On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would seek a “strong international standard” in the control of the conventional arms trade by “seizing the opportunity presented by the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations.” But the participation comes with a caveat: the U.S. will actively support negotiations only if the conference “operates under the rule of consensus decision-making needed to ensure that all countries can be held to standards that will actually improve the global situation.”
As we have noted before, the arms trade treaty is a dangerous multilateral mistake in the making. But the Secretary’s announcement adds a new layer of error. The U.S., as the Secretary noted, has the highest standards on arms exports in the world. In any negotiations on the arms trade, the U.S. is therefore the state most likely to disrupt the consensus. Far from being a weapon for the U.S. to use against states with low standards, the demand for consensus – which the U.S. has no power to enforce – will in the negotiations be turned against the U.S., and will be used to exert pressure on America to lower its own standards for the sake of concluding a weak treaty.
The treaty’s supporters pretend that it will prevent guns from flowing to terrorists and insurgents. That is a laudable goal. But the reality is that terrorists and insurgents have guns because they receive them from governments of UN member states. Indeed, the head of the Pretoria Office of the U.N. Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo acknowledges that, “It is not about so-called diversion of arms into the hands or armed groups . . . . Most arms enter the country legally and are purposefully made illegal by complicity of national and regional authorities.”
Those are the same national authorities that are negotiating the arms trade treaty, and the same ones with which the U.S. will now seek consensus. That is a recipe for a negotiation that will leave the U.S. isolated, and under pressure to sign on, for the sake of the precious consensus, to another ineffective treaty that threatens to clash with the Constitution while giving dictator states new rights and more cover from the U.N. for their abuses.