Countries and advocacy groups that want a pending arms trade treaty to cover ammunition have failed to make their case, the Obama administration told the United Nations on Tuesday.
The world body has been engaged in a month-long effort to craft a treaty creating international standards for importing and exporting conventional weapons. The idea is running into domestic opposition in the United States — 130 lawmakers expressed their concerns in a letter to President Obama earlier this month — and on Tuesday a State Department official told the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that proposals to cover ammunition would cost a fortune and yet do “little or nothing to achieve the goals” of the treaty.
“It is fungible, consumable, reloadable, and cannot be marked in any practical way that would permit it to be tracked or traced. Any practical proposal for ammunition would need to consider the significant burdens associated with licensing, authorizations, and recordkeeping for ammunition that is produced and transferred in the billions of rounds per year," he added. "Because each State imports small arms and light weapons ammunition, these burdens would need to be assumed by each State at significant administrative and financial costs.”
Countryman added that the United States has asked over the past year for proposals showing how ammunition could be regulated in a way that would be both “practical and effective,” but has received “no substantive responses.”
His statement to the U.N. conferees comes on the same day as the national online movement GlobalSolutions.org delivered a petition, signed by more than 5,200 Americans, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the administration to "strongly support" a treaty that "blocks arms transfers to nations that violate human rights, includes rules for all conventional weapons like parts, tanks, and bullets, and is enforceable, transparent and effective."
Countryman said the United States “will continue to listen to any proposals for including ammunition.” A list of the administration's “key red lines” for the treaty published on the State Department website, however, includes that there “will be no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives.”
Here's his full statement:
Throughout the lead-up to this Conference, the United States has made clear that ammunition should not be included within the scope of the ATT. This position should not come as a surprise. It is what we have articulated in discussions about the UN International Tracing Instrument and the UN Program of Action. Let me be clear again about the reasons for our position.
The United States recognizes that the illicit trafficking of ammunition poses challenges to the international community and we have worked with our law enforcement partners and other nations in practical ways to meet these challenges. The Department of State Conventional Weapons Destruction Program has funded the destruction of over 90,000 tons of excess, loosely-secured or at risk ammunition since 2003. Our Department of Defense has partnered with many nations to upgrade the physical security and stockpile management practices at munitions depots. Nevertheless, we have argued, and continue to believe, that including ammunition within the scope of an ATT will do little or nothing to achieve the goals of the Arms Trade Treaty for several reasons.
Ammunition is a fundamentally different commodity than everything else we have discussed including within the scope of an ATT. It is fungible, consumable, reloadable, and cannot be marked in any practical way that would permit it to be tracked or traced. Any practical proposal for ammunition would need to consider the significant burdens associated with licensing, authorizations, and recordkeeping for ammunition that is produced and transferred in the billions of rounds per year. Because each State imports small arms and light weapons ammunition, these burdens would need to be assumed by each State at significant administrative and financial costs.
Our own experience in regulating domestic transfers has shown that there is little utility for law enforcement in imposing the same controls on ammunition transfers as we do on arms. Accordingly, the United States largely eliminated most controls on domestic transfers of ammunition.
For at least the last year, and in response to repeated pleas that the United States modify its position on ammunition, we have solicited proposals about how ammunition could be included within the scope of an ATT in a way that would be both practical and effective. We have received no substantive responses. It can be argued that national controls over ammunition transfers might help prevent ammunition being used for illicit purposes, but requiring such domestic controls is beyond the scope of a treaty regulating international transfers. Therefore, including ammunition within the scope of an ATT may sound desirable, but it will do little or nothing to further the goals and objectives of the treaty.
As the United States has said before, we will continue to listen to any proposals for including ammunition. Our criteria in evaluating such proposals are simple – they must be realistic and limited in the burdens they impose, and they must be effective in achieving the goals and objectives of the ATT. In the absence of such a proposal and a compelling case for its benefits, the United States remains steadfast in its opposition to including ammunition in the ATT.
—This post was updated at 12:25 p.m. with news of the petition to Secretary of State Clinton.