WASHINGTON — Fifty U.S. Senators, half of the Senate’s membership, say they will not ratify a U.N. Arms Trade Treaty signed by the United States. Their opposition to the treaty was expressed in a letter to President Barack Obama.
The legally-binding treaty sets international standards to regulate the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons - from battle tanks, warships and attack helicopters to small arms and light weapons.
Ann MacDonald, head of arms control for the humanitarian group Oxfam, said the treaty also covers ammunition.
“That is really important” she said “because while arms are often recirculated time and time again, and we see this particularly in conflicts in Africa - without ammunition, they are a lot less lethal. We have seen in some conflicts that the supply of ammunition is literally the fuel that keeps the conflict going,” said MacDonald.
The Arms Trade Treaty was passed by the United Nations last April by a vote of 154 to three with 23 abstentions. Only Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against the pact.
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, said the pact tries to plug many holes in the international system regulating the conventional arms trade.
“Many countries don’t have export controls. Many countries that have laws don’t have the ability to enforce. And then there is the illicit trade, the black market that goes below the radar, below these export control systems of the national governments,” said Kimball. “So the treaty is necessary in order to establish global standards that apply to all states, so that irresponsible arms suppliers and buyers can’t exploit the holes in the national laws.”
Oxfam's MacDonald said the treaty has an important human rights provision. “For the first time, it sets up a global system that requires governments to assess every arms transfer that is leaving their country, coming into their country or passing through it,” said MacDonald. “They have to assess that transfer against the risk that arms will be used for human rights violations or violations of humanitarian law. And if those risks are very substantial, they must deny the arms transfer.”
More than 110 countries - including the United States - have signed the treaty since it was open for signature in June. But only a handful [seven] have ratified it.
In the United States, the National Rifle Association - a powerful gun lobby group - has expressed its opposition to the treaty, as well as 50 U.S. Senators, half of the membership of the upper house. For a treaty to be ratified, it must gain the approval of 67 Senators.
Opponents of the pact argue that the Arms Trade Treaty infringes on the rights of Americans to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is part of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing individual freedoms.
MacDonald said the treaty is “not about domestic arms control, however, it’s about international transfers. And that’s an important message for Senators to really hear, as well, because sometimes there is misinformation going around that this is a treaty that somehow will have an affect on domestic U.S. gun ownership issues, which it isn’t, because it has to do with international transfers,” she said. “The United States will not need to change its legislation to implement this treaty - the existing U.S. legislation is compatible in many areas with the provisions in the Arms Trade Treaty.”
Daryl Kimball said in the final analysis, U.S. approval of the treaty is not crucial.
“Ratification is something that this treaty deserves, eventually. But U.S. ratification is not essential or even necessary for the treaty to enter into force. It just takes 50 states [countries] - any 50 states - for the treaty to legally enter into force,” he said.
Many analysts say proponents of the treaty will have an uphill battle convincing a majority of U.S. senators to vote for ratification.