President should ignore fear mongering and sign arms treaty

Syria, Iran and North Korea are the only three countries that voted against the Arms Trade Treaty passed by the United Nations General Assembly in April with support from 154 countries, including the United States. Now, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) want to establish their own “axis of misinformation” by spreading falsehoods about the Arms Trade Treaty.
 
That is truly unfortunate because the main objective of the treaty is to ban arms shipments that would be used to commit the attacks on civilians like we’re seeing in Syria or the horrors of genocide and war crimes around the world. It provides a powerful alternative to the current body bag approach of arms trade controls. Currently, the U.N. Security Council can only establish an arms embargo once the body bags start to pile up. Irresponsible arms sales to the Assad regime in Syria have forced more than 1.5 million women, men and children to flee the country and caused more than 80,000 deaths so far, according to the U.N. Absent a U.N. Security Council embargo and Arms Trade Treaty, unregulated arms transfers will continue.
 
Surprisingly, a handful of members of Congress have joined the misinformation charade and put their credibility on the line.  
 
Before their fear mongering gains traction, let’s review the facts.
 

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First, the Arms Trade Treaty has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. domestic gun laws. The treaty covers only the international trade of conventional weapons. The treaty explicitly removes domestic concerns from its scope by stating that it is “the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.”
 
Second, the treaty does not require the U.S. government to keep records of individual gun owners or domestic gun purchases or share these records with the United Nations. The treaty simply requires countries to submit a report on exports and imports of conventional arms for each year. The United States already makes such records public, which you can find on the Internet.
 
Third, the treaty provisions reflect longstanding U.S. foreign policy. The United States has long been a leader on establishing high standards on the trade of arms. Congress and successive administrations have worked together to develop a sophisticated system that protects U.S. security and human rights. Since the end of the Cold War, Congress has funded programs designed to help other countries develop systems similar to ours so that arms do not reach terrorist organizations and war criminals.
 
Finally, the treaty maintains U.S. sovereignty over U.S. arms trade decisions. In other words, the treaty does not establish a supranational body to enforce its provisions. The treaty is enforced by a requirement that state parties include the treaty’s principles in domestic law.  It remains up to Congress and our executive branch to further develop our export control system in line with the treaty provisions and longstanding American principles as they see fit without direct interference from an international body.

Moran and Kelly’s misguided rhetoric includes an argument that the Obama administration is abbreviating the review process, which is simply not true. Other recent multilateral arms agreements have had even shorter time lines. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed by the president only 14 days after the text was approved by the General Assembly. Likewise, the president signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) 46 days after the text was submitted to the United Nations. Like the CTBT and CWC, the United States played an active role in the negotiations of the ATT, working with other countries to ensure the treaty’s language was acceptable.
 
What the treaty will do is close the loopholes in the current, irresponsible global arms trade.  The treaty prohibits arms sales, leases or gifts if the exporter knows the arms will be used for genocide or the other most serious war crimes. If an export is not expressly prohibited, the treaty requires exporters to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment prior to any arms deal. The treaty requires states to withhold an arms transfer if there is an overriding risk of violating international human rights or humanitarian law.
 
The U.S. provided strong leadership in March and April by bringing the treaty to the U.N. General Assembly despite the attempted block by Syria, North Korea and Iran. The treaty is consistent with U.S. policy, excludes issues of constitutional concern and will save lives. President Obama should continue to provide leadership, ignore the fear mongering by a few congressmen and sign the treaty on June 3


Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America.