News / USA

Many US Senators Oppose Ratifying UN Arms Trade Treaty

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 Treaty

  • Approved in U.N. General Assembly by a vote of 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions
  • North Korea, Iran and Syria voted against the treaty
  • Regulates trade in conventional arms
  • Does not ban or prohibit the export of any type of weapon
  • Does not impair states' right to self-defense
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.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
October 20, 2013 5:09 PM
The UN Arms Trade Treaty exists only in the dream world. Most of the countries cannot control arms supply and trade including the US. Even the US cannot control arms trade both within the US and internationally. Anybody, who think that UN can accomplish what other countries cannot do, is living in a dream world. The idealistic President Obama of the US has to be cautioned about the practicality of the UN control of arms trade. It is unbelievable that the US voted for such UN resolution, trampling on the free trade and sovereignty of the US.. My hats off to the US Senators, at least once!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs