While most in the country are fixated on watching Donald Trump’s latest moves and either freaking out about them or cheering them on, Barack Obama’s quietly giving the middle finger to US sovereignty.
In early December – three years after it was signed by Secretary of State John Kerry – he forwarded the controversial UN Arms Trade Treaty to the Senate for ratification.
The treaty’s lofty objectives were to foster peace and security by limiting uncontrolled destabilizing arms transfer to areas of conflict. In particular, it was also meant to prevent countries that abuse human rights from acquiring arms.
Indeed, Obama’s transmission message references that goal, and attempts to assure Americans that Second Amendment rights are protected.
It will contribute to international peace and security, will strengthen the legitimate international trade in conventional arms, and is fully consistent with rights of U.S. citizens (including those secured by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).
As is par for the course, what he says and what the truth is are two different things. In a letter signed by 50 Senators, both Republican and Democrat, in 2013 opposing the ATT, it is noted that the treaty:
“[I]ncludes only a weak non binding reference to the lawful ownership, use of, and trade in firearms, and recognizes none of these activities, much less individual self-defense, as fundamental individual rights.”
In addition, the letter notes that since the treaty was passed by majority vote, any changes to the treaty could also be made by majority vote at the UN.
After entry into force, the senators contend, the Arms Trade Treaty can be amended by majority vote of signatory countries, effectively negating the Senate’s constitutional treaty power and handing it to foreign governments. Even the State Department concedes, the senators wrote, that the treaty “includes language that could hinder the United States from fulfilling its strategic, legal and moral commitments to provide arms to key allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel.”
It’s not difficult to imagine other countries using the ATT to prohibit the US from implementing foreign policy.
Currently, the treaty’s language is so vague that theoretically it wouldn’t create restrictions beyond current federal law. But, as shown above, since it can be amended without the agreement of the US Senate, and because its vagueness gives the UN the opportunity to apply the interpretation du jour, it’s a document that threatens the fundamental rights of Americans, especially because the rhetoric coming from the UN in the last few years has been increasingly hostile towards the United States.
This summer’s meetings in Switzerland regarding the implementation of the ATT are a great example. At the start of the session, the representative from Mexico lashed out at the US, claiming that 70% of the guns used in crimes in Mexico can be traced back to the United States. She used the statistic as a justification to use the ATT to control civilian ownership and transfer of firearms.
The representatives from the US did nothing to push back at Mexico by pointing out that international arms trade originating in the United States is already subject to strict, specific federal laws, and that lack of border enforcement by Mexico contributes to the gun running problem. (Of course, that could also be because the US delegation knew that Obama’s justice department had sold quite a few “assault rifles” to known Mexican criminals.)
Guess what happened next?
Not surprisingly, existing ATT language was amended through interpretation—what reads as up was now being interpreted as down and “voluntary” categories designed to address civilian small arms were included in the treaty’s reporting requirements. There is little doubt that “voluntary” is soon to become mandatory.
But for many of the countries, “mandatory” is merely a suggestion, since according to a recent Heritage Foundation report, many of the treaty’s signatories are not even abiding by its reporting requirements.
States parties to the [Arms Trade Treaty] are already failing to meet its reporting requirements. As of Aug. 15, 2016, of the 66 states parties that were supposed to file an initial report on their implementation of the treaty by that date, only 49 had done so, and of these, 33 were in Europe. As of the same date, of the 83 states parties, only 46 (32 of them in Europe) had filed an annual report for 2015 on authorized imports and exports of conventional arms, a report due on May 31, 2016. In short, treaty reporting is lagging badly, and outside Europe, few nations are complying even nominally with the most basic treaty requirements.
But you can bet that we ratify the treaty, the other parties to the treaty will attempt to hold us to their interpretation of compliance with every single detail.
Why would we ever agree to a document that is so completely at odds with the US Constitution?
Essentially, Barack Obama knows we won’t. He knows the treaty won’t be ratified by this Senate or the next one. He’s only forwarding it because it’s one more way for him to show his contempt for our fundamental rights.