Thomas Countryman
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
Washington, DC
March 20, 2013

Mr. President, I will focus my remarks on Article 4, on why it contains the phrase “overriding risk”, and why this phrase must remain.

In the U.S. view, the international trade in conventional weapons is a legitimate commercial activity. Some NGOs may view this trade as illegitimate, but we have not heard this view from any state delegation. Every state in this room imports weapons. Every state in this room justifies such imports on the basis of their contribution to peace and security.

The United States, like the EU and other major exporters, has an advanced and complex export control system for such decisions. It begins with evaluating the potential contribution to peace and security, whether the proposed export can assist another state party to resist foreign aggression, to combat terrorism, or to oppose narcotics traffickers or criminal gangs.

The United States - like others - in this same process assesses the risk that the arms exports can be misused for abuses of human rights. It is the essential duty of the United States – codified in our legislation - to weigh the positive effects of the arms sales against the risk of a negative effect. This is the meaning of the term ‘overriding risk,’ which was arrived at last year after long and careful negotiation.

To change to ‘substantial risk’ could be an explicit statement that arms exports cannot make – ever – a positive contribution to peace and security. To change ‘overriding’ to ‘substantial’ is to require states to ignore the substantial contribution an export can make to peace and security; put another way, it would require exporting states to ignore any substantial negative effect of failing to provide another state party the means to combat terrorism or aggression.

For this reason, the United States would be unable to join an ATT that significantly departs from the careful balance currently embodied in Article 4.