A Bad UN Idea on Arms Deals


A Bad UN Idea on Arms Deals

Jul 1, 2012 2 min read

Former Senior Research Fellow, Center for National Defense

Peter researched and developed Heritage’s policy on weapons of mass destruction and counter proliferation.

The United States is set to foolishly join in a full-court press at the United Nations this week for a new treaty on the global conventional-arms trade.

The drive is to hash out a text by month’s end, but readouts of a UN “draft paper” on the accord’s goals suggest the Arms Trade Treaty is something to avoid like the plague.

The idea is to reduce violence, protect human rights and “promote a culture of peace.” To that end, the treaty would limit transfers of conventional weapons from signatory nations in an effort to fight the likes of terrorism, crime and insurgency.

But signing onto the treaty could harm our ability to arm America’s friends. For instance, some believe that it would empower China (a UN member) to limit US arms transfers to its rival, Taiwan (a non-member).

Washington is the only capital that now sells weapons to Taipei, aiding its defense against Beijing’s unprecedented arms buildup across the Taiwan Strait. China would love to cut off those sales.

The treaty also seeks to prevent “terrorists” from getting their grimy mitts on weapons. OK, but maybe the United Nations should first define “terrorist” — something it’s never been able to do officially.

In any case, who really expects state sponsors of terrorism to stop arming groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East, the FARC in Latin America and the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba in South Asia because of a piece of paper signed at the United Nations? Come on.

The treaty will also develop a list of criteria that will call upon states to keep arms out of insurgents’ hands or prevent the prolonging of a conflict. Sounds nice — but what if, for instance, we find a group at some point that we want to support that is fighting an evil government? Can’t do it.

Like so many treaties, the ATT would also be unverifiable. Washington will play by the rules as it always does; others will ignore them.

One more wrinkle: The draft language is vague enough, and the treaty’s main backers are big enough believers in gun control, that many will see the accord as a threat to Second Amendment rights here at home.

For example, the treaty may create a UN-based gun registry that would identify individual “end users” for firearms that are imported or are moved across “national territory” (e.g., the United States, were the US Senate to ratify it).

Identifying “end users,” of course, would likely require the feds to create new laws to enforce and comply with the treaty’s firearms edicts.

In short, there’s no end of reasons to avoid this accord — and no real reason to get near it.

The United States has a policy on the international arms trade that dates back to the mid-1990s; it calls for making transfers on a case-by-case basis and takes international arms-control agreements and sanctions into account.

It’s good policy — and it works. No need to slip on a treaty that will be little more than a UN-supplied straightjacket.

The ATT hasn’t been finalized yet; diplomats will natter away about it all month over cappuccinos in Turtle Bay. But the Obama administration isn’t doing the country any favors by playing footsie with a UN effort to take aim at our liberties and disarm our foreign policy.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

First appeared in The New York Post