Arms Trade Treaty Conference: Focus on Diversion

Arms Trade Treaty Conference: Focus on Diversion

Post-shipment on-site inspections are one of the main focuses of the German presidency of the Eighth Conference of States Parties (CSP8) to the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which took place on 22–26 August in Geneva.  The ATT is the first legally binding international agreement that aims to establish common standards for regulating the trade in conventional arms.

In advance of the conference, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published two papers on post shipment inspections and stockpile management systems which help to inform manufacturers and exporters of the military materiel that will be the focus of controls on the value of on-site inspections and the opportunities to integrate the topic in design.   

States that adopt post-shipment on-site inspections shall continue to fully apply the export licensing assessment criteria that they are legally or politically required to implement, such as those under the ATT, the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual- use Goods and Technologies (Wassenaar Arrangement), and the European Union (EU) common position on arms exports. 

A growing number of states and international and regional organizations, provide assistance for the management and accountability of states’ small arms and light weapons (SALW) stockpiles. This support is generally categorized as physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) assistance. 


On-site inspections are a focused, short-term verification measure mainly aimed at ensuring that exported weapons have not been transferred in ways that contravene commitments provided by the importer. PSSM assistance is a longer-term engagement aimed at improving a state’s system of weapons management over time. 


The authors note that on-site inspections cannot replace the need for accountability throughout the life cycle of a weapon, which begins with effective and verifiable record-keeping.  For example, in Afghanistan, end-use monitoring officials of the USA-led Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan (CSTC–A) used a centralized, worldwide US Government system, the Security Cooperation Information Portal (SCIP), to record weapons distributed to Afghan security forces and subsequent end-use checks. However, CSTC–A colleagues simultaneously rolled out a separate database, CoreIMS, to Afghan security forces to register and manage these weapons themselves. This led to dilution of registration and data entry efforts in both systems.  Only about 40 per cent of items distributed by the US Government were ever actually recorded in the SCIP, according to a 2019–20 audit.


The US Army, among others, has since 2005 used radio frequency identification (RFID) devices embedded in ammunition packaging, and even in individual weapon systems in some cases, to automatically record when items enter and leave armories and magazines, and when they arrive in or depart from the possession of different units.   Conflict Armament Research and TTE-Europe GmbH, funded by the EU, have begun trialing RFID devices suitable for placement in individual small arms themselves.

SIPRI recommends that states conducting on-site inspections should explore requiring either manufacturers or importers to adopt and use RFID chips or other detectable tracking technologies, both as a means of inspection visits and as a means through which the importing state can improve its PSSM standards. 

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