Earlier this week, the Heritage Foundation published a lengthy study of the U.N.’s proposed Arms Trade Treaty. The study details numerous problems inherent in this proposal, which is now being considered by a New York-based working group. The campaign behind the treaty is based on faulty premises, and the treaty, if brought into being as currently projected, will facilitate, not curb, the illegal arms trade, while at the same time posing a danger to the Second Amendment, to the ability of the U.S. to resist tyranny around the world, and to U.S. export controls.
In a fine article posted on Real Clear World, Michael Jacobson, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and a former senior advisor in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, explains part of what is at stake. Contrary to the argument commonly made by the left, the foreign policy of the U.S. is not driven by its export policy. In fact, the U.S. is one of the very few countries that is willing to make a genuine and serious effort to stop trade with dictatorships, such as Iran, to achieve political and moral ends. Or, as Jacobson puts it:
One of the major problems is that few other countries take this issue as seriously as the United States. Most countries, including some of Iran’s major trading partners, do not devote significant resources to investigating or prosecuting export control violations. In Germany, for example, a public prosecutor has stated that his country has only uncovered “the tip of the iceberg” of the black market activity involving Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, media reports suggest that certain goods leaving Germany are bound for Iran’s defense industrial complex, with little inspection at the border. In addition, many of the designated Iranian shipping vessels are owned by German front companies. Other examples abound: Italy and the United Kingdom have only small investigative staffs handling export control issues, while Canada has prosecuted only a handful of export control cases.
By contrast, in fiscal 2008, the U.S. prosecuted 145 criminal export control cases, 110 of which concerned Iran. In 2007, the International Economic Powers Enhancement Act increased penalties for violators. This and other Bush-era reforms are paying off: in early 2009, the U.S. imposed a $350 million fine against Lloyds TSB bank for stripping Iran-related information from transactions.
In early August, President Obama announced his administration was reviewing the U.S. export control system to bring it up to date. As Jacobson points out, the U.S.’s system is not perfect, and this review has the potential to improve it. But the U.S. system is far more effective than most. One of the many failings of the U.N.’s proposed treaty is that it would institutionalize the low export control standards of the rest of the world, which would make the already difficult job of maintaining high standards in the U.S. even harder.
Another and more insidious failing is that Germany, Italy, Britain, and Canada, as listed by Jacobson, are all leading voices in the campaign for the U.N.’s treaty. Yet even these states – all respectable democracies – do not make a vigilant effort to control export violations relating to Iran, which may pose the single most direct threat to their security. And that is the basic problem with the U.N.’s treaty: most of the world’s states are simply not interested in genuinely controlling the arms trade they are so vocally against. If they were, they would put a lot more muscle into their domestic export controls, and waste less energy passing resolutions at the U.N., which yield nothing but impressive but useless headlines.