Document Type

Honors Project


The Arms Trade Treaty is hailed as a historic achievement in advancing human security by requiring states to put human lives over profit in decisions about conventional arms sales. In this thesis, I critically examine this claim. First, I assess the extent to which the ATT text represents a genuine advancement of human security, and second, I consider whether the ATT's operationalization is likely to change states' priorities in arms transfer decisions. Through a textual analysis of the ATT and case studies of the arms control experiences in the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Canada, I argue that the ATT does not genuinely advance human security and further that it is unlikely to have a positive impact in practice. Although the ATT advances both a human security and state security narrative a dissonance exists between the human security approach in the preamble and legal text. While the preamble takes a maximalist human security approach, the legal text only advances a minimalist human security account in the export controls that only prohibit transfers in cases where the item might be used to commit mass atrocities. The export assessments only ask states to consider the transfer's potential in contributing to "serious" violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. Second, regardless of the states' rhetorical commitment to human security principles and the existence of national laws to protect against such transfers, domestic backdrops explain why the US, Russia, the UK and Canada alike transfer arms to states that violate human rights. Thus, these domestic factors create a policy practice discrepancy and suggest that the ATT's minimal human security advancements, whether ratified or not, is unlikely to have a positive impact on the practices of states.



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