U.S. Backs Out of United Nations Arms Trade Treaty

Those who’ve waited years for a landmark United Nations treaty to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade will have to wait a little longer, as the United States along with several other member states backed away from the negotiating table this past Friday.  The reason?

Well, U.S. officials said they needed more time.  They were the first to make the announcement, but were soon followed by Russia and China who also asked for more time to review and consider the details of the Arms Trade Treaty.  

In a statement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. supports a second round of negotiations next year. 

“While we sought to conclude the month’s negotiations with a treaty, more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue,” Nuland said.

A pile of guns and magazines.Supporters of the treaty blasted the Obama Administration for not doing enough to close outstanding ‘loopholes’ and hatch out a revised ATT as the Friday deadline approached.

“This was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told the Associated Press.

“It’s a staggering abdication of leadership by the world’s largest exporter of conventional weapons to pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing an historic breakthrough,” Nossel added. 

For the past month, representatives from more than 170 countries were gathered in New York negotiating a treaty, which needed to be ratified by a unanimous consensus of all U.N. member states – a mandate the U.S. insisted upon when negotiations resumed in 2009. 

The conference chairman, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, knew that reaching agreement among all member states, “was going to be difficult to achieve.”

He told the Associated Press that negotiations ultimately failed because some delegation did not like the draft though “the overwhelming majority in the room did.”  He added that some countries from the beginning of negotiations had “different views” on a treaty, including Syria, Iran and North Korea.

UN Arms Trade TreatyLooking ahead, many believe that the door is still open for an ATT.  If talks continue and a finalized version is reached, delegates could bring the ATT before the U.N. General Assembly, where it could be adopted with a two-thirds majority vote.  Some are optimistic that a vote could occur as 2012 comes to a close. 

“We feel that we could have agreed (on a treaty). It is disappointing that more time is needed. But an arms-trade treaty is coming – not today – but soon. We’ve taken a big step forward,” said a spokesman for Britain’s delegation.

Ambassador Moritan, agreed with that assessment and sees moving forward in the General Assembly as a viable route. 

“We certainly are going to have a treaty in 2012,” he predicted. 

At the end of the day though, if the U.S. – the world’s biggest arms supplier – is not on board, it would be tough to imagine an ATT that would have any real practical reach or impact.  In short, without our blessing and involvement, any ATT is as good as dead.  Subsequently, the U.N. will have to wait until we are good and ready – not the other way around.

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