Trump Just Ditched a UN Arms Treaty, and He Was Right to Do It


Trump Just Ditched a UN Arms Treaty, and He Was Right to Do It

Apr 26, 2019 3 min read

Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Ted Bromund studied Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.
President Donald Trump holds up a signed document rejecting the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty at the NRA's annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 26, 2019. Scott Olson / Staff / Getty Images

On Friday, at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, President Donald Trump announced that he was un-signing the Arms Trade Treaty. As he put it, “The United Nations will soon receive a formal notice that America is rejecting this treaty.” 

He then pulled out a pen and, in front of the entire audience, signed a message asking the Senate to end its consideration of the treaty.

I have followed the Arms Trade Treaty closely since 2009, before the formal negotiations for it even began. The treaty purports to require nations to regulate the conventional arms trade. President Barack Obama signed it in 2013, but the U.S. never ratified it.

I have no doubt that the president has made the correct decision—and no doubt that he will be hammered for it by the progressive left, who loves to praise the treaty as much as it enjoys blaming the United States.

If you would like to read my argument against the treaty, it’s here. More importantly, the White House has released a short statement explaining the president’s decision. It is a model of clarity and accuracy. I doubt that the treaty’s friends will have any time for it, but that is their loss. I would love to see them try to rebut it.

A few points about the White House’s statement:

  1. It notes that the Arms Trade Treaty is “being opened for amendment in 2020 and there are potential proposals that the United States cannot support.” That is correct. The main such proposal was floated last summer at another U.N. gathering on conventional arms. It involves bringing ammunition fully into the Arms Trade Treaty, meaning that the U.S. would have to track or trace the billions of bullets that are sold internationally. The U.S. opposed this last summer because it is utterly impractical.
  2. The White House states that the treaty provides “a platform for those who would seek to constrain our ability to sell arms to our allies and partners.” That is true. Virtually every activist supporting the Arms Trade Treaty proclaims, at the top of their lungs, that it is about stopping U.S. arms sales.
  3. It points out that the treaty has “a track record of … being used by groups to try and overturn sovereign national decisions on arms exports.” That is quite right. The statement notes that the British government—which, idiotically, led the push for the Arms Trade Treaty—has gotten its just desserts by being repeatedly sued by activists in the name of the treaty.
  4. In its only mention of the Second Amendment, the White House states that, by un-signing, the president has ensured that the treaty “will not become a platform to threaten Americans’ Second Amendment rights.” The treaty’s supporters love to argue that it has nothing to do with curbing the Second Amendment. What they don’t mention is that many opponents of the treaty—myself included—urged them privately to make that clear in the treaty text. They refused to do so. The treaty is not a gun grab, but it is precisely what the White House says it is: a platform that gun control activists could potentially do great damage with.
  5. Finally, the White House notes that major arms exporters like Russia and China are not in the Arms Trade Treaty, and that “[t]he [treaty] cannot achieve its chief objective of addressing irresponsible arms transfers if these major arms exporters are not subject to it at all.” That is precisely what the Obama administration said as far back as 2010. It is also indisputably true.

I could not have written the White House’s statement any better. It is a slam dunk. I commend the White House for its decision, and for explaining it effectively and correctly.

This is not the end of the story of the Arms Trade Treaty. It still has 101 state parties around the world. The U.S. needs to follow up this decision to un-sign by pulling all U.S. funding from the treaty. And there are other bad treaties and institutions of the same type as the Arms Trade Treaty. We should quit them, too.

Most fundamentally, while it’s excellent to quit bad treaties, it’s even better not to let them get made in the first place. Far too often, the U.S. finds itself in the position of a hockey goaltender, who just has to stand there and stop shots. If you just let the other guy keep shooting, sooner or later you’re going to get scored on. 

We need to take hold of the puck, skate down the ice, and put some pressure on the other side.

But first things first. The White House has made the right call on the Arms Trade Treaty, and it’s made the right call for the right reasons.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal