U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from another global treaty, this time a relatively new but growing accord to regulate the international trade in conventional arms.
Trump used an annual meeting of the United States’ powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, to unveil the latest multilateral mechanism to gain his ire: the landmark Arms Trade Treaty, or ATT.
“Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone,” Trump told the NRA. “We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedoms. And that is why my administration will never ratify the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. I hope you’re happy.”
Less than five years old, the treaty covers everything from small arms to battle tanks and combat aircraft to warships. The United States is the world’s biggest arms exporter.
It was negotiated through the United Nations, when former U.S. President George W. Bush was in office, but it only entered into force in December 2014, after it was signed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry in former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
After the U.S. signing, Oxfam International, a member of the Control Arms Coalition, an umbrella advocacy organization, welcomed ATT as a “powerful step demonstrating the United States’ commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protect civilians from armed conflict.” The U.S. Senate never formally ratified it, however.
The treaty represents “the only global instrument aimed at improving transparency and accountability in the international arms trade,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement responding to reporters’ questions about Trump’s announcement.
“It is a landmark achievement in the efforts to ensure responsibility in international arms transfers,” he said. “This is particularly important in present times, when we witness growing international tensions and renewed interest in expanding and modernizing arsenals.”
Since taking office in 2017, Trump has pulled U.S. support or threatened to withdraw from a series of major international organizations and treaties such as the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, UNESCO, U.N. Human Rights Council and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The ATT is designed to foster responsible arms trade, stopping arms flows to human rights abusers. Its object & purpose serves all states, including the US. pic.twitter.com/ee04yb2XAu
— Control Arms (@controlarms) April 26, 2019
Undermining arms regulation
In light of these withdrawals, the Control Arms Coalition said in a statement that Trump’s “announced intention to un-sign the ATT is therefore yet another step back by the U.S. from rules-based international cooperation which aims to reduce human suffering. In this instance, the U.S. is aligning itself with states such as Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria, moving away from its traditional friends and allies.”
The ATT has 100 nation members, and will grow to include 101 in July when Palau’s ratification becomes effective. Its purpose is to regulate the US$100 billion global arms trade and cut down on illicit arms transfers.
“Unregulated and irresponsible arms transfers intensify and prolong conflict, lead to regional instability, facilitate human rights abuses on a massive scale, and hinder social and economic development,” according to the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs.
“The ATT is designed to stop such transfers and to promote responsibility, transparency and accountability in the global arms trade,” UNODA said. “It will therefore contribute to reducing the suffering of millions of civilians who are affected by armed conflict and violence.”