(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s decision to sign a global conventional arms trade treaty despite deep misgivings on Capitol Hill and among Second Amendment advocates drew strong reactions from lawmakers on Wednesday, underlining the ratification battle ahead.
Signing the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the administration’s assertion that the document does not affect individuals’ constitutional right to bear arms.
He said it achieved three important priorities for the U.S. – “a more peaceful world,” “a higher level of security” and “protection of human rights.”
“That, frankly, is a trifecta for America, and that’s why we’re proud to sign this treaty today.”
Given the current global focus on the conflict in Syria, proponents argue that the ATT ultimately will make it harder for a country like Russia to arm violators like the Assad regime. The treaty bars weapons transfers that would violate embargoes or be used for acts of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
One criticism raised by opponents is the impact the treaty could have on America’s sovereign arms sales decisions.
The U.S. already maintains what the administration says is recognized as the world’s “gold standard” in export controls for arms transfers, but under the ATT, countries hostile to U.S. allies like Israel and Taiwan would likely challenge U.S. weapons sales to them. (A majority of U.N. member states have backed texts accusing Israel in particular of grave human rights abuses.)
“The ATT outrageously forces the United States – the world’s most important defender of peace and democracy – onto equal footing with the world’s worst dictatorships and terror-sponsors,” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said in a statement criticizing the signing.
“Under this treaty, our crucial support for friends like Israel and Taiwan is endangered while enemies of these nations are empowered,” he said. “On the turbulent global stage, it risks preventing the good from doing good while doing nothing to prevent the bad from doing bad.”
Kelly organized a letter signed by 130 lawmakers last May, urging President Obama and Kerry to reject the treaty: “As members of Congress, we will oppose both the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty and any effort to treat it as internationally or domestically binding upon the United States.”
In his comments in New York, Kerry confronted the Second Amendment concerns.
“This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom,” he said. “In fact, it recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) noted that the treaty urges countries to keep records of arms transfers, including information on end users, “for a minimum of ten years” (article 12).
“Data kept on the end users of imported firearms is a de-facto registry of law-abiding firearms owners, which is a violation of federal law,” it said in a statement. “Even worse, the ATT could be construed to require such a registry to be made available to foreign governments.”
“This treaty threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme,” said NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Chris Cox. “The NRA will continue working with the United States Senate to oppose ratification.”
‘Dead in the water in the Senate’
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) called the signing “a direct dismissal of the bipartisan Senate majority that rejects this treaty” and said he was “confident the Senate will overwhelmingly oppose ratification of the ATT, and ultimately refuse to uphold its object and purpose.”
Fifty-one senators signed a letter drafted by Moran in July 2012 signaling their opposition to the ATT. Ratification requires a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate.
On Tuesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) urged Obama “not take any executive action to implement this treaty, provisionally or otherwise,” unless and until the Senate ratifies it.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) in a letter to Kerry said the administration was wasting its time, the Senate’s time, and the United Nations’ time, “by signing a treaty which does not have the support of the Senate or the American people.”
“Sec. Kerry and President Obama are at it again,” Inhofe said in a statement. “As we saw in 2009 with cap-and-trade in Copenhagen, Sec. Kerry and President Obama are being dishonest by telling the United Nations that we’ll be a part of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty is already dead in the water in the Senate, and they know it.”
But Human Rights First, one of many non-governmental organizations welcoming the decision to sign, said the treaty “sends a strong message to those countries committing mass atrocities, like the current Syrian regime, as well as those who are arming them, like Russia.”
Russia, the world’s second-largest arms exporter, was one of 23 countries that abstained when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the treaty in a 154-3 vote last April. The “no” votes came from Syria, Iran and North Korea.
It remains to be seen whether Russia will sign, let alone ratify, the treaty. It was not among the 107 nations to have done so by Wednesday night. The ATT will come into effect once 50 countries have ratified it; just six have so far done so – Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica, Guyana, Iceland, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago.
Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Ted Bromund pointed out Wednesday that the administration itself had said three years ago that excluding the top arms exporters or “not getting a universal agreement would make any agreement less than useless.”
“Today, the ATT is far from universal, as major irresponsible arms exporters such as China and Russia did not even support it in the consequence-free vote in the U.N. General Assembly,” Bromund said. “Yet the administration still supports the ‘less than useless’ treaty.”