You all may have heard that Secretary of State John Kerry signed the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty about a month ago. People on the right absolutely lost their minds, convinced that this is part of a conspiracy to steal guns from Americans. So the treaty faces a tough time getting approved in the Senate.
So first, just real quick-like, we’ll debunk that, and then move on to the ways that the U.S. is now also sort of undermining the spirit of the treaty, if not necessarily the letter of it.
Crash Course: U.N. Arms Trade Treaty
First, the arms trade treaty in question has no impact on domestic gun ownership. It is entirely aimed at regulating the international arms trade. (Fun fact: the U.S. is the biggest arms exporter in the world and accounts for about 80% of the global arms trade.) So despite NRA hyperventilation to the contrary, the 2nd Amendment is not even really relevant to this issue. The goal is to make it harder for states to transfer weapons to terrorist groups and countries accused of human rights abuses.
Second, unfortunately, even after the U.S. ratifies the treaty, it will actually be a while before it is implemented. Currently, although 114 countries have signed the treaty, only 8 have ratified it. It will only go into effect once 50 countries have ratified it.
So it is not as scary as people make it out to, and it won’t be fully integrated into international law for some time yet.
U.S. Arms Export “Reforms”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is outdoing Clinton and Bush in seeking to ease restrictions on arms exports, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense when it is also supporting this treaty.
Basically, the administration is aiming to move certain types of arms and arms components from the United States Munitions List (USML), which undergoes significant scrutiny from the State Department prior to exportation, to the Commerce Control List (CCL), which does not receive as much scrutiny. The ultimate goal, of course, (in the words of the White House,) is that “a significant percentage of the items that are transferred off of the USML would be permitted to be exported without a license.” So in other words, the plan is to go from strict scrutiny to no scrutiny.
Human rights groups and even the Government Accountability Office have raised concerns that the move would make it easier to sell weapons to terrorist/insurgent groups or to countries with records of human rights abuses (sound familiar? Like exactly what the Arms Trade Treaty is meant to prevent?)
What’s the rationale? Basically, to increase the profit margin for U.S. arms exporters. But the real kicker is that it probably still won’t even make a huge difference for arms companies earnings.
For one thing, when you already control 80% of the global arms trade, it is hard for any policy changes to give you a significant boost. There’s just not that much more room for growth.
For another, even without these so-called “reforms,” only 3% of U.S. exports are subject to export licensing controls. So removing those licensing requirements isn’t likely to have a major impact on the economy, because it only affects a very tiny sector.
So, all in all, not really worth the increased potential for American-made weapons to continue to fuel conflicts around the globe.