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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
U.S. Signs Arms Trade Treaty

Tom Z. Collina

The United States and 17 other countries signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on Sept. 25, pushing the number of signatories to the pact, which was opened for signature June 3, to 107.

Calling it a significant step toward controlling the illicit trade in conventional weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on behalf of the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, in a ceremony at the United Nations. “This is about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors,” Kerry said.

“It’s significant that the United States, which [accounts] for about 80 percent of the world’s export in arms, has signed,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a news conference. In 2012, states engaged in arms transfers totaling more than $85 billion, not including black market transfers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The ATT breaks new ground by establishing common international standards that must be met before states may authorize transfers of conventional weapons or may export ammunition and weapons parts and components. The pact also prohibits transfers that would lead to war crimes and attacks on civilians and requires states to report annually on all authorized arms exports.

The result of seven years of negotiations, the treaty was approved by the 193-member UN General Assembly on April 2 by a vote of 154-3, with 23 abstentions. The three votes against the treaty came from Iran, North Korea, and Syria, while major arms traders China, India, and Russia were among the abstentions. Entry into force requires ratification by 50 states; so far, only seven have ratified the treaty.

The Obama administration has not indicated when it might send the treaty to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle for approval. Opponents inside and outside the Senate say the treaty would restrict U.S. domestic gun rights. In a Sept. 25 statement, the National Rifle Association vowed to block U.S. ratification, calling the ATT an attack on “the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American.”

Responding directly to such concerns, Kerry said in his Sept. 25 remarks that “the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes.” He said that the administration would not support a treaty that was inconsistent with the ability of Americans to “exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution.”

In a Sept. 24 letter to President Barack Obama, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote that “[t]he Senate has not yet provided its advice and consent, and may not provide such consent. As a result, the Executive Branch is not authorized to take any steps to implement the treaty.”