Confused Administration Keeps Pushing Conventional Arms Treaties

Ted Bromund /

The State Department has posted a speech by Ann K. Ganzer, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Threat Reduction, Export Controls, and Negotiations. Delivered on August 4 at the South American Conference on Interdiction and Regional Security of Small Arms & Light Weapons, Ganzer’s speech sheds valuable light on the Administration’s intentions on several treaties, including the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty, and reveals serious contradictions and flaws in the Administration’s position.

What is striking about Ganzer’s speech is the contrast between the U.S. policies that she describes. Ganzer praised the U.S.’s Export and Control and Border Security program (EXBS), through which the U.S. works with countries around the world to improve their export control systems, with a particular focus on WMD proliferation.

EXBS has provided legal assistance, equipment, and training to countries as diverse as Malta, Pakistan, and Mexico. Its funds are appropriated by Congress, and it operates bilaterally: the U.S. is not obligated to cooperate with anyone it does not believe is acting in good faith. That is the kind of cooperation that makes sense.

The rest of Ganzer’s speech, however, backed exactly the opposite kind of measure: large, multilateral treaties which were  made between some countries that are of good faith and many others that are not; which cover a vast range of items and activities; and which as a result are likely to be both ineffective and dangerous. Ganzer offered praise for the Organization of American States’ CIFTA Convention; the “Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other Related Materials”; and reiterated President Obama’s commitment to seek its “prompt ratification.”

She also claimed that the U.S. is already “in compliance with the Convention implementing many of its commitments.” This claim is an exaggeration, but it’s also contradictory: if the U.S. is already largely in compliance with CIFTA, there would seem to be no urgency for the Senate to ratify it. The magical thinking behind the Administration’s support for CIFTA is the belief that other countries, which have signed the treaty but are not living up to their obligations, will suddenly start behaving if only the Senate acts. Ganzer’s statement also confirms a broader concern: the Senate has not ratified CIFTA, but successive Administrations have nonetheless used President Clinton’s signature of it to move the U.S. into a measure of compliance with the Convention. This is a flaw in the U.S. treaty-ratification mechanism that the Senate should address.

On the Arms Trade Treaty, Ganzer announced that the Administration supports a very broad treaty: “the ATT must cover all conventional weapons, from military small arms and light weapons up to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.”  Ganzer did not state whether the Administration believes that ammunition or dual-use items and industrial processes should be covered by the treaty, but ammunition—at least—is likely to be included. Yet the Administration itself does not actually want a treaty that covers “all” conventional weapons: in July, it argued forcefully for the exclusion of hunting weapons.

The contradictions in Ganzer’s remarks reveal a U.S. policy process that is divided and confused, with too many advocates of large, ineffective, symbolic treaties. Nowhere was that clearer than in Ganzer’s remarks on that process. Ganzer, using the royal “we,” praised Secretary of State Clinton for taking “an important first step towards a significant and meaningful international [arms trade] treaty.” But Secretary Clinton is Ganzer’s boss. The Secretary’s statement was not a “first step”: it was a statement—albeit a misguided one —of U.S. policy, not a casual comment that her subordinates should publicly imply is only the start of the process.  No wonder U.S. policy toward these treaties is muddled.