August 21, 2009 | Executive Summary on International Organizations
On October 31, 2008, the U.N. General Assembly voted 145 to 2 with 18 abstentions for a resolution entitled "Towards an arms trade treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." The two nations voting against the resolution were the United States and Zimbabwe. The October resolution envisions a "legally binding treaty" that creates "common international standards" for "the import, export and transfer of conventional arms," including small arms and light weapons.
The U.S. should continue to oppose any treaty based on the October resolution. Although putatively intended as an arms control measure that would reduce conflicts and limit the ability of terrorists and organized crime to obtain weapons, the treaty contemplated by the resolution would in reality be a license to almost all states, no matter how irresponsible, to buy and sell arms. The projected treaty would endanger U.S. arms export control policy, clash with the Constitution, offer a dangerous justification for dictatorial rule, and make it illegal under international law for the U.S. to support freedom fighters abroad.
The "growing global consensus" rhetoric that the treaty's backers use to characterize its goals makes it unwise for the U.S. to ignore the campaign for the treaty. If the U.S. ignores it, the treaty will be drafted and adopted based on the October resolution. The treaty will then be established as another destructive precedent in multilateral arms control and a "norm" for sympathetic lawyers and judges in the U.S. to draw upon and thereby subvert U.S. sovereignty.
The U.S. should act now to clearly establish its opposition to the projected treaty and should work to bring other, more creditable states to its side.
What the U.S. Should Do. The United States needs to take a measured approach to the upcoming negotiations of the proposed arms trade treaty. While the U.S. should continue to participate in the New York-based working group, it should not allow this participation to be mistaken for acquiescence in or agreement with the discussions or any resulting treaty.
The U.S. should judge the acceptability of any treaty that emerges by the following tests and should refuse to sign any treaty that does not meet all of them:
The U.S. can and should seek to advance the control of the international import, export, and transfer of conventional weapons through means that are less dramatic but more effective than the projected U.N. treaty. To this end, the U.S. should:
Conclusion. The purported goal of the U.N. arms trade treaty is to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and organized criminals and to reduce conflict. These are worthy endeavors and should have the support of the United States and its democratic allies around the world.
However, a treaty based on the October 2008 arms trade resolution will not achieve these ends. Instead, it will further enable dictators and unscrupulous suppliers--including some European suppliers--to buy and sell arms. It will also provide a justification under international law for dictatorships to oppress their people.
Any U.N. treaty based on the October resolution that seeks to control the import, export, and transfer of conventional weapons will fail and, in failing, exacerbate the existing evils. If all U.N. member states were serious about its aims, no new treaty would be necessary. The unwillingness of the treaty's supporters to face this reality is the best evidence that the treaty is based on destructive illusions and will be a dangerous failure in practice.
Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow and Steven Groves is Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.