U.N. Arms Trade Treaty will harm us, let others go free (WASHINGTON TIMES ANALYSIS/OPINION) By Kim R. Holmes - Special to The Washington Times 07/12/12)
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It’s the kind of U.N. treaty you would expect - contradictory and
unenforceable, one that would bind law-abiding nations while letting
tyrants and terrorists off the hook. The Arms Trade Treaty currently
being hammered out in Turtle Bay may well end up violating U.S.
freedom and sovereignty, as well as common sense.
Negotiators at the U.N. expect to finalize a treaty by July 27. So
far, we have only a “chairman’s draft paper” prepared by conference
chairman Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina. Its stated
purpose is to establish “common international standards” for
controlling and limiting the import, export and transfer of
conventional arms, including small arms.
The draft provides a glimpse into what the final treaty might say -
and what it says is fundamentally incoherent. On the one hand, it
claims to uphold a nation’s right of self-defense. On the other, it
calls on all nations, “without exception,” to limit arms transfers
according to certain human rights criteria and whether they
contribute to instability. In practice, Russia, Iran and China could
use the self-defense clause to arm anyone, including Syria’s Bashar
Assad. Meanwhile, they and others could invoke the human rights and
anti-instability criteria to oppose U.S. arms sales to Israel,
Taiwan, or others they consider objectionable.
The criteria that arms should not be used to “prolong” or “aggravate”
instability is troubling. China could use such a provision to label
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as a violation of international law. In
1941, such a treaty would have made illegal the U.S. lend-lease
program to aid Britain before Pearl Harbor.
The implication is absurd: If giving arms to an ally fighting a
tyrant prolongs the conflict, the only “legal” option for the ally is
Another problem is the draft’s invocation of “international human
rights law.” Unfortunately, liberal activists often claim that strict
gun control is a “human right.” This reference, then, could be
interpreted in ways that infringe on Americans’ constitutional right
to bear arms.
Why should we care what some U.N. treaty says? Just ignore it, you
say, because our Constitution trumps everything. Well, not if the
U.S. signs and the Senate ratifies it. At that point, the treaty
carries the weight of U.S. domestic law.
Keep in mind that U.S. judges interpret the Constitution and the
meaning of the Second Amendment. As the recent Obamacare decision
showed, we never know what judges will say or how the treaty could
influence them. Even if the president “signed” the treaty and the
Senate refused to ratify it, gun control advocates and State
Department transnationalist-leaning lawyers would argue that, under
customary international law, the U.S. must implement the treaty’s
restrictions lest we violate its “object and purpose.”
The draft’s human rights clauses could be misused in many ways to
undercut U.S. interests. My Heritage Foundation colleague Ted Bromund
notes that U.N. prohibitions on “conflict minerals” in cellphones
were worked into the Dodd-Frank Act. With such precedent, imagine how
the treaty could be used when guns, not phones, are at stake.
Other countries could use the treaty to boost their arms industries
at our expense. Treaty language embracing European Union-blessed
definitions of human rights and acceptable arms transfers could be
used to protect their arms exporters from U.S. competition.
The administration may think it can take advantage of a treaty’s
ambiguities, but the U.S. never does. Ours is a law-abiding nation.
We try to live up to what we agree to. Besides, other countries won’t
allow a double standard for us. They’ll insist that all aspects of
the treaty - even those interpreted by anti-American U.N. bodies -
apply to us. They’ll find willing allies within the U.S. who want to
change our gun laws as eagerly as they do.
The bottom line: A U.N. Arms Trade Treaty will harm us while letting
real offenders like Russia, Syria, and terrorists off the hook. Why
on earth would we sign up to such a thing?
• Kim R. Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a vice
president at the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).Follow him on
Twitter @kimsmithholmes. (© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC. 07/12/12)
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