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Research: The Arms Trade Treaty

News Story

Dyson College of Arts and Sciences Professor and Model UN Adviser Matthew Bolton, PhD, draws on his years of experience traveling around the world to research the humanitarian impact of weapons and engage in advocacy on the Arms Trade Treaty.

Dyson College of Arts and Sciences Professor and adviser to the Model United Nations program Matthew Bolton, PhD, has been around the world and back as an aid worker, researcher, and journalist in 17 countries—experiences that piqued an interest both as an advocate and as a researcher in the humanitarian impact of weapons on people.

“My interest initially came from seeing the impact of landmines on conflict-affected communities in Bosnia and Iraq as an aid worker 12 years ago,” Bolton says. “Ninety percent of the casualties from these weapons are civilians and there are still landmines in North Africa from when my grandfather fought in WWII.”

Bolton says his work with non-profits and the United Nations sparked his interest in the humanitarian impacts of weapons, and he began exploring issues beyond landmines including the impact of small arms and light weapons, such as the AK-47.

“People were beginning to describe small arms—such as the AK-47—as the real weapons of mass destruction across the world, since they caused so many civilian casualties,” he says. “As a result, I became interested in a coalition of humanitarian and human rights groups called Control Arms that was seeking better regulation and control over the international arms trade.”

Shortly after Bolton arrived at Pace in 2011, negotiations of a new Arms Trade Treaty began in New York. Bolton served as an adviser to the Control Arms campaign during the negotiations of the Treaty at the UN Headquarters from 2012 to 2013.

“I had the opportunity to watch the treaty grow from the beginning of the negotiations to the present process of implementation,” Bolton says.

The Arms Trade Treaty was finalized in 2013 and entered into force in 2014. It prohibits international transfers of weapons where there is a risk they could be used in war crimes, terrorism, organized crime, violations of human rights and humanitarian law, or gender-based violence. Bolton has remained an active expert on global disarmament policy—addressing the UN General Assembly First Committee on behalf of non-governmental organizations working on disarmament issues and more.

He received an almost $194,000 grant from the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) to kick-start an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Academy, in partnership with Control Arms, and study the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty in East Africa. The project includes two in-depth seminars for officials and nongovernmental advocates concerning the implementation of the treaty.

“The idea of the ATT Academy is to provide in-depth instruction to the small group of officials in East Africa who will be most responsible for implementing the treaty in their own context and have thorough knowledge about it so they can also provide input to other people who are in their domestic political system,” Bolton says.

Bolton says the Academy held one seminar in June in Kenya and plans to hold another soon. The group is providing online learning in between seminars that is still being developed, and is also going to publish a research report on the applicability of the Arms Trade Treaty to address poaching, which is a major issue in East Africa.

He says the Arms Trade Treaty could play an important role in the response to wildlife crime—one of the largest illegal markets in the world—by limiting the flow of types of weapons to poachers.

Bolton brings his expertise in this topic to the classroom as Pace’s Model UN program adviser.

“I am able to bring my knowledge of the process of international diplomacy into my teaching,” he says. “Many students will discuss the issues that I study, and I am able to draw on the process of watching and participating in what’s happening at the UN headquarters into the classroom.”

Bolton says since the treaty was only completed in 2013, it will take a few years to be accepted into domestic legislation around the world.

“Governments are reviewing it and considering what laws and policies will be necessary to implement the Treaty,” he says. “That is the process we are in now.”