Diplomats Wrap Up Work on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty That Will Test U.S. Resolve

By Patrick Goodenough | March 28, 2013 | 4:37 AM EDT

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the final U.N. conference on the arms trade treaty, taking place in New York through March 28. He is flanked by U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs Angela Kane and ATT conference president Peter Woolcott. (U.N. Photo by Eskinder Debebe)

(CNSNews.com) – Diplomats from the United States and 192 other countries hope to wrap up negotiations by a Thursday deadline on a global conventional arms trade treaty that has eluded the United Nations for more than a decade.

Among the yet-to-be-resolved issues that will test the Obama administration’s commitment to its self-declared “red lines” is whether the arms trade treaty (ATT) will cover ammunition in a comprehensive way.

One of those red lines, laid down by the administration after it decided in October 2009 to reverse its predecessor’s opposition and take part in ATT negotiations, states: “There will be no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives.”

Yet the most recent version of the draft under consideration in New York includes a clause saying: “Each State Party [that is, a country that ratifies the treaty] shall establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition for conventional arms under the scope of this Treaty.”

The draft goes on to say that, “prior to authorizing any export of ammunition,” state parties must apply requirements of the treaty prohibiting transfers that would violate arms embargoes or facilitate acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The U.S. is the world’s biggest arms trader, and produces more than seven billion rounds of ammunition a year. The U.S. delegate at the talks, Assistant Secretary Thomas Countryman, has said that including ammunition in the ATT would be “hugely impractical.”

Well over 100 countries have made clear their support for including ammunition in the treaty.

Other declared U.S. red lines include refusal to back any treaty that undermines Second Amendment rights, with the administration stating that “private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms … must remain matters of domestic law.”

The administration argues that the treaty will not impact on the Second Amendment. The ATT is meant to cover transfers across international borders, and its key principles include, “Non-intervention in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.”

The American Bar Association supports the view that the draft does not affect Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

But gun rights advocates are not convinced by the assurances. The National Rifle Association (NRA) points out that the draft treaty requires state parties that import arms to “adopt appropriate measures to prevent the diversion of imported conventional arms … to the illicit market or for unauthorized end use.”

“Even if such measures were restricted to imported firearms, the effect would be immense; in 2010 close to three million firearms were imported into the U.S.,” the NRA said as the final negotiations got underway.

Yet another red line says the U.S. will not support any treaty that establishes “an international body to enforce an ATT.”

The draft does not include an “enforcement” body as such, but it does create “a secretariat to assist States Parties in the effective implementation of this Treaty.”

Within the first year of the ATT’s entry into force, every ratifying country will have to report to the secretariat on “relevant activities undertaken in order to implement this Treaty, including national laws, regulations and administrative measures.”

State parties must also provide the secretariat each year a report on the authorization or transfer of conventional arms during the previous year.

If the U.S. does endorse the final ATT text, Senate ratification will be required.

The Senate budget resolution that narrowly passed last weekend included an amendment, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), aimed at preventing the U.S. from entering into the ATT. The amendment passed by a 53-46 vote.

“Not only would this treaty disrupt diplomatic and national security efforts, but it would also subject the United States to implement gun laws as required by the treaty instead of the national controls that are currently in place,” Inhofe said after the vote.

“The American people have spoken, and it’s time Sec. [Secretary of State John] Kerry and the State Department put an end to ratifying this treaty.”

In a letter last July to Obama and Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, 51 senators (including eight Democrats) said they would not ratify any treaty that does not “uphold our country’s constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership” and “explicitly recognize the legitimacy of lawful activities associated with firearms, including but not limited to the right of self-defense.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow