It sounds nice to say there could be a treaty that would make all nations responsible when it comes to their arms exports. Of course, it’s also impossible.

The latest draft of the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which would regulate imports and exports of arms around the world, failed on Friday after a two-week negotiating conference.

Many media reports have said that Iran, North Korea, and Syria were the reasons the treaty failed. But Heritage senior research fellow Ted Bromund was at the conference and reported that, in reality, 29 nations voiced opposition. “All in all, about one in five of the nations at the conference did not back the treaty,” Bromund said.

And it’s not over yet—the U.N. General Assembly is still likely to vote the treaty into being this week. Unfortunately, the U.S. is likely to vote for it in the Assembly.

The U.S. has no business validating such a meaningless document. The ATT is useless for many reasons, including:

1. Bad guys won’t play by the rules. Dictators have no interest whatsoever in being responsible exporters of arms. Instead, they want to protect their rights as importers. That means that they want a treaty that guarantees them the right to buy guns while decreasing the possibility of armed rebellion by their own oppressed people.

The idea that having a treaty would stop dictators, terrorists, and others bent on violence is wishful thinking. But U.N. treaties treat democracies and dictatorships equally.

2. The ATT focuses mainly on those who export arms, instead of arms importers. As Bromund says, “This is in line with the tendency of both the U.N. and uncritical believers in arms control to blame problems on weapons, not on those who use them. Yet it is the importers of the arms, not the exporters or the arms themselves, that are actually responsible for arming terrorists or committing human rights violations with the arms in question.”

Many African nations say they need an ATT to stop arms smuggling. But it’s African governments that do a lot of the smuggling. As Bromund said, “listening to dedicated arms smugglers like Kenya, South Sudan, and Rwanda moan about how they need the treaty to save them from arms smuggling is enough to make you sick.”

3. The treaty still omits the right of individual self-defense. Bromund has explained that the ATT is not a simple “gun grab,” but it’s based on the idea that only governments have an inherent right to own firearms. That’s one reason why the ATT doesn’t recognize American citizens’ Second Amendment rights. Restricting the supply of firearms to private citizens is also something dictators like, because they want to prevent armed opposition to their regimes.

As the world’s most responsible arms exporter, the U.S. has no need to sign on to this international charade. At least some of America’s leaders seem to have caught on, since opposition to the ATT is now at an all-time high in the Senate. We can hope this has a bearing on President Obama’s decision when it comes time to sign.


The U.S. Cannot Fix the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

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