New York, NY – Just hours after President Obama’s re-election, a United Nations committee voted to proceed with a final conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) this coming March. The United States is one of many nations supporting the move.
Critics of the treaty in the U.S. include those with concerns about American arms sales abroad and Second Amendment issues. Even though the U.N. insists they should have no concerns, Second Amendment advocates believe the treaty will open the door to restrictions on gun ownership in the U.S. There is also fear the ATT could impact America’s arms sales decisions abroad, allowing some elements to use the treaty to restrict U.S. weapons sales to countries like Israel and Taiwan.
A key concern about the proposed treaty as it is now written is that, at any time after the ATT eventually goes into effect, any signing country can propose amendments. Any such amendments will be taken up at a conference of signatory states, where, according to the draft text, it “shall be adopted by consensus, or if consensus is not achieved, by two-thirds of the States Parties present and voting.”
If all 193 U.N. member-states sign onto the ATT, a 132-member bloc of developing nations would together constitute that required two-thirds majority, meaning that a treaty could conceivably be amended at any future point, even over the objections of the U.S. and its allies.
The Obama administration pledges not to accept a treaty that covers ammunition or explosives, while some European allies including Britain, France and Germany for example want it to cover “all types of munitions.”
The draft text prohibits the transfer of some categories of arms if doing so would facilitate war crimes. U.N. bodies have more than once accused Israel of war crimes against Palestinians. At issue with some in the United States is that such verbiage could be used to declare it a war crime to sell arms to nations like Israel.
If the administration does sign up to a final ATT at the end of the negotiations next March, the treaty would require U.S. Senate ratification. In a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last July, 51 senators warned they would oppose ratification of any treaty that does not “uphold our country’s constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership” and “explicitly recognize the legitimacy of lawful activities associated with firearms, including but not limited to the right of self-defense.”
Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), who organized the letter, said it signaled to the administration that “an Arms Trade Treaty that does not protect ownership of civilian firearms will fail in the Senate. Our firearm freedoms are not negotiable.”
Signatories included eight Democrats – Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Jim Webb (Va.), Mark Begich (Ala.), Bob Casey (Penn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Ben Nelson (Nebr.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Jon Tester (Mont.). (Nelson and Webb are retiring.)
Writing before Wednesday’s vote in New York, Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Ted R. Bromund, who monitored the ATT conference last summer, said the stakes were high, “and no likely outcome will be fully satisfactory from the U.S. point of view.”
“All the more reason, therefore, for Congress to return to the issue and to set out again their concerns about the flaws in the current draft of the ATT and those inherent in any ATT,” he argued. “The worst course of action would be for the U.S. to drift into a position where it feels pressured to sign an ATT that is incompatible with U.S. policies and liberties.”