U.S. to Sign Arms Trade Treaty, Might Be Ratified Some Time Around the Sasha Obama Administration

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Sept. 25 2013 11:53 AM

Arms Trade Treaty Could Have a Long Wait in the Senate

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Weapons and jewellery seized to alleged leader of 'El Cartel del Golfo' Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, aka 'El Coss', are presented to the press in Mexico City, on September 13, 2012.

Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/GettyImages

Secretary of State John Kerry will sign the international Arms Trade Treaty, meant to regulate the $70 billion per year trade in conventional weapons today. This might be a significant political gesture but probably won’t have any practical effect for a while. The treaty, which would require countries to track international arms transfers to ensure they don’t wind up in the wrong hands, has been signed by 89 countries but ratified by only four: Iceland, Nigeria, Guyana, and Antigua and Barbuda. At least 50 U.N. member states are required for the treaty to go into effect.

 U.S. ratification would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, meaning it’s likely that as Sen. James Inhofe has promised, it will “collect dust” along with other treaties the U.S. has signed but not ratified including the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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Compared to these (the disabilities treaty failed in the Senate last December despite an emotional last minute appeal from former Sen. Bob Dole after a concerted campaign by anti-abortion and homeschooling groups) the Arms Trade Treaty would seem to have a steeper hill to climb.

Though the U.S. specifically declared the Second Amendment to be a “redline” in negotiating the treaty and finished document deals only with international arms transfers and includes language specifically reaffirming “the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system,” the treaty is vehemently opposed by the National Rifle Association and has been portrayed as a backdoor method of regulating and monitoring private gun ownership within the United States.

Though there’s plenty of evidence to suggest U.S. guns are being used to commit crimes in other countries, international arms transfers have always been something of a sideshow in the U.S. gun control debate. As such, there’s not much political cost for either side in supporting or opposing it.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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