This week, Secretary of State John F. Kerry signed the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty on behalf of the United States. In doing so, he and the Obama administration have made our country a signatory nation to a treaty that the Senate has signaled it won’t ratify.
In October 2009, the Obama administration reversed the policies of both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush by committing the United States to U.N. Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. Since then, the Senate has made it clear to the president on numerous occasions that it will not ratify any arms treaty that does not secure our country’s sovereignty and protect our citizens’ individual freedoms. These issues have not been resolved.
In fact, the State Department itself has described the goals of the treaty as “ambiguous,” hardly instilling confidence that American rights will be secure. Good treaties are not ambiguous, and our constitutional rights are too important to be entrusted to a dangerous treaty drafted by nations hostile to the ownership of firearms by private citizens.
After signing the treaty, Mr. Kerry stated, “This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom” and that it “reaffirms the sovereign right of each country to decide for itself how to deal with the conventional arms that are exclusively used within its borders.” While the treaty does include a preamble referencing lawful firearms ownership, it is not binding, and the treaty itself does not recognize the ownership and use of firearms or individual self-defense as fundamental rights.
Mr. Kerry says this treaty is about “keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors.” However, North Korea, Syria and Iran — which most would agree are “rogue actors” — voted against the Arms Trade Treaty. If 50 nations ratify the treaty it will take effect, but those rogue actors will not be a party to it and will not follow its provisions, leaving them free to continue dealing in arms. Meanwhile, the United States could find itself handcuffed when it comes to aiding our most vulnerable allies — including Israel, Taiwan and South Korea — owing to international pressure exerted under the guise of the Arms Trade Treaty.
Additionally, the export of firearms from the United States is already subject to a very strict and complex set of guidelines. The U.S. International Trade in Arms Regulations, which were promulgated pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act, strictly limits the transfer or sale of firearms and has been doing so since the 1950s. Other nations, primarily our allies, have followed our lead, mirroring our controls because they are so comprehensive.
There is no reason to believe the Arms Trade Treaty will succeed where past U.N. Security Council arms embargoes have failed. Smothering the world with laws will not affect nations who choose not to respect the treaty, or are too ill-governed to enforce it. Like gun-control laws, even with the Arms Trade Treaty, bad actors will continue to act accordingly.
Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate to concur before a treaty will be ratified. The United States should ratify treaties only when they are in our national interest, clear in their goals and language, respect our sovereignty, and do not create any openings to infringe upon our constitutional freedoms. The Arms Trade Treaty fails to meet any of these tests.
On March 23, at 5 o’clock in the morning, 53 senators voted to prevent the United States from entering into the Arms Trade Treaty. When Mr. Obama presents the Senate with the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, it will be dead on arrival, thanks to this bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators who remain united in opposition to ratification. We will continue to work with our colleagues to make certain this treaty will be put on the shelf to collect dust alongside other misguided U.N. treaties, including the Kyoto Protocol and the Law of the Sea Treaty.