Looking Back to Move Forward: The ATT Monitor Evaluates Five Years of ATT Reporting

Carina Solmirano, ATT Monitor Coordinator, Control Arms

This blog is the latest in Disarmament Dialogue’s series on the role of monitoring in humanitarian disarmament. The series examines the purposes, methods, challenges, findings, and impacts of monitor initiatives in different areas of disarmament. A current list of monitors is available here.

A transparent trade in conventional arms is fundamental to fulfilling the object and purpose of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the first treaty that strives to establish the highest global standards for regulating the international trade in conventional arms in order to reduce human suffering. Transparency, listed under Article 1 as one of the ATT’s purposes, provides clarity about arms transfers, contributes to confidence building among states, and prevents potential arms races.  Before the adoption of the ATT in 2013, the only global mechanism that promoted transparency through the sharing of annual information on arms exports and imports was the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA), a voluntary reporting mechanism.

Under the ATT, reporting is an obligation for all states parties. Accurate, comprehensive, and timely reporting is a prerequisite for transparency.  Article 13 of the ATT establishes two types of reporting obligations for states parties. They must submit an initial report on their national control systems within a year of accession to the treaty (Article 13.1) and they must submit annual reports by May 31 of their arms exports and imports for the preceding calendar year (Article 13.3).

The ATT Monitor, a project of Control Arms established in 2015, is the only de facto monitoring mechanism for the Arms Trade Treaty and serves as a source of information on the implementation of and compliance with ATT. It produces authoritative, fact-based research and analysis that serves to strengthen treaty implementation efforts and seeks to improve the transparency of the conventional arms trade. Since its inception, the ATT Monitor has been tracking and monitoring ATT states parties’ compliance with reporting obligations.

ATT Monitor report cover, depicting submarine at sea.
Credit: ATT Monitor, 2021.

As of August 2021, 110 countries are states parties to the ATT, including China, the fifth largest arms exporter, which joined the treaty in July 2020. Seven years after the ATT became international law, the ATT Monitor finds that many states parties have not upheld its purpose of promoting transparency or complied with its obligation to report on arms transfers. Let’s see why.

The ATT Monitor 2021 Annual Report, launched during the recent Seventh Conference of States Parties (CSP) to the ATT, includes an in-depth analysis of five years of annual reports, covering 2015 to 2019, submitted by states parties to the ATT Secretariat. The review takes a look at three different reporting categories to evaluate whether and to what degree, after five years, the reporting obligations and transparency objectives of the ATT have been fulfilled. Specifically, the ATT Monitor considers whether these reports:

  1. Are compliant with Article 13.3 reporting obligations: Are they submitted to the ATT Secretariat, are they submitted within one week of the May 31 deadline, and do they include both exports and imports of arms covered under Article 2.1 of the treaty and/or include nil reports?
  2. Are meaningfully transparent and contribute to the transparency aims and objectives of the treaty: Are they submitted and made publicly available on the ATT Secretariat website, do they provide information that is disaggregated by weapon type and importer/exporter, do they indicate if the transfers are actual or authorized, and do they provide the number of units or financial value for each weapon type?
  3. Contribute to a higher standard of transparency: Do they, for example, provide descriptions and/or comments of reported transfers, including ‘0’, ‘nil,’ or any indication that no transfers were made or include any other kind of additional information?

The methodology of the study can be found in this chapter.

There were 61 reports due in 2015, 75 due in 2016, 89 due in 2017, 92 due in 2018, and 97 in 2019. (
This figure shows the number of states parties required to submit an annual report each year, which forms the basis of the ATT Monitor’s analysis. Source: Control Arms Secretariat, ATT Monitor 2021, p. 38.

The analysis conducted by the ATT Monitor presents a gloomy picture of states parties’ commitment toward reporting and transparency and therefore to the spirit of the treaty. Earlier editions of the ATT Monitor had already described two worrying trends: a decline in reporting compliance and an increase in the number of reports that are submitted for posting only on the restricted area of the ATT Secretariat website (confidential reporting). Together, these trends limit our knowledge of whether arms transfers are being conducted in good faith. This is discouraging as one would expect that over time, states parties would develop more capacity to be compliant with the treaty.

It is worth mentioning that although the COVID-19 pandemic could have affected the ability of states parties to submit reports on their 2019 arms exports and imports by the May 31, 2020 deadline, the ATT Monitor notes that the geographic diversity of reporting states and non-reporting states indicate that political will is likely to be the main impediment.

Following the three distinct analyses conducted by the ATT Monitor, the five-year review highlights several key trends:

  1. Article 13.3 Annual Reporting Requirements: The analysis finds that fewer than half of states parties have fulfilled all of their ATT annual reporting requirements in any given year. For example, fifty-eight states parties have submitted a report every year they were required to do so while twenty-eight states parties have not done so in any year. This is concerning as the latter number represents a sizable percentage of reports due each year.
  2. Transparency Aims and Objectives: The percentage of reports due each year that comply with Article 13.3 reporting requirements and also provide the minimum information needed in order to achieve the aims and objectives of the ATT fell from 34 percent for 2015 to 21 percent for 2019. Only 12 states parties have been fully compliant with Article 13.3 reporting obligations and have submitted reports that contribute to the transparency aims and objectives of the treaty every year a report was due.
  3. A Higher Standard of Transparency: During the period of analysis, a small group of states parties that has submitted publicly available reports each year has included more than the minimum information by providing comments on the nature of a transfer or descriptions of the types of arms exports and imports. Only these eight states parties have been fully compliant with Article 13.3 reporting obligations, submitted reports that contribute to the transparency aims and objectives of the treaty for every year a report was due, and included information that contributes to a higher standard of transparency.

The fact that only eight states parties stand out as transparency champions in the study is a sign that much more needs to be done. The ATT is still a young treaty and as such more progress towards greater transparency is possible. Civil society initiatives like the ATT Monitor as well as the work developed by the ATT Working Group on Transparency and Reporting (WGTR) and the ATT Secretariat provide opportune platforms to keep states parties accountable to their obligations while supporting national capacities to improve their reporting practices and improved the much-desired transparency goal in the arms trade.