The Obama Administration has declared its support for the U.N.’s efforts to negotiate an arms trade treaty (ATT) that would regulate the transfer of conventional arms. This is unwise for many reasons. The following stories show just how an ATT, far from saving civilians, would actually tie the hands of democracies in resisting dictatorships.

  • On Monday, the second round of negotiations to create an ATT began under U.N. auspices in New York. Britain has been, and continues to be, the leading advocate for an ATT.  British newspapers routinely support its negotiation, and the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in Britain wrote support for an ATT into their formal coalition agreement.
  • On Tuesday, David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain, suggested that Britain would “consider arming Libyan opposition forces if Tripoli used more violence to crush demonstrators.”
  • The latest U.N. General Assembly Resolution supporting an ATT argues it is necessary to prevent the “diversion [of weapons] to the illicit market,” while noting “the right of all States to manufacture, import, export, transfer and retain conventional arms for self-defence and security needs.”  In short, selling weapons to a state is legitimate, but providing them to opposition forces—the “illicit market”—is not.

So, Britain wants to arm the Libyan opposition. It also wants negotiate a treaty that would legally prohibit it from arming the Libyan opposition, while recognizing Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s right to buy all the guns he wants. How does this make any sense at all?