Avoiding secrecy in arms transfers will help reduce the opportunity for perpetrators of human rights violations, terrorism and organised crime to procure weapons. Australia not only imports and exports, but it has also played a major role in the development and ratification of the treaty. As such, Australia needs to have an excellent record of transparency in arms exports. According to the Small Arms Survey’s Transparency Barometer, Australia’s record of transparency is good, but could be better.
By further implementing regional frameworks, Australia could work to improve arms control and importation transparency across the Pacific while simultaneously examining its own policies. As a global arms control leader, Australia can, and should also play a key role calling for other States Parties to increase their transparency. Without transparency, the ATT is little more than words on a page.
The importance of transparency is especially clear in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which specifically declares its purpose as ‘promoting cooperation, transparency and responsible action.’ Without a verification mechanism, transparency is the only way to confirm that a State Party is compliant with the treaty.
However, calls for improved transparency do not always translate to the availability of open-source arms export data. Of concern is information left out of Annual Reports of exports approved and denied. As is discrepancies between importing and exporting states for a given arms transfer: state A might report that it sent 5 assault rifles to state B, but state B might only report receiving 3 assault rifles. Whether due to clerical error or questionable intent, transparency is the antidote to such inconsistencies.
Australia was one of the early proponents of the Arms Trade Treaty: it co-authored UN resolution 61/89, titled ‘Towards an Arms Trade Treaty,’ which called for a study of the feasibility of a potential ATT in 2006. It ratified the ATT on 3 June, 2014, and since then has donated a substantial amount of money to the UN Trust Fund Supporting Cooperation on Arms Reduction (UNSCAR). It has called for wider adoption of the ATT, particularly in Asia-Pacific, as well as supporting transparency projects like the ATT Baseline Assessment Project and the ATT Monitor.
In its cooperation efforts, Australia has endeavoured to support transparency-focused projects. In addition to the above projects, it has supported the Pacific Small Arms Action Groups’ efforts to improve ATT and UN Programme of Action on Small Arms reporting by Pacific countries, in an effort to improve transparencies. Moreover, its broader efforts to push Pacific states to join the treaty is in part an effort to ensure that the Pacific remains as transparent as possible. But when it comes to transparency, how does Australia compare?
Luckily, the Small Arms Survey produces a metric called The Transparency Barometer, partially funded by Australia, to measure the openness of arms trade policies. It features categories for timeliness of data, access and consistency, clarity of reported data, comprehensiveness of reported data, information on deliveries, licences granted, and licences denied. It measures all countries who export, or are presumed to export, over $10 million USD on a scale of 0-25 points, with 25 points denoting a high level of transparency.
Overall, Australia received a 12.25 score out of a possible 25. This places Australia slightly above the average of 11.16. Here is Australia’s score broken down across the different categories (for more details, see the coding guidelines):
|Rating Category||Rating (Total Possible)|
|Access and Consistency||1.00(2.00)|
Australia is more transparent than most. However, there are clearly areas where Australia can improve. Clarity is a significant category where it can improve; and this includes questions such as ‘Did the country provide information on temporary exports,’ and ‘Did the country provide information on its sub-regional, regional, and international commitments relating to the control of international SALW transfers, including brokering?’ Australia could also improve on the Licences Granted category, which includes questions like ‘Did the country provide information on licence recipients?’
If Australia continues to encourage other states in the Pacific to become ATT-compliant, then it should do everything in its power to improve its own record on transparency. Moreover, the benefits to transparency are many. Advocacy for transparency could solidify its role as a global and regional leader and strengthen its history of engagement with arms control measures. It would set a standard, as an exporter and large importer, for norms regarding importing/exporting transparency. Lastly, by providing an example of transparency, Australia could move the region towards tangible policy changes.
So how can Australia advocate for increased transparency in Pacific countries when its own record is mixed?
Regional frameworks provide an answer to this transparency-deficit. One such is the Nadi Framework, which addresses arms control issues in a specifically Pacific context. This common regional approach was adopted by the members of the Pacific Islands Forum, and could address several of the problems highlighted by the Transparency Barometer. For instance, Australia had lower scores both in areas of licences granted and licences refused. The Nadi Framework specifically commits states to a certain amount of transparency in record keeping, in addition to many other requirements. While Australia’s licensing system nearly complies with the Nadi Framework, much of the relevant licensing information is not available publicly, which limits transparency.
Another relevant framework for the Pacific is the Arms Trade Treaty Model Law, sponsored by the government of New Zealand (who are not measured in the Transparency Barometer because of insufficient amounts of exports). While many elements of Australia’s arms control laws are already mirrored in regional frameworks like the Model Law, the Model Law would nevertheless serve as an effective platform for encouraging the adoption of pro-transparency legislation by Pacific states. The Model Law would also serve as an effective vehicle for broadening the norm on arms reporting.
Three conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, Australia could do better vis-à-vis transparency by improving their own reporting. Beyond Australia, the regional frameworks remain an effective tool to help advance transparency in the region. Beyond the region, Australia must set an example and push for more transparency on a global scale.
When it comes to arms control agreements like the ATT, transparency matters. Australia has a good record on arms transparency, but it could do better. By adopting a regional approach, Australia could help set and push forward a norm on transparency not just in the Pacific. As an established leader on arms control, Australia’s efforts in the Pacific can provide a model for the rest of the world.
Post by Matthew Ribar, PSAAG’s Policy and Outreach Associate.