Transatlantic Approaches to Global Arms Control: Opportunities, Challenges, and Ways Ahead

The proliferation and trade of weapons and arms – from small and light weapons (SALW) to the global transfer of heavy weaponry – as well as the undermining of treaty-based approaches to nuclear weapons and chemical weapons pose significant threats to global peace and security. Particularly the controversial export of conventional arms by European and American companies to countries involved in conflict with heavy civilian casualties (such as currently in Yemen) or to countries with a track-record of human rights abuses (such as Egypt) warrants a broad reflection about an urgently needed change of policies.

At the same time, a variety of transnational threats, such as organized crime, terrorism, regional conflict, gender violence, piracy as well as large-scale atrocities are fuelled by illicit and uncontrolled arms sales and have also affected the stability in Europe’s and America’s periphery.

Whilst a variety of regional and international treaties and frameworks have been developed during the last decades, in particularly the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) of 2014, as well as a wide range of additional initiatives within the UN, NATO, the OSCE and bilateral approaches, effective implementation is still lacking. From a transatlantic perspective, the side-lining or direct undermining of multilateral organisation and initiatives have contributed to a lack of progress on arms control and comprehensive regulation.

The ATT, currently signed and ratified by 110 states, is the first legally binding global treaty to regulate the international trade in arms, with a particular emphasis on preventing weapon sales to regions and countries where a risk of human rights abuses may exist. Whilst the European Union has been a strong advocate of the ATT and all European member states have ratified the ATT, there are still significant implementation gaps and clear violations of the spirit and letter of the ATT by European arms exporting countries, such as France, the UK and Germany. Furthermore, the US has signed in 2013, but not yet ratified the ATT due to opposition in the Senate and partially also due to intense domestic lobbying against the treaty by the National Rifle Association. In 2019, Donald Trump announced the US ‘withdrawal of its signature’ to the ATT. Given the fact that the US and European states (e.g. France, Germany, UK and Italy) are responsible for 2/3 of all arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa, a renewed push for transatlantic implementation of the ATT would benefit international peace and security efforts. At the same time, the fact that China (although not Russia) has decided to sign the ATT in 2020 provides further openings for transatlantic engagement with China on the issue of arms trade regulations.

This research and policy advice project seeks to explore the potential opening for a new opportunity of transatlantic cooperation on global arms control. Transatlantic cooperation on this issue is not only crucial for the US and Europeans to address their own policies on arms trade and human rights violations, but ideally also to re-engage and reinforce multilateral approaches to the regulation of the arms trade around the globe. The project seeks not only to contribute to building a transatlantic consensus, but also to sketch out pathways towards stronger transatlantic support to a comprehensive implementation of existing instruments (including the ATT), despite current political obstacles.

Main Aims and Objectives of the Project

The project, carried out by the Global Governance Institute (GGI) in Brussels in close cooperation with The Stimson Center in Washington DC and Heinrich Boell Foundation Washington, DC has the following objectives:

  • Carry out an in-depth analysis of the current adverse consequences of the illicit and legal trade in arms (small and conventional), nuclear proliferation and recent developments in the use of chemical weapons
  • Assess policy possibilities of transatlantic convergence towards collectively tackling the adverse effects of the global arms trade
  • Exploring transatlantic approaches to strengthening multilateral fora in the realm of arms control, such as the UN, NATO, OSCE and OPCW
  • Provide concrete policy advice on the way ahead in transatlantic approaches to reducing human rights violations and adverse effects of the global arms trade


I.  Series of 3 joint online Workshops with experts from think tanks and research institutions, NGOs, governments and international organizations in the US and Europe on “Transatlantic Approaches to Tackling the Adverse Effects of the Global Arms Trade: Policies, Treaties and Multilateral Approaches” :

  • Workshop on Addressing the ATT’s Implementation Gap
  • Workshop on Tackling the renewed threat of chemical weapons (and strengthening the role of the OPCW)
  • Workshop on the role of transatlantic leadership in the UN, NATO and the OSCE in tackling the threat of small and light weapons.

II. In-depth report on Transatlantic Approaches to Global Arms Control: Opportunities for a new Dawn?

III. Dissemination event with high-ranking policy officials from the US and Europe to present the finding of the policy report

About the Main Project Partners

The Global Governance Institute (GGI) is an independent, international think tank focusing on major challenges to global governance in the field of peace and security, human rights and global justice, sustainable development and global economic regulations. It’s flagship peace and security unit has carried policy advice projects for, inter alia, the European Parliament, UK DIFID, the French Ministry of Defence, the German Ministry of Defence and the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office. In 2013, GGI was the first think tank to co-organize a series of conference and workshops on the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty in the European Parliament (see Parliamentarians for Action ). Recent projects include a comprehensive advice project for the German Ministry of Defence (UN unit) on Implementing the Protection of Civilians in UN Peace Operations (in cooperation with the University of Leiden and the University of Kiel).

For further information, visit

US Partner: The Stimson Center

The Stimson Center is a leading American think focusing on major issues of peace and security, prosperity and justice. Its Conventional Defense unit has contributed a wide range of analyses and workshops on the topic of global arms trade regulations and various implementation angles of the Arms Trade Treaty (including a comprehensive gender-based violence risk assessment). The Stimson Center has excellent links to US policy-maker circles and civil society and addresses security challenges from a comprehensive perspective.

For further information, visit:

Heinrich Boell Foundation Washington DC Office

The Heinrich Boell Foundation is a non-profit organization that is part of the global green movement. The foundation is based in Berlin, Germany, and has a network of over 30 offices around the world. It advances political and socioeconomic transformations through civic engagement and political dialogue. The Washington, DC office, in line with the foundation’s guiding principles and values, works to strengthen civil liberties, human rights, and democratic institutions. It promotes gender equality, social justice, and equity. It strives to preserve a habitable planet for current and future generations. As an independent 501(c)(3) organization, it runs global and transatlantic dialogue programs. The office works to shape multilateral processes and the norms that govern them, and to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Europe.

The DC office fosters these goals through a diversity of projects such as public seminars, fellowships, study tours, and publications.

For further information, visit


Share this page