Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2011

Transit and trans-shipment controls in an arms trade treaty

paul holtom, Mark Bromley

July 2011

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute


The drafting of an arms trade treaty (ATT) represents a unique opportunity to define common state responsibilities for exercising control over the different stages of the arms transfer process and, as a result, prevent illicit and destabilizing arms transfers. A large proportion of arms transfers transit through third countries. Therefore transit controls provide opportunities to strengthen state control at a stage when arms shipments are particularly vulnerable to diversion to illicit markets. This paper provides an overview of existing international and regional agree­ments and best practices for controls on transit and trans-shipment. It discusses national implementation and enforce­ment of transit controls, paying particular attention to licensing and authorization, record keeping and information sharing as areas where an ATT could contribute to enhancing transit controls and their enforcement. A case study from the United Arab Emirates shows how 16 000 handguns and related ammunition worth more than $4 million were mislabelled to evade transfer controls when travelling through several states. The case study also shows how arms transfer control legislation can be effectively utilized to pursue a criminal case against those involved, but that more international cooperation is need to ensure that all of the parties involved in such activities are held accountable for their actions.