Congress Shows Leadership on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

Ted Bromund /

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

A powerful group of Senators and Representatives came together on Wednesday to introduce a concurrent resolution expressing concerns with the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This effort was led by Senator Jerry Moran (R–KS) and Representative Mike Kelly (R–PA), who united 28 colleagues in the Senate and 121 in the House.

At a joint press conference, Senator Moran expressed his belief that the ATT “needs to exempt domestic civilian firearm ownership and use from its scope.” He also pointed out that the ATT will not achieve its supposed aim of stopping nations like Iran from transferring arms irresponsibly: “There is no reason to believe the ATT will succeed where past U.N. Security Council arms embargoes have failed.” Representative Kelly criticized the ATT as a “bad, bad idea” and called the notion of negotiating a treaty on arms trade with Iran “absolutely insane.”

There is much to commend in Senator Moran’s and Representative Kelly’s leadership. But what is particularly significant is that their resolution makes it clear that they, and their co-signatories, will oppose any effort to interpret the ATT as customary international law or as an agreement that binds the U.S. in any way unless and until it passes through the full U.S. treaty process, including passage by the House of any necessary implementing legislation. By doing this, they have sought to close a backdoor that a President can use to circumvent that process, and they have shown that they are alert to some of the weaknesses in the way the U.S. deals with treaties.

This is a sensible approach. But good sense is still a rare commodity in Washington, as demonstrated by the Arms Control Association’s (ACA) release of yet another call to conclude the ATT. The ACA asserts that “more than $2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition has been imported since 2000 by countries operating under 26 UN, regional, or multilateral arms embargoes.”

So why, to refer to Senator Moran’s point, would the ATT work when the embargoes have failed? The ACA provides no answer except the tired and circular argument that the world needs a new treaty precisely because it has not abided by all the old ones.

Together with their colleagues in the Senate and House, Senator Moran and Representative Kelly have done a tremendous service in exposing the fallacies of the ATT, raising their broader concerns about the treaty process, and making it clear that they will be watching events at the upcoming U.N. negotiating conference on the ATT very closely.

So will The Heritage Foundation. We will be blogging regularly from the conference on the weaknesses and follies inherent in the treaty. For more on these, see my recently published paper “The U.S. Cannot Fix the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty,” a comprehensive review of the negotiations and the treaty.