Last week, the Obama administration took a step that conservatives have been anticipating for three years: it transmitted the Arms Trade Treaty to the Senate for ratification.
This move doesn’t matter.
The treaty is supposedly designed to control the international trade of weapons. It was adopted through the United Nations in 2013, and 91 nations have since ratified it.
The Arms Trade Treaty is a bad treaty, and it hasn’t gotten any better with age. In fact, the problems with it have only become more obvious. Only the European nations pretend to uphold it, while major arms exporters like Russia and China oppose it.
This treaty is failing because it has no connection to reality. It is based on the fantasy that an international agreement can cause incompetent or dictatorial regimes to behave better, and the mistaken view that wars are caused by guns, not the regimes that use them.
The treaty’s left-wing advocates are stubbornly unwilling to condemn the autocracies for their arms trafficking, but are always eager to attack the U.S., Israel, and Britain for their democratically-adopted policies of selling arms to their allies.
In practice, the treaty will be used to make it harder for the U.S. to support its allies, to restrict the ability of U.S. firms to sell weapons abroad, and as a justification for limits on U.S. imports of firearms.
In theory, the treaty covers everything from pistols to battleships, but in reality, it is all about small arms—which explains why many of the treaty’s backers are old-time proponents of gun control.
Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013, though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was responsible for overseeing most of the negotiations that led up to it.
For the president to now send this treaty to the Senate after three years, during the lame-duck session, and after Clinton’s election defeat, is essentially dropping the treaty in the mailbox on the way out the door.
If the administration had the slightest hope of actually ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty, it would not have waited to the last minute to transmit it to the Senate. The administration has no such hope.
After Jan. 20, a stone-cold minimum of 52 sitting senators—led by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.—will be on record in opposition to the treaty, and the count against it could easily reach 57, or even higher.
The House, led by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., has also repeatedly voiced strong opposition to the treaty. The Republican Party platform explicitly condemns the treaty. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has already reiterated his strong opposition. The Arms Trade Treaty is simply not going to be ratified.
If there were a chance that the incoming Trump administration would back the treaty, the committee might want to further clarify its opposition by holding a hearing on the treaty and voting it down. But in these circumstances, that isn’t necessary.
Instead, the incoming administration should withdraw the Arms Trade Treaty from the Senate—just as President Jimmy Carter withdrew the SALT II treaty in January 1980—and then, in colloquial terms, “unsign” it by formally stating that it has no intention of ratifying the treaty.
The U.S. should keep attending Arms Trade Treaty meetings as an observer, just to keep tabs on what is happening, but it should be made crystal clear to everyone that the U.S. will never become a party to this treaty.
I actually welcome the Obama administration’s decision to transmit the treaty. This will give us an opportunity to read the transmittal package, which contains the administration’s rationale for negotiating and supporting the Arms Trade Treaty.
But the treaty is fundamentally misconceived, and reflects a misbegotten mix of liberal illusions about the power and effectiveness of treaties and anti-firearms activism.
This treaty is not going anywhere—except back to the White House, and then into the trash.