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U.S. Signs Arms Trade Treaty but Implementation Unlikely for Now

Friday, September 27, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The United States signed Sept. 25 an international agreement aimed at tightening controls on trade in conventional weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by the United Nations last April and has been signed by nearly 110 countries and ratified by four. While the pact will enter into force once it is ratified by 50 countries, it remains unclear whether the U.S. will actually implement it.

According to a State Department fact sheet, the ATT will establish a common standard for the national regulation of international trade in conventional arms. Specifically, countries that are party to the ATT will be required to establish national export and import controls for tanks, combat vehicles and aircraft, warships, missile and artillery systems, small arms and light weapons.

Opponents of the ATT say it lacks sufficient support among lawmakers, whose approval would be necessary for the treaty to be implemented in the U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told President Obama in a Sept. 24 letter that the White House “is not authorized to take any steps to implement the treaty” because the Senate has not yet provided its advice and consent, as required under the Constitution. Corker also pointed out that certain provisions of the ATT, including those related to the regulation of imports and trade in conventional arms, would require changes to U.S. law that would have to be approved by both the House and Senate in light of their constitutional authority to regulate trade. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., added in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry the same day that the ATT “does not have the support of the Senate or the American people” and “is destined to meet the same fate as other U.N.-sponsored treaties which threaten our country’s sovereignty.”

The State Department’s fact sheet seeks to address some of the sources of this opposition. The ATT will bring other countries’ export control systems “closer to the high standard the United States already sets,” the fact sheet states, and joining the ATT “would not result in any additional U.S. export or import controls.” In addition, the ATT “recognizes the legitimate political, security, economic, and commercial purposes of the international trade in conventional arms, as well as the legitimate trade and lawful ownership and use of certain arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities.” Finally, the ATT “reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate conventional arms within its own territory according to its own legal or constitutional system,” and nothing in this treaty “is inconsistent with the rights of U.S. citizens, including those protected by the Second Amendment.”

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