The EU played a major role in the agreement of the Arms Trade Treaty and diplomatic progress with Iran, although it was thrown off-balance by Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
Europeans played a limited role when North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in February, as China and the US negotiated sanctions against Pyongyang that were approved by the UNSC. But, as the year progressed, the EU played a larger role in diplomacy over both WMD and conventional arms. In March, European diplomats played a major part in UN negotiations on the first Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This had come close to completion in 2012, but the Obama administration baulked at approving it for fear of offending the US gun lobby in an election year. The UNGA was finally able to sign off on the ATT in April, although powers including China, India, and Russia abstained on the text (the US has since said it will ratify the document). The Nordic countries and the UK had pushed hard for its completion, while Bulgaria played an important technical role in guiding negotiations. Although the treaty is relatively weak, it is a success for persistent European diplomacy through the UN.
By contrast, Europeans were caught off-guard by the Syrian chemical weapons crisis in August and September. While Britain and France initially appeared ready to act militarily, the US chose to negotiate a deal on destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal instead. A number of EU members were able to offer the UN and the OPCW technical support. Denmark offered ships to transport chemical weapons while Italy provided naval facilities (the EU has long been a major financial supporter of the OPCW).
Finally, Ashton was at the centre of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme in November. Although the impetus for a confidence-building agreement with Tehran came from secret talks between the US and Iran, Ashton was praised for steering final discussions through the EU3+3 mechanism. France briefly held up an agreement, demanding tighter limits on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but this was generally agreed to have strengthened the agreement. The Iranian case will almost certainly be the central test for non-proliferation diplomacy in the coming year, and the EU remains at the centre of this process.