That’s cute. Unfortunately, what’s cute is not necessarily good policy, as Amnesty’s slogan illustrates all too clearly. It explicitly demands a treaty that “control[s] all arms and ammunition and their parts.” Leaving aside any Second Amendment considerations, this is insane. Controlling the “parts” of “all arms,” ranging from bullets to battleships, would mean controlling every substantial part and industrial process in the world. A treaty of this scope could never be enforced and would be utterly meaningless in practice.
The evidence for this is all around us. In 1997, the Mine Ban Treaty, commonly known as the Ottawa Treaty, was opened for signature. The U.S. has not ratified it, but many other countries have. Compared to the proposed Arms Trade Treaty, the Ottawa Treaty covers a limited, even a tiny, selection of munitions. If it cannot be enforced, there is no chance at all that the Arms Trade Treaty will work.
So has the Ottawa Treaty stopped the use of land mines? No, it has not. In March, the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the Taliban for using mines – we call them IEDs – in southern Afghanistan. As the Red Cross put it, “Any use of these weapons, which are prohibited in the country under the Mine Ban Convention just as they are in 155 other countries, is completely unacceptable.”
All credit to the Red Cross for condemning the Taliban. But it is obvious that the Treaty has only worked to stop law-abiding countries from using mines. It’s done nothing to stop their use by entities that don’t care what the Treaty says. The same problem comes up again and again. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, passed unanimously on September 28, 2001, in the wake of 9/11, requires all U.N. members to take wide-ranging actions against terrorism, including “eliminating the supply of weapons to terrorists.” But that does nothing to stop Venezuela from supplying the FARC, or Iran from supplying Hezbollah and Hamas.
The real problem is not that the international arms trade is not controlled. The problem is that there are too many governments in the world that do not enforce the existing controls. The response to this on the left is never to focus on enforcement. Instead, their call is always for more supranationalism, more treaties, more laws, and more regulations. We see this even at home, as the Gulf oil spill illustrates. The problem, at home and abroad, is not a bad legal framework. The problem is that governments don’t do their job, and then use their failure to demand even more power and to establish even bigger bureaucracies. As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”