On Friday, the negotiating conference for the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) crashed to short-term failure. After four weeks, the clock ran out.
The ATT was an effort to strike a deal between the Europeans and the Americans—who hoped (wrongly) that a treaty would force inept and dictatorial states to clean up their acts—and the rest of the world’s nations, who wanted an ATT that officially recognized their right to buy and sell arms, clamped down on the rebels troubling them, or merely offered another avenue to request foreign aid. Ultimately, while the political push behind the ATT was strong, it was not strong enough to get this bad deal done before the clock struck midnight.
Predictably, the treaty’s supporters are already blaming the U.S. for their temporary failure, despite the fact that no U.S. Administration is likely to be friendlier to the ATT than the Obama Administration. The conference did unravel on the final Friday after the U.S. stated that time had run out, but it was not the U.S. that stopped the ATT. It was reality. After the U.S. spoke, a number of other nations followed, all agreeing with the U.S. As is too often the case, the U.S. took a reasonable stand and the rest of the world either hid behind it or grandstanded against it.
After spending the better part of thee weeks at the U.N. watching the negotiations, I have four concluding thoughts about it:
- The U.S. is an exceptional country. Above all, it’s because of our Constitution, the universal rights it protects, and the federal system it embodies. Among other things, it means that treaties that pose no problems for others do cause problems—including Second Amendment problems—for us.
- The U.S. was ably represented at the conference, with a negotiating team led by Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman. Their statements were clear, and they were available to answer questions and listen to suggestions. Disagreements on substance should not blind us to the professionalism displayed by the U.S. delegation.
- The U.S. Congress—led by Senator Jerry Moran (R–KS), who released a bipartisan letter signed by 50 of his colleagues on the ATT and the Second Amendment on Thursday, and Representative Mike Kelly (R–PA), who on July 2 sent a letter expressing a wide variety of concerns with the ATT signed by 130 of his colleagues to President Obama—played a constructive role in the process. The second draft of the ATT was still fundamentally flawed, but on Second Amendment and sovereignty grounds it was better than the first draft—in part because of the concerns expressed by Congress.
- When the U.N. General Assembly meets in September, it could renew the negotiating mandate for the ATT (as the Obama Administration wants), which would mean a new conference, working on a consensus basis, in 2013. Or the it could adopt the current treaty draft and declare it open for signature. Thus, the ATT might become reality as early as October.
In other words, this is not the end of the process. It is the end of a phase. No one who was concerned about the ATT should be under any illusions that this is more than a tactical defeat for the treaty—or the U.N.’s broader program, of which the ATT is only a part.