UN takes up arms trade treaty opposed by NRA

The United Nations on Monday will once again take up an arms trade treaty that has drawn the NRA's ire amid assurances that the Obama administration is “steadfast in its commitment” to getting it done.

ADVERTISEMENT
The White House helped pull the plug on treaty talks ahead of last year's election amid heavy lobbying by the U.S. gun lobby. Now the world body is taking another shot at reaching consensus on a treaty, and this time the Obama administration says it's committed to getting it done.

“The United States is steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement Friday.

“I wish the conference well and hope that we can reach consensus on a treaty that improves global security, advances our humanitarian goals, and enhances U.S. national security by encouraging all nations to establish meaningful systems and standards for regulating international arms transfers and ensuring respect for international law,” he said.

The NRA and conservative think tanks say the treaty would imperil Americans' right to bear arms. Senate Republicans on Thursday introduced a resolution urging Obama not to sign the treaty and calling on Congress to withhold funding to implement any part of it, saying it fails to “expressly recognize the … right to keep and to bear arms” and that its “vague” criteria for assessing the potential consequences of arms transfers could open up the United States to lawsuits.

Advocates and the American Bar Association say those concerns are ill-founded. They say the treaty would require the rest of the world to emulate America's tough arms export standards and require them to publicly respond to accusations that certain arms sales could be used to target civilians and otherwise violate humanitarian law.

Some Democrats are pressing the administration to toughen the language in the current draft of the treaty.

“The poorly regulated global trade in arms and ammunition continues to threaten the security and rights of millions of people around the world, exposing them to death, rape, assault and displacement,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote in a letter to Kerry and U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

“We encourage you to finalize a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty to prevent the sale or transfer of conventional weapons used to perpetuate conflict, armed violence and human rights abuses worldwide,” Grijalva said.

Some 51 senators have declared their opposition, making ratification a near impossibility in the near future. Treaty advocates say that leaves the ball squarely in Obama's court because other countries will follow the United States' lead.

They want the draft to be strengthened to:

• Ban arms transfers if exporting countries “know or should have known of a substantial risk” that the weapons would be used to violate humanitarian law;

• Establish clear standards that countries will have to use when assessing the risk that the weapons they export could be misused; and

• Create a comprehensive export-import control regime for guns and ammunition.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Kerry's statement is a good start.

“It sets a positive tone,” he said. “It should give the talks some real momentum.”

He and other advocates also see Kerry's new role at the State Department as an extra reason to be hopeful about the treaty's chances. As a senator from Massachusetts, he championed the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct Act requiring the president to begin negotiations on a multilateral arms export regime; that bill became law in 1999 and set the stage for the current UN effort.

“He clearly understands the many problems created by unregulated arms transfers,” Kimball said. Having Kerry as secretary of State “should help provide the extra boost that will be needed at the end to close the deal.”

The UN conference has until March 28 to get a treaty approved. If it can't reach consensus, the treaty could still go to the General Assembly for a vote.