On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly approved a comprehensive global arms trade treaty, concluding a decade-long pursuit to regulate the world’s annual exchange of $70 billion in conventional weaponry.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was elated with the result calling it an “historical diplomatic achievement” and declaring, in a statement, “This is a victory for the world’s people.”
According to Ban Ki-moon, the ATT will make it more difficult for deadly weapons to be diverted into the illicit market and it will help to keep warlords, pirates, terrorists and criminals from getting their hands on deadly weapons.
“It will be a powerful new tool in our efforts to prevent grave human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law,” said Ban Ki-moon. “And it will provide much-needed momentum for other global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.”
So, with that said, there are at least three questions that come to mind:
What the arms trade treaty does, in theory
As Ban Ki-moon iterated, the goal of the ATT is to keep bad people from getting munitions.
It aims to do this by getting member states that engage in the import, export and transfer of conventional arms to be more scrupulous and discerning before selling different categories of weapons to other countires and regimes.
Those categories include: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons.
Susan Bissell, Chief of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) laid out the ATT in a news release:
“The Arms Trade Treaty asks States to explicitly consider the risk that an arms transfer could facilitate serious acts of violence against women and children before allowing it to proceed,” said Bissell. “This is critical given that weapons are now one of the leading causes of death of children and adolescents in many countries, including many that are not experiencing war.”
In other words, member states that ratify the treaty will be pressured to do self-reporting, which would include an honest, public assessment of their transactions and the humanitarian costs associated with those deals. If the international community considers an arms deal to be harmful, i.e. it foments terror, abets genocide, leads to war crimes, violates embargoes, etc., then the member states involved in the transaction would earn the ire of the mighty UN.
Russia, which currently sells arms to war-torn Syria, might think twice about doing business with them under the new treaty, according to ATT proponents.
What the arms trade treaty does, in reality
Since there is no specific enforcement mechanism in place and since it relies on self-reporting and a ‘scout’s honor’ approach, it’s difficult to imagine that the ATT will have any tangible, real-world impact.
Who’s going to audit the reports? Who’s going to hold those who flout the regulations accountable?
The short answer: no one.
To make matters worse, Russia and China, both major players in the global arms industry, abstained from voting. While that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually follow suit, it shows an unease to embrace the ATT regulations.
Three other countries – North Korea, Iran and Syria – voted against the ATT. Big surprise there (In total, 154 countries voted in favor of the ATT, 23 abstained and 3 against)
Just as gun control does little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, it seems as though the ATT will do little to stop despots and dictators, international criminals and terrorists, warlords and pirates, failed states and corrupt regimes, etc. from getting their hands on munitions.
What the arms trade treaty means for American gun owners
This last concern is a bit vague at this point.
But according to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, the treaty will not do any of the following: “interfere with domestic arms commerce or the right to bear arms in Member States; ban the export of any type of weapon; harm States’ legitimate right to self-defense; or undermine national arms regulation standards already in place.”
So, it’s not supposed to meddle with the Second Amendment rights of US citizens.
US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized this point, saying in a statement, “Nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment.”
However, Republican senators are not convinced.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), one of several conservative senators leading the effort to prevent the US from ratifying the treaty said in a statement that the ATT was a “non-starter.”
“The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty that passed in the General Assembly today would require the United States to implement gun-control legislation as required by the treaty, which could supersede the laws our elected officials have already put into place,” said Inhofe.
“It’s time the Obama administration recognizes it is already a non-starter, and Americans will not stand for internationalists limiting and infringing upon their Constitutional rights,” he continued.
Though, as mentioned, it’s not really clear how the ATT will subvert the Second Amendment rights of Americans. In the weeks to come, as the Senate considers adopting the international agreement, hopefully the particulars of the ATT will be fully fleshed-out. Then we’ll know exactly what we’re up against.
In order to be adopted by the US, the Senate has to approve the ATT by a two-thirds majority.