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Compliance with international treaties : the case of France and the Arms Trade Treaty

ContributorsLepage, Claire
Number of pages52
Defense date2020-08-27

“ This is a serious test of EU countries' resolve to uphold their obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty and EU Common Position on Arms Exports. Several states have failed this test in the space of just a few days ”.2 This sentence was uttered by Mr. Ara Marcen Naval, Deputy Director for Arms Control and Human Rights. It refers to the application of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and its respect by European countries. In this context, European countries are accused of supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, as this country is involved militarily in Mali but also in the conflict which rages in Yemen since 2015. The latter conflict is problematic because it is the source of humanitarian crimes perpetrated by Saudi Arabia against Yemeni civilians. The Arms Trade Treaty, also known by the abbreviation “ ATT ”, is a United Nations' treaty which was initiated by many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and some States, including the United-Kingdom (UK) and France. After many discussions and committee meetings since 2009, the Treaty was accepted on April 2, 2013 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Finally, it came into force on December 24, 2014, after its signature by 130 States. The primary goal of the Arms Trade Treaty is to control the flow of small arms and light weapons between States. It aims at ensuring that weapons are not exported to countries that have illicit intentions and that might misuse it. Because the ultimate objective of the Treaty is to limit violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Thus, an ATT State Party should not sell weapons to a country which commits humanitarian crimes. In order to guarantee the proper functioning of the Treaty, the States must provide public two reports : one, in initial reports, on the measures taken to apply the Treaty and another, annual, listing the arms exported from the country. Today, the ATT is ratified by 108 States including some of the major arms exporters in the world, namely France, Germany and the United Kingdom. In March 2020, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published its new international ranking of arms exporting countries. The first two places are occupied by the United States and Russia, but France and Germany, both members of the ATT, constitute the 3rd and 4th States respectively in terms of arms exports in the world. In figures, France has a share of 7.9 % and Germany of 5.8 % of the world market 3. In parallel, SIPRI also published the list of the major arms importers in the world. While arms sales to the Middle East increased by 61 % between 2010-2014 and 2015-2019, Saudi Arabia stands out by the increase by 130 % in its imports between 2010-2014 and 2015-2019 thus thrusting the country up to the first rank of arms exporters between 2015 and 2019 with 12 % of global imports 4. France has never denied its arms exports to Saudi Arabia, despite the country's involvement in the conflict in Yemen. Faced with this situation, it seems legitimate to question the effectiveness of the implementation of international treaties and particularly of the Arms Trade Treaty by France. In this specific case, we will endeavor to understand what are the reasons and explanations that incite France to undermine the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty by continuing its arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The apparent contradiction between the ratification of certain countries, notably some European States, of the Arms Trade Treaty which advocates the control of arms exports between countries in order to prevent them from perpetrating States crimes against International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and the exports of these same countries to States which are involved in conflicts that commit these crimes justifies these interrogations. During this study, I will try to explain why and how it is possible that France which ratified such a treaty does not respect it and continues selling weapons to countries that have been denounced by Human Rights advocates. More specifically, I will explain why France continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. This study is focused on France, but the same question and the same reflections can be true for other countries such as Australia who exports arms (which are likely to be found in the hands of terrorists in the Sahel region) to Mali and for many other countries. Thus, this thesis will try to explain how the Arms Trade Treaty is implemented and will show what factors undermine its implementation. My analysis herein shall focus on France, a State Party to the Arms Trade Treaty. I will highlight the French interests on the one hand and its application of the Arms Trade Treaty on the other hand. Nonetheless, this scheme is too simple. Naturally, French interests will have an impact on the French State's compliance with the ATT. To go a step further, we shall demonstrate that other variables may influence and interfere in this causal link, such as, for example, the degree of flexibility or rigidity of the Treaty.

Citation (ISO format)
LEPAGE, Claire. Compliance with international treaties : the case of France and the Arms Trade Treaty. 2020.
Main files (1)
Master thesis
  • PID : unige:158262

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