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In July, negotiations at the United Nations are expected to conclude an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to control global small arms sales. The National Association of Evangelicals has jumped on board with many left-leaning religious groups to implore President Obama to “seize the historic opportunity.”
The Bush Administration had withheld support for the ATT idea, preferring focus on domestic regulation by responsible national governments over problematic arms sales. Seemingly the current administration is on board. But a majority of U.S. senators have reputedly indicated opposition, making the treaty more a symbol than a likely fact, at least for the U.S.
Despite the seeming unlikelihood of ultimate U.S. ratification, religious and human rights groups in late May urged Obama to “spare no effort” in crafting a “bullet-proof” ATT. The letter explained that thousands are “slaughtered each year by weapons that are sold, transferred by governments or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups.” Faulting the “lack of high common international standards in the global arms,” the signers claimed an “effective international legal regulatory framework” would help reduce “human suffering and instability.”
Well, maybe. But too often even moderate religious groups, much less the Religious Left, are willing to trust international treaties to achieve global harmony. In reality, dozens of regimes globally, even after they sign ATT, will disregard it in pursuit of their own interests. More lawful regimes like the U.S. and other Western powers will be stuck under its authority, gaining little tangible leverage over renegade arms transfers.
“We encourage you to be bold and work with like-minded states to achieve the strongest possible standard,” the religious and other letter signers told the President. They didn’t comment on the possibility, or even likelihood, that non-like-minded regimes will contravene or even exploit the treaty, among other unintended consequences.
The letter writers told Obama he should include ammunition, as well as arms, under the treaty’s authority. And they encouraged him to reject “erroneous claims” that ATT would “infringe on the right of U.S. citizens to legally possess firearms. They also suggested that Secretary of State Clinton deliver the U.S.’s opening statement at the negotiations to highlight Obama’s personal commitment to ATT.
Critiquing ATT, Ted Brumond of the Heritage Foundation noted the treaty is “aspirational.” Its principles might be reasonable among the lawful democracies. But expecting Syria or other dictatorships to consider the human rights consequences of arms transfers of course is absurd. Limits would impose on the U.S., which will abide by the treaty, but outlaw states will claim its rights under the treaty to buy and sell arms while ignoring its restrictions. ATT is similar to domestic gun control. Law abiding citizens, who aren’t the target, comply. But criminals of course ignore it and are often further empowered.
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