The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) opens for national signature today, and has already been signed by at least 55 nations. The U.S. has announced that it will sign the ATT in the near future, once all foreign language translations are satisfactorily completed, which will happen by August 28, 2013, for the Russian language text.
The treaty will come into force 90 days after it is ratified by the 50th signatory. That is likely to happen by early 2014, if not sooner.
The ATT is badly flawed in substance, and the way it was adopted in the U.N. General Assembly and the speed of the U.S. review process of the treaty poses further serious problems. In part for those reasons, the treaty has drawn considerable skepticism on the Hill. A Concurrent Resolution offered by Senator Jerry Moran (R–KS) and Representative Mike Kelly (R–PA) has 35 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate and 144 in the House.
Kelly has also released a Dear Colleagues letter opposing the ATT, with 129 co-signatories. Finally, Kelly has the support of 50 of his colleagues for an amendment to the fiscal year 2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill that would ban funding for the ATT.
Of course, these actions follow up on many previous expressions of concern, from both the Senate and the House, and the strength of the opposition in the Senate is sufficient to prevent the ATT’s ratification. But in the context of the opening of the treaty for signature, another point is particularly important: Any nation that signs and fully ratifies the ATT is making a national commitment that applies to itself alone.
The treaty advocates will argue that the treaty—by entering into force, or simply by coming into existence—is customary international law, and therefore binding on the U.S. The Concurrent Resolution strongly opposes this interpretation, and the Dear Colleagues letter similarly rejects any “effort to treat [the ATT] as internationally or domestically binding upon the United States.”
As the ATT moves from negotiation to signature, and then on to implementation, the leadership that Moran and Kelly have shown will only grow in importance in the months and years to come.