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  • 5 Fundamental Flaws in the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

    The overwhelming majority of commentary in the United States on the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has focused on the possible risks it poses to rights protected under the Second Amendment. There is nothing wrong with being watchful on this front, but the ATT raises broader concerns for U.S. foreign policy.

    Indeed, the ATT is inherently flawed simply because of the beliefs on which it is based and the process by which it is being drafted. Here are five reasons why.

    1. Equal Rights to Democracies and Dictatorships

    Any conceivable ATT, simply because it is being negotiated through the U.N., will be based on recognizing that all members of the U.N. are equal and sovereign states and thus have equal rights. The inevitable result of this, in the context of the ATT, will be a treaty stating that Iran and Venezuela have the same rights to buy, sell, and transfer weapons as do the U.S. and Japan. The U.N. already contains far too many dictatorships; negotiating a treaty that enshrines their equality of status in the realm of arms transfers is inherently a bad and dangerous idea.

    2. Nations Do Not Want Higher Standards

    Any nation is free to set its own standards for the import, export, and transfer of arms. If the nations of the world genuinely want higher standards, they can have them right now. The fact that they do not means that many of them are not negotiating the ATT in good faith. And that, in turn, means that the treaty will not constrain them after they sign it. The idea that there is a vast illicit arms trade in the world is a myth: Most arms trafficking is done with the knowledge and the connivance of governments, which describe it as illicit to conceal their culpability (or, on occasion, their administrative incapacity). The U.S. should never negotiate, support, sign, or ratify treaties that are based fundamentally on a lie.

    3. Quest for Universal Transfer Criteria Inherently Flawed

    Any conceivable ATT is going to be based on a set of criteria that treaty signatories are supposed to use to assess the legitimacy of arms transfers. But there are no criteria that work in all cases: Arms transfers, like international relations as a whole, are inherently about judgment. If, on the other hand, the treaty allows the U.S. to retain its current system, which balances and weighs the factors involved in any transfer, it will be abused by nations like Russia and Iran to justify their transfers to places like Syria. A meaningful treaty cannot have both universal criteria and allow flexibility in applying them. The U.S. should not participate in treaties that cannot work. Diplomacy is too serious for that.

    4. Constraining Only the Law-Abiding

    The ATT is a classic aspirational treaty: It will require many nations to do things that they do not currently do and have no intention of doing. Treaties like this are inherently a bad deal for the U.S., because we have a well-developed administrative system and are basically law-abiding. Unlike a lot of other nations, we have the ability and the intention of living up to our word. Given the fact that the treaty criteria will be vague, open-ended, and ill-defined, that is extremely dangerous, because it will subject the U.S., U.S. allies, and U.S. companies to the perpetual risk of lawfare—the use of law as a continuation of war by other means—based on legal criteria that we are not responsible for defining. A treaty based on such criteria will end up constraining the U.S. in ways that we cannot now foresee but cannot be in our national interest.

    5. The Problem of the “Non-State Actor”

    The fundamental idea behind the ATT is that governments have an inherent right to arm themselves; individuals, it is presumed, have no such inherent right. There is no doubt that most nations, and the U.N. itself, dislike the U.S. belief that individuals (who are “non-state actors”) have an inherent right of personal self-defense. On the other hand, many nations want to retain the freedom to transfer arms to terrorists, which are also “non-state actors.” The treaty thus has the impossible job of preventing arms transfers to “bad” non-state actors, even though there is no agreement whatsoever on who is bad and who is good. This is partly a Second Amendment problem, but it is far more than that.

    Discrediting Diplomacy

    We at The Heritage Foundation do not oppose treaties as such. We judge them individually by asking if they are in the American interest and compatible with American sovereignty. As the Founding Fathers did, we value diplomacy as one of the institutions of civilization. A fundamental problem with the ATT is that, because of its many flaws, it will contribute to further discrediting diplomacy in the eyes of the American people.

    If you want the U.S. to lead internationally, you cannot back every flawed, aspirational treaty that comes along, because, frankly, the American people will not stand for diplomacy that does that. And the American people are right not to stand for it.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    42 Responses to 5 Fundamental Flaws in the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

    1. G Jones says:

      This is really 5 reasons we need to end the UN. They serve no real purpose any longer. They take OUR money and use it against US. Enough already!

    2. West Texan says:

      Ted wrote "The fundamental idea behind the ATT is that governments have an inherent right to arm themselves; individuals, it is presumed, have no such inherent right.".

      Such an idea is completely antithetical to our country's founding principles of inherited natural rights. The freedom to keep and bear arms is simply recognized, not granted, by the 2nd Amendment. Any treaty that subverts the U.S. Constitution in such a way is treasonous to those who have fought hard to defend this portion of America's structural keystone, the U.S. Bill of Rights. Absent these "fundamental" individual and states' rights, the union will certainly fail ending with its crushing collapse. Dictatorial tyrants around the globe dream of such devastation thrown upon the American people. It's up to our country's elected leadership to support the latter.

    3. Bobbie says:

      America doesn't need the U. N. the U.N. needs America!

      We don't want the U.N.. The U.N. is a disgrace to America's civility! If the U.N. is that essential to the world let them face the world on their own! NO U.S. BACKING!!

    4. Liam Kelly says:

      A few points to make on your assertions.

      1. Equality of status in the realm of arms transfers is inherently a logical, not a bad and dangerous idea. Nations such as Syria, Iran, and Venezuela, as states, should be legally obliged to apply exactly the same set of criteria before transferring arms as other sovereign states. Having one international standard based on human rights is the only logical and humane way the ATT should be organised, meaning these states are subject to the legislation whether they are buying, selling, or transferring arms. If they may be used to commit human rights abuses etc., they should not be sold. Same simple standard for all states.

      2. Some nations don't want the Geneva Convention, nor recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. This doesn't mean they shouldn't exist; without them, Charles Taylor, Thomas Lubanga, and Ratko Mladic wouldn't be held to account for their crimes.

      Saying that the treaty is fundamentally based on a lie, is an ill-informed lie. Whether trade of arms is deemed illicit or otherwise by an individual government would be irrelevant where the deals fail to meet agreed criteria in the ATT. This relates to the previous point in that a global standard is desperately needed so that individual states are not free to set standards as they see fit.

      3. Where is the inherent flaw? There is no mention of flexibility in the treaty. The criteria should state that where there is a risk of arms being used for human rights abuses, no arms can be supplied. This is black and white. Russia would be obliged to stop supplying Assad immediately under these criteria as there is no question that grave rights abuses are taking place in Syria, by both sides.

      4. Again, how are war criminals prosecuted? Whether you're one of the good guys or the bad guys makes no difference, the law should be exactly the same. Human rights are universal, the right to live is universal. This needs to be respected by all, and there needs to be an international framework to punish those who do not respect this. Supplying arms to be used by dictators, despots, and tyrants to kill innocent civilians is being an accessory to murder. It is wrong.

      5. 'Bad' and 'good' is determined by whether these actors are likely to use the weapons to murder unarmed civilians, rape people, recruit child soldiers, enforce slavery, etc. etc. It does not depend on their status as state or non-state actor, only upon the use of the arms. Similarly, the Treaty seeks to address international transfers only, the Chair's draft papers go to great lengths to explicitly state that domestic sales, internal transfers, are NOT regulated by this Treaty, nor can this Treaty override domestic law on domestic gun ownership, i.e. the Second Amendment. The Aurora tragedy would not have been prevented post-ATT because the ATT has zero scope to deal with domestic gun ownership.

      It appears to me that your assertions are primarily based upon assumptions and unfortunately demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Treaty premises. It also seems as though you're arguing for one rule for the US, and another for states you dislike (Iran, Venezuela, etc.). International legal standards should be just that, international. Where arms are bought, sold, and transferred internationally for use in denying people their human rights, this is morally wrong and should be treated as such – the fundamental assertion of the Arms Trade Treaty.

      • So Liam feels that the U.S. should give up it's sovereignity and be controlled by the U.N. in matters regarding arms? Tha sounds like two liberal members of our Supreme Court, who feel that we should consider other nations opinions when interpreting our Constitution.

        • Liam Kelly says:

          I'm a little disappointed that the only replies to my comment are borderline hysterical conjecture. No, Liam does not feel that the US should forgo its sovereignty, and no, Liam does not want to 'end America as we have known it'.

          The draft Treaty circulated this morning explicitly states, yet again, that the Treaty recognises 'the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial rights and interests of States in the international trade of conventional arms; Reaffirming the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems.' Whilst 'recognizing the legitimate international trade and lawful private ownership and use of conventional arms exclusively for, inter alia, recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities for States where such ownership and use are permitted or protected by law.'

          Neither US sovereignty, nor the Second Amendment are at risk, or indeed even in question here.

          On what basis do you oppose the Treaty? If the US Government itself doesn't oppose the Treaty in principle, merely its scope, and the Treaty expressly enshrines States' sovereignty.

      • Lloyd Scallan says:

        It appears to me that your assertions that all nations that sign this absurdity will adhere to the dictates of the treaty is beyond naive. To actually believe that this treaty will apply only to "international transfers" is the type of thinking that made it possible for so many nations be taken over by two bit thugs and despits. Moreover, you suggest the United States be part of some "One World Order" that controls all nation on earth. If that's the case, then what happens to US sovereignty? What happens to the US way of life? Are you willing to accept the loss of our indevisionalsim as Americans? If you are of the same ilk as Obama, which your commment indicate, you are in fact agreeable to end America as we have known it.

      • Henry Felter says:

        Typical Progressive bull crap. We're not arguing anything, we understand the document and reject for our nation. It takes away a fundamental right under our Constitution and there is no need for it. What you say everyone else has signed it. Did you try that argument when you were a kid, but mom.
        Countries aren't going to honor this, go into Pakistan and try to take their AK-47's away. The goal of the Progressive world is to take away our arms our weapons for self protection, a little at a time and useful idiots like your self will help them

        • Liam Kelly says:

          Not sure exactly what a 'useful idiot' is, but ignoring that thought-provoking insight, what fundamental right under the American Constitution does the ATT take away? Can you highlight for me, in the draft text, any single threat to any single part of the US Constitution?

          Perhaps you're right, perhaps I have missed this grave threat to US rights. Please enlighten me. I'll even link the text for you; http://www.scribd.com/doc/100936064/Draft-Text-24

          The Treaty has as much jurisdiction and power to take away AK-47s from Pakistanis as it does to take guns away from Americans; none, zero, zilch. Though coincidentally, Pakistan is highly opposed to the Treaty, along with Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the United States. Strange.

      • John the Libertarian says:

        It is the height of naivete to assume that countries failing to honor basic human rights will honor the att… maybe if you moved the dunce cap a little, you could see the light.

    5. Joy Montgomery says:

      How do we as citizens stop our political leaders from surrendering our national sovereignty over to the United Nations? Help!
      Joy Montgomery, Alliance, OH

      • Rich says:

        The US government has declared war on the American people. This is just one area and probably among the most dangerous of its actions. We are all soldiers now. Many people are yet unaware. There has been a frontal assualt on the Constitution with no end in sight.

      • Jan says:

        Deluge your senators — all senators — with calls, letters and faxes, and make sure they know they will lose your vote if they approve this, OR if they let it stand with just Obama's signature.

      • Liam Kelly says:

        How is American national sovereignty remotely threatened by the Arms Trade Treaty?

    6. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Look back through history. The very first right any dictator takes away from the people is the right to possess a firearm to protect themselves. That's a fact, not a right wing theory. Watch this matter very closely. We know Obama will side with the communist in the UN. But keep a close eye on the Senate. Any Senator that agrees to ratify this UN backed ATT, must be held accountable in the next election cycle.

    7. O_Henry says:

      To Liam Kelly,

      You have a grand sense of “honesty” in the ways sovereign nations deal with one another. It reminds me of the signing of the Biological Weapons Convention by the USSR, UK, and USA in April of 1972. After the fall of the USSR the “West” found out the Soviets were mass producing chemical weapons including anthrax agents. What assurances can signatories of the Arms Trade Treaty be given to verify compliance? How can signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty be prevented from using it as a means to disarm their population as a means to further expand government (and in many cases dictatorial) power over their citizenry?

      • Liam Kelly says:


        The first full draft of the Treaty submitted to delegated today expressly states in the preamble the following;

        The Treaty reaffirms 'the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems; Recognizing the legitimate international trade and lawful private ownership and use of conventional arms exclusively for, inter alia, recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities for States where such ownership and use are permitted or protected by law.'

        Domestic constitutional systems and laws on domestic arms ownership and internal transfers are not affected by this Treaty. The Treaty expressly states that it has NO jurisdiction over this. Therefore, it can never be used to disarm civilian populations, or expand government power over citizenry.

        The ATT is not about citizens rights to own guns, it's about the moral obligation arms exporters have not to sent their products to those who use them to murder, rape, and torture citizens.

    8. Meredith G says:

      "For a people who are free and wish to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is the best security."
      Thomas Jefferson

    9. Jim says:

      Selling arms is an international business. The US, Russia, and China are the biggest ones doing it. Selling weapons that will kill and maim people in a twinkling of an eye. No UN is enforcing that, so please tell me how the UN will ever be able to enforce hand guns, shot guns, or rifles? Now if as I suspect the whole agenda is to disarm the civilian populaces of the world to be able to control them better is their goal, then yeah this treaty is a must. GOD save us all from the evil one.

    10. from Liams writing I get the indication he has a college degree. From a liberal arts school. Most, if not all, colleges frown on and do not offer classes in common sense.

      • Liam Kelly says:

        Thanks for the intelligent and constructive feedback.

        • John the Libertarian says:

          far more intelligent and full of common sense than your own

          • Liam Kelly says:

            That's really constructive John, thanks. Your insightful commentary on the Arms Trade Treaty has really made me reconsider my opinions.

      • Mick Wilkinson says:

        By his very own words, Liam Kelly has shown himself to be naive (read FOOL) at the very least. Leaders in the UN are among the world's most dishonest people. Sadly, the current president of the United States of America is at the top of the list. Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, " those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve, and will have neither." At this time in the world's history, it is as true as when Jefferson said it ,if not even more so. It is truly time to get the United States of America to get OUT of the United Nations and the United Nations OUT of the United States of America!!! It would be my guess that Liam Kelly has never even considered serving in the military. Maybe he should live in a country when Communism is the form of government for the balance of his lifetime. They (the Communists) like having idiots like him .

        • Liam Kelly says:

          Wow, Mick, this is great stuff. Insults, a complete avoidance of even mentioning the topic of discussion, unsubstantiated slurs, and the age-old Red threat! Great, really. If, God forbid, you were President of the United States of America, how would you deal with the Communist threat?

    11. Don DeHoff says:

      .1. I am impressed. A very controversial post and almost all comments were civil, with no, one-on-one name calling, obnoxious nicknames or gutter talk.. We need immediate legislation that prohibits any elected or appointed officials from entering into any understanding, agreement or treaty with a foreign country or group (including the UN), that would be in conflict with our Constitution or Federal Law. The present practice of signing on to an agreement or treaty, and then having it later turned down by the Senate, creates international ill-will, and is a significant loss of time and money.

      • Don DeHoff says:

        2. How does the State Department get away with giving away our seven Pribilof Islands To Russia and voiding (giving away?) our citizen's Constitutional "Right to Bear Arms"? The Constitution, Article IV, in part, states "The Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules & Regulations, respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United Staes, or any particular State. Here is a chance for one or more of our SCOTUS members to reveal just who are the real "Jurists" in that August Body.

    12. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      Because when Hillary Clinton signs the treaty on Friday, it's going to be deemed as passed, under the Vienna

    13. Twister says:

      I am not concerned about any treaty taking away my 2nd Amendment rights. Go to SCOTUS case Reid vs. Covert (1957). It's pretty clear cut about treaties and our rights guarenteed under the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. What does bother me is the ATF practice of providing firearms trace information about individual purchasers (to include names, DOBs, etc.) to countries like Mexico and Columbia whose credibility is seriously questionable. Do you think the identity theft problem we now face in this country might be related? Congress should have put a stop to this long ago. As to the UN – we should give them 1 year to find another host country and move off U.S. soil, e.g. to a parasitic 'neutral' country like Sweden or Switzerland. However, we should maintain our permanent position on the security council so we can lambast and veto our enemies tirades against us.

    14. Christocrat says:

      It is obvious that the UN is trying to become the defacto World Government. They are pushing to regulate the oceans, Energy, the Internet and Arms. Don't be surprised if they try to regulate Money, Immigration and Health Care!

      The USA should withdraw from the UN and use the State Department for what it was intended.
      Bad laws can be found unconstitutional and repealed. What do you do with a bad treaty?

    15. WARLORDX says:

      No one has said it better than Charlton Heston, past NRA President (paraphrased): 'they'll take my guns..only from my cold, dead hands.' I expect there are more than just him and me.


    16. Seadhna says:

      Venezuela is NOT a dictatorship. Whether or not the U.S. likes the current Venezuelan administration, it has been democratically elected. Democracy means the citizens of a country have the right to choose – not that the U.S. gets to choose for them.

    17. Liam Kelly says:

      It seems the negativity and distrust towards the ATT centres on any potential threat the US Constitution, the Second Amendment in particular, and US sovereignty in general. The author himself only alludes to this very briefly by saying 'there is nothing wrong with being watchful' of any potential risks – agreed.

      Though what neither he, nor the Treaty text, actually says, is that there IS a clear danger to the US Constitution etc. That is because there is NOT any danger. To all of the disgruntled commentators, I challenge you to highlight a single instance of a single possible threat to US sovereignty in this draft text;

      'Dunce hats', 'FOOL', 'useful idiot (what?)' and 'mom' comments aside, let's try and have an adult discussion about a very real issue please. Unsubstantiated, the points you make are completely irrelevant.

      • tionico says:

        the danger to the US Constitution lies simply in the FACT that a UN agency, that is, not subject to the US in any way, will have the authority to determine riules and proceedures, monitor, and implement the terma of this treaty, should it be ratified by the US. In short, our sovereignty WILL be compromised, as the final decisions binding upon our people will no longer fall to our own government, but to an agency outside of it. It is THIS ONE THING< more than all others, that is cause for rejection of the entire treaty. We ARE a sovereign nation, beholden to no other. We MUST remain as such.

      • Gouchybear says:

        I believe what is being objected to here is the creation of a "national control list" (Article 2, section A, paragraph 2) of who own's what type of weapon. With such a list it will be very easy for the government to begin sweeping up firearms, just as was done in Germany during WWII. And of course the will be no direct language in the treaty that references the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights. However, the language will be phrased loosely enough for interpretation, just like what is being written in current legislation, so that when the government wants to begin confiscation they can "interpret" the treaty however they need to.

    18. Bambam says:

      The Constitution of the United States of America is the Ultimate Law of the Land in the United States of America
      The UN legally and Constitutionally has NO Authority over the United States of America.
      United States Soldiers are Constitutionally prohibited from serving under any Foreign Flag.
      Hillery and all others including Judges, Politicians who agree with, support and sign any and all treaty's that are in Violation of the United States Constitution are Committing TREASON! They should be IMPEACHED!

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