Arms Trade Treaty, Day Two: Human Rights and Non-State Actors

By Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D.

Yukio Takasu, the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations
Yukio Takasu, the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations
The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation
The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation

Washington, DC –-(  The morning’s discussion (March 19th 2013 ) at the U.N. on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) brought into focus one of the underlying tensions among the nations negotiating the treaty.

While the holier-than-thou contingent wants to use it as a way to restrain oppressive governments, the autocracies view it as a way to prevent individuals from acquiring weapons.

Even if little new is actually being said —the ATT process is now almost a decade old— this battle is being fought out at the conference on many fronts. The current draft treaty text refers, in most places, to the “end use” of the arms under discussion, language that the U.S. prefers in order to avoid any infringement on Second Amendment rights. But a smattering of autocracies and others want to refer to “end users” because, as Syria noted, the treaty would then target “unauthorized” non-state actors, such as the ones that are currently trying to overthrow the Syrian regime.

By the same token, Article 12 in the preamble allows nations to exercise “their right to adopt additional and more rigorous measures consistent with the purpose of this Treaty.” In other words, the ATT would not deprive the U.S. of its right to run its current gold-standard export control system. The autocracies also dislike this clause, because, as they recognize, a tighter export system is likely to make it very hard for them to buy weapons from the democracies.

At bottom, what the autocracies dislike is the way the treaty has evolved over the past several years. When it was initially proposed, the world’s nations wanted one thing above all: a treaty that would recognize their right to buy and sell arms. But since then, the treaty has been driven forward largely by the holier-than-thous and their NGO choir, which turned it into a treaty that focuses on human rights criteria and the wrongdoings of the world’s governments.

Those wrongdoings are frequently very real. But in the clash between the autocracies and the sanctimonious, the U.S. can find no comfort. The autocracies aren’t aiming at the Second Amendment, but a treaty that focuses on non-state actors raises the specter of bans on the import of firearms by anyone but the government —because what the autocracies really mean by “non-state actors” is “private citizens.”

The sanctimonious aren't fond of the Second Amendment either, but their response is to push all the harder for a treaty that fully includes ammunition (which the U.S. made clear today that it would not accept) and has human rights standards that are incompatible with the existing U.S. system, which the Administration has pledged to preserve.

Liechtenstein’s intervention this morning caught the flavor of this group nicely with its argument that even if a nation is suffering from a massive external attack on its civilian population, no one should sell arms to the victim if there were a “substantial” risk that the victim would commit any human rights abuses.

By this way of thinking, only those as pure as driven snow should be armed; everyone else should just die quietly.

The U.S. is caught in the middle. It has so far intervened twice in the debate, once to warn against expanding the scope and criteria of the treaty to a point where it becomes unenforceable and once to state—rather plaintively—that while it respects the systems of other nations, they should extend the same courtesy to the U.S. and keep a preambular mention of civilian ownership. This was not a popular position. Only the Czech Republic supported the U.S. without reservations.

But it was Japan that, as the afternoon’s discussion opened, made the most shocking statement of the day. It argued that, while it is nice to pretend that arms-exporting nations can mitigate the risk that their weapons will be used irresponsibly, most importing U.N. member states are incapable of taking the necessary measures. Mitigation is part of the U.S. system, so in one way this was a criticism of the U.S. But in the context of the U.N., it is novel (and even offensive) to make the obvious point that many of the governments in the room are, to put it simply, incompetent.

About Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation is the top conservative think tank in the United States. Their blog starts your morning off right with “The Morning Bell,” a blogpost that brings you up to speed on current issues, and then updates you throughout the day on a variety of issues concerning conservatives. Visit:

About Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D.:
Ted R. Bromund studies and writes on British foreign and security policies and Anglo-American relations as senior research fellow in The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom. He also explains why America must defend and advance its unique leadership role in the world. Visit: to read more.

  • 10 thoughts on “Arms Trade Treaty, Day Two: Human Rights and Non-State Actors

    1. AGAIN I urge you to write AND call your Senators and Representatives to defund the UN and kick them off our shores.
      NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD would their Ambassadors be coddled as they are here.
      It is LONG past time for this coddling to stop.
      The UN costs the US Taxpayer BILLIONS of dollars EVERY YEAR to support, the while they seek the demise of the remains of our Republic, the ONLY workable system of government in the History of the world.

    2. Perhaps the UN could benefit from a little MOSSAD demolition wiring just like the WTC.

      I did not vote for the UN. I don’t know anybody who voted for the President.

      Send these usurpers back where they came from.

    3. My father had a older friend from Denmark come visit are family.Many years ago when there was problems btw Israel and Egypt in the Suez canal.He was put as a UN peacekeeper.He was awarded a silver star for killing 2 Egyptian soldiers who we’re going to kill him and his men.I don’t know all the details because after all these years he is still very emotional over it.When he was there a female officer in the IDF(Israeli Defense Forces)had a one night affair with him.He gave me his UN patch and a IDF badge off of her beret that she gave him.I put it in plastic and have kept it for him if he ever wants it back. F the UN.I can’t stand them either and I wanted to burn the patch but he is very proud of his service and I will keep it for him.Also he gave me the ribbon of where he served in the middle east.After 9/11 he went to Washington to see the sights but alot was closed. He also went to the Pentagon to see it but was turned away. This is a good man.Its just that the UN really suck with this small arms treaty and other crap they have going on.

    4. comments are very entertaining here Just goes to show that some people still think; here in america. A free People Ought to be armed George Washington 1790.. Give me LIBERTY or give me DEATH.. Patrick Henry. NUF>Said

    5. OK guys. How about the UN Drug Treaties. i.e. drug cartel support treaties.

      Medical Marijuana prohibition is a crime against humanity and a violation of the religious precept – heal the sick.

    6. Fuk the UN!! A bunch of Blue helmeted non-starters who get more of their OWN TROOPS KILLED than helping people. If they want to restrict guns let em start in the middle east and Africa where little kids have AK-47s and use them all the time! How much gun violence and killings are going on in Iraq,Afghanistan,Syria,Egypt,Iran, Jordan,Yemen and a whole hose of those nations!! Make the idiots in the UN clean that crap up before trying to take my guns because if a Blue Helmeted Foreign speaking goon shows up here to get my guns he is gonna get a ass full of lead!!

    Leave a Comment 10 Comments