Stop UN Global Arms Treaty

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“If we do not hang together, we hang separately.” That was Benjamin Franklin's line, as paraphrased by the chair of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly last November shortly after it approved a “final” negotiating conference for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

That conference began on Monday and will run until a week from today, next Thursday, March 28. When it ends, by all accounts, our government is ready to support the ATT, a fundamentally flawed treaty that threatens American liberties at home and security and freedom abroad.

President Obama and others inclined to support this treaty would do well to remember another one of Mr. Franklin’s admonitions: “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

The ATT seeks to regulate the global trade in conventional armaments, from revolvers to F-16s and everything in between. It also poses a serious risk to constitutional rights protected by the Second Amendment. While the treaty refers to the sovereign right of nations to engage in arms transfers, it fails to recognize the inherent individual right to self-defense or the associated right of citizens to keep and bear arms.

The ATT calls for all nations to keep records of arms transfers, and suggests that these records include information on “end users,” e.g. private firearms owners. These records are to be sent to a newly-created "international secretariat," and may even -- if the current conference has its way -- be made publicly available to the entire world. A presidential administration with a zealous appetite for gun control would view all this as an enormous gift.

The gun-controllers have long believed that, if they want to stop the international arms trade, they need to clamp down on your Second Amendment rights. As the State Department’s former top lawyer, Harold Koh, wrote in 2003 as a law professor at Yale, “stronger domestic regulation” is the “only meaningful mechanism” for stopping the illicit international arms trade.

But the ATT would not make the world a safer place. In fact, it would increase the dangers that we and our allies face. As drafted, the treaty would endanger our ability to supply our allies by requiring us to apply a lengthy set of criteria to all proposed arms transfers, without exception. This checklist approach is at odds with our current system, under which the U.S. balances a number of factors when considering an arms export, which allows us to ensure that we can defend our national security interests.

Equally disturbing is the treaty’s repeated use of easily politicized language – e.g. “international human rights law,” along with its dubious rule for determining whether a transfer would “undermine peace and security” – that will be quickly translated to mean different things to different countries with different agendas. Common sense tells us that such vague terminology will be misused by nations like China and organizations like the U.N. to seek to curtail U.S. arms sales to our closest allies, most notably Taiwan and Israel.

This is the ATT’s greatest flaw: it places democracies and dictatorships on an equal footing, while everyone knows that dictatorships have no intention of abiding with this or any treaty. If they did, then they would stop arming terrorists and breaking U.N. Security Council arms embargoes now; they wouldn’t wait for a treaty.

The ATT will be negotiated by U.N. member states like Syria, Cuba, and Iran, all of whom routinely commit egregious human rights violations. Naively negotiating a treaty that will bind us, in the hope that some of the world’s most oppressive regimes will follow the rules and play nice, is naïve at best and dangerous at worst.

The U.S. should stand for liberty at home and abroad. It should, as it already does, recognize that U.S. arms exports need to be responsible. It should support U.N. arms embargoes, and not arm those who commit genocide and massacre helpless women and children. But a new treaty, negotiated and signed with the dictatorships, will not bring the rest of the world up to our level.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said that the U.S. has the “gold standard” of export controls on arms transfers. I agree. This is why my friend Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and I introduced a bipartisan concurrent resolution in the House and Senate last week to oppose the ATT. And it is why I created, where more than 22,000 Americans have already called on President Obama to reject this treaty when it comes before him. 


The U.N. is asking us to put our security and our commitment to our allies at risk for the sake of a new global standard that will undoubtedly fall short of the one we already have, while simultaneously threatening the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We must not “hang together” with the U.N. We should instead continue to pursue our own arms export control system with an unabated commitment to liberty.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) is the House sponsor of H. Con. Res. 23, a bipartisan concurrent resolution to oppose the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.

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