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GOP Senators ready to do battle over U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

Flags fly outside of U.N. Headquarters.
Flags fly outside of U.N. Headquarters.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

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After two weeks of intense negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly this week voted to approve a landmark new arms trade treaty. The language of the treaty establishes common international standards requiring states to ensure that arms and weapons exported to other countries are not to be used “to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law.” The treaty is designed to curb sales of arms that could end up in the hands of terrorists, dictators and other humanitarian offenders, and covers exports of  large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, tanks and vehicles, warships, missiles, small arms and the like. While approval by the UNGA was overwhelming, the decision was not unanimous; the final tally was 154-3, with Iran, North Korea and Syria voting against it and 23 countries abstaining.

President Obama is expected to sign the treaty, but it will face an uphill battle for the 2/3 majority needed to pass in the Senate: over 50 Republican senators have expressed opposition. Critics, including the National Rifle Association, claim that language in the treaty could potentially supercede Americans’ Second Amendment rights, threatening gun ownership legislation already in place.  And detractors also point out that, while well-intentioned, the treaty  is unlikely to have the teeth needed to affect the $60 billion global arms trade.  In fact, they say, many of the nations who abstained or voted against are those least likely to abide by its restraints.

Is the Arms Trade Treaty a step towards a solution to global arms proliferation,or just a feel-good, band-aid measure? Or is it something worse - a threat to one of the tenets of our Constitution?  Does it have any chance of getting passed by the Senate?  How do you feel about linking arms trade to humanitarian causes?

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association

Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation