Stewart M. Patrick

The Internationalist

Patrick assesses the future of world order, state sovereignty, and multilateral cooperation.

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Your Guns Are in Safe Hands

by Stewart M. Patrick
July 20, 2012

National Rifle Association promotional items are displayed at a campaign stop (David Acker/Courtesy Reuters). National Rifle Association promotional items are displayed at a campaign stop (David Acker/Courtesy Reuters).


Coauthored with Emma Welch, research associate in the International Institutions and Global Governance program.

As the protracted conflict in Syria escalates rapidly into civil war—fueled by arms both legally sold and illegally procured—delegations from 193 UN member states are convened in New York for month-long negotiations to hammer out a legally-binding treaty regulating the international conventional arms trade by the fast-approaching deadline of July 27.

The conference is off to a predictably rocky start. First, substantive discussions were delayed due to an unrelated dispute over the official status of the Palestinian delegation. Soon afterward, Iran was elected to the fifteen-member general committee, sparking a chorus of condemnation and raising red flags over the credibility of the conference as a whole. (Among other things, Iran arms Hezbollah in Lebanon and funnels weapons to the Assad regime, not to mention its record of illegal nuclear activities.)

Although such sideline issues serve as easy media fodder, participating countries generally agree that a treaty is desperately needed and long overdue. Valued at upwards of $40 billion each year, the international arms trade is largely unregulated and rife with loopholes exploited by rogue states, terrorist groups, and enterprising criminal syndicates. Despite twenty-six UN, regional, and multilateral arms embargoes, Oxfam estimates that approximately $2.2 billion in arms and ammunition bypassed such restrictions between 2000 and 2010. In addition, only fifty-two countries have laws regulating arms brokers, half of which have no associated criminal penalties. And according to Amnesty International, the global trade in commodities like bananas, iPods, and dinosaur bones are more heavily restricted than conventional weapons ranging from handguns to AK-47s to surface-to-air missiles.

An international arms treaty would work to stem the flow of licit and illicit arms into unstable countries and regions, and prevent such weapons from falling into the wrong hands. However, despite three years of preparations and nearly a decade of advocacy campaigns, there remains a lack of consensus on the scope, criteria, and implementation of the treaty. The usual suspects, Russia, China, and—to a certain extent—the United States, are among the most influential of a handful of countries raising objections, particularly over the proposed inclusion of small arms and ammunition, human rights criteria, and regulatory measures. And to compound matters, the United States continues to face domestic opposition to its participation in the treaty negotiations.

Like other important international treaties such as the Rome Statute and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, U.S. domestic objections are primarily rooted in national sovereignty concerns. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has spearheaded the attacks, framing the arms trade treaty as a violation of the second amendment. In a speech before the UN conference last week, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre called the potential treaty “an offense to any American who has ever breathed our free air.” Two days ago, Republican presidential Mitt Romney echoed such sentiments at a town hall meeting: “Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right? Do not cede sovereignty. I’m happy to talk there. I’m not willing to give American sovereignty in any way, shape or form to the United Nations or any other body. We are a free nation.”

Such unequivocal declarations are not only inflammatory, they are completely unfounded. The treaty is limited to the international trade of conventional arms, which pertains to the buying, selling, transshipping, transferring, or loaning across borders. The draft text of the treaty explicitly recognizes “the exclusive right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through the constitutional protections on private ownership.” Moreover, U.S. participation and support are contingent upon a set of red lines, first and foremost of which is the primacy of the U.S. Constitution.

In response to the charges that the treaty would coopt U.S. national sovereignty, arms control experts argue that the treaty would have “little to no impact” on existing regulatory processes, and that American businesses would not assume any additional regulatory burdens. The United States already has in place a rigorous export control system, defined as the “gold standard.” Instead, the treaty is primarily aimed at countries in which rigorous controls and oversight are absent, in an attempt to harmonize and coordinate standards worldwide.

As the top global supplier of major conventional weapons, accounting for 30 percent of all exports (Russia is a close second with 24 percent), the United States has the special responsibility to marshal its diplomatic energy toward crafting a robust, enforceable, and sustainable treaty that will raise global standards and ultimately save lives. Given the divergent and often competing interests at stake, appeasing domestic constituencies is just one of the many hurdles to overcome in order to reach a consensus on a “bulletproof” treaty. 

Post a Comment 22 Comments

  • Posted by Jose

    The United Nations are going after guns and marijuana at the same time – which is really dumb. Finally we have an issue that will bring the Republicans and Democrats together to fight a common threat to freedom.

  • Posted by George

    The dangers of the ATT, specifically: the globalist treaty will force strict licensing requirements for firearms ownership; create an international gun registry; and mandate that all “unauthorized” firearms (including semi-automatic “assault” rifles) be confiscated and destroyed.

    “In short, overriding our national sovereignty, and in the process, providing license for the federal government to assert preemptive powers over state regulatory powers guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment in addition to our Second Amendment rights,”

  • Posted by Arminius

    What illegal Iran nuclear activities?

    Under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. This includes power stations and medical isotopes. Enrichment to 20% is consistent with medical usage. Therefore, Iran’s actions are legal under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which Iran has signed right alongside the United States and Israel has not!
    In demanding that Iran surrender their legal rights as specified in the NNPT, the United States is in violation of that treaty. Under Article IV, the United States is obligated to assist Iran in building their power stations and medical facilities. Clearly, if the United States were in compliance with the NNPT, we would know for an absolute certainty what Iran was and was not doing with their nuclear facilities.

    Under the Symington Amendment of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, Israel is not entitled to one penny of US taxpayer support, because – as has been validated by both former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former US President Carter, that Israel has nuclear weapons, but will not be a signatory to the NNPT, nor will it allow IAEA inspection of their facilities.

  • Posted by RB

    After reading Caroll Quigley’s “Tragedy and Hope”, I have no idea why I should ever believe you when you say this is only international in scope and would have no effect domestically, nor erode national sovereignty, since Quigley documented that the CFR’s stated ultimate goal is an end to national sovereignty altogether, which is the very definition of world government, which most of he people on this planet do NOT want.

    International firearms sales are a symptom of a greater problem, and that is that far too many people around the world find good need for them. Maybe if the CFR put its efforts toward eliminating the perceived need, then the market would dry up of its own accord.

    So long as people feel the need to seek armaments from outside their own countries, then they probably damned well ought to have them. It is totalitarianism, government corruption, and deep economic injustice that are the main drivers of firearms demand worldwide. If the CFR is who and what is publicly says it is, then that is where its efforts need to be focused, not on restricting free markets and trade.

  • Posted by Dave

    My guns are in safe hands- mine. And I, and presumably the rest of this nation, don’t need the help of the UN to protect either our rights, or our homes.
    Thanks but no thanks guys.
    What part of “shall not be infringed” needs clarification?

  • Posted by Av8r641

    Get the U.S. outof the UN and the UN out of the U.S!

  • Posted by Yoda

    Kudos Mr. Patrick:

    Excellent expose’

    “Government Grabbing Your Guns”

    Right on Mr. Patrick – WRITE ON

    Respectfullly, Yoda

  • Posted by chrisw

    Why does no one really read the article. Several of the commnets insist on chasing grey ghosts in that they are protesting a UN takeover of a US citizen’s gun ownership rights. The treaty says flatly that internal sales within the states will not be affected and the constitutions of the participating states will be the primary governor of all internal policies. That means ladies and gentleman that no UN treaty can or will infringe on any sovereignty of any nation. Why do people continue to inject lies into this issue?

  • Posted by Norman Dodd

    Good on the people for calling out the CFR on its totalitarian world government agenda.

    Good on the CFR for allowing such damaging comments on their own blog.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Norman Dodd

  • Posted by Mike

    I can say the latest version of the ndaa doesn’t allow us citizens to be abducted with out due process, but that doesn’t make it so.
    You just can’t trust any ‘global’ organization to look out for the best interests of any nation or humanity as a whole. They always have their agendas.

  • Posted by Hank

    Yes, this treaty only restricts international trade (for now). But this also means that guns overseas will be unavailable to Americans. Recently, for example, some thousands of American M-1 rifles stockpiled in Korea were prevented by the Obama administration from being shipped back to the U.S. for sale to private owners.

    This is a trojan horse, intended to give the UN jurisdiction over civilian firearms.

  • Posted by DanVIto

    TO CHRISW: Before you run with your statement “no UN treaty can or will infringe on any sovereignty of any nation”, I suggest you read: (Can the U.N. Gun Treaty Trump the Constitution?) As Mr. Korwin demonstrates, it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that the ATT would not become “the law of the land” in the US.

    Considering the difficulties we have with our “elected representatives” sticking it to us at every opportunity with vague bills containing hazardous fine print – i.e.. ObamaTax (You know, “You have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it…”, “The secretary shall determine…”, etc), I have NO faith whatsoever that unelected bureaucrats who take no oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the US Constitution and rely on the UN for their purpose in life will be sensitive to our God-given rights.

    As the old saying goes, “the devil’s in the details”. If there is no ATT, we continue as before, with the 2nd Amendment intact. Nothing changes. If the ATT is signed and ratified by Congress, we have to live with it, regardless of the “fine print”. At which point, saying “I told you so” will be little consolation for our nation losing a fundamental and probably most important, right.

    In God We Trust. All others? Not so much.

  • Posted by Danny

    I have to wonder if anyone in here has actually even read the proposed treaty.

    To say that it doesn’t try to interfere with internal “domestic” sales within the country is flat out wrong.

    They do however have one fact correct at the UN.

    “Illicit activities by certain brokers and traders – and by the Government officials they collude with – have violated every UN arms embargo, with small arms and ammunition as the main items transferred.”

    There you have it. Without Government corruption, then there would be no reason to need a UN arms treaty. This treaty will do nothing to stop Government corruption, so the treaty is worthless. Might as well be toilet paper, but toilet paper is worth more.

    Also, The article above mentions Iran trading and selling arms to the LEGITIMATE government of Syria. They have done nothing illegal, but the United States government that has supplied arms to the rebels and terrorists in Libya aren’t even mentioned?

  • Posted by John

    I love how the commenters all see through this pathetic attempt to assure us that the ATT posses no threat. As if the NRA would waste it’s time presenting itself at the conference for no logical reason. Nice try at the disinformation you are spouting, but you are going to have to do a lot better than that.

  • Posted by Someone

    Switzerland is a model of success, both financially and militarily.

    The US would do well to model the Swiss when it comes to finance and firearms, instead of say … Great Britain.

    How many US citizens got to vote on whether or not the US was to be involved in the UN?
    Thought so….

  • Posted by Skeptic

    “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” Thomas Jefferson
    It seems the CFR forgot about Jefferson.
    Is this supposedly not a threat to US sovereignty just as China’s having direct access to purchase treasuries (bypassing Wall Street) also not a threat?
    I guess the insolvency of the West or the banks is also not something we should be concerned about either.
    I guess buying computers made in China which have built-in spyware is also not a threat.
    I guess having counterfeit Chinese parts in American military gear is also not a threat.
    CFR, do you even know which masters you are serving? Perhaps you will when your descendants and your country is penniless:
    “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.”
    Thomas Jefferson

  • Posted by ChewyBees

    Everything must come to a single point before everything can be destroyed, in exchange for a new everything. This is how the universe works.
    They will pass this and myriad other draconian laws, and the public will triumph it. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when the system fails systemically. There will be apocalyptic destruction, and unfortunately, death.
    This is an end of age, and an important one. It is why the very desperation of the elite is so evident. They know. So should you.
    Prophecy is there, and not just biblical whatever. It is everywhere, it is everything. They cannot possibly stop it, though they will make every effort to do so, including mass killings and terror.
    Be true to self. Love everyone and tell the truth. Do no harm to life unless that life is harming you. It’s not a new discovery people, it’s the wisdom of the ages. The only true positive difference any person can make starts with self.

  • Posted by Jeremiah

    Mine to Dave. My guns are safe in my hands and will stay there. I did 2 tours in Vietnam to keep us free. Not to let some asshole take them 44 years later.

  • Posted by Citizen

    Mr. Patrick, the U.N. on the surface may not want our guns, but giving up our guns will soon follow the giving up of our sovereignty as a nation. Check history and you will discover that every time guns were given up by the general population, it was soon followed by a tyrannical government taking over their lives; i.e. Lenin, Hitler, Mao and Castro. All of those examples were followed by a state take over of land owners by murdering them. Thomas Jefferson stated that the ownership of guns is to keep a government from becoming tyrannical. Our current administration is hell-bent on socializing the United States by edict and/or policy, which could nullify our Constitution, if we do not stand up and take notice. It was Nazi Germany that put fluoride in the drinking water, for the sole purpose of making the population docile and not to resist the government agenda.

    Many of us know that very soon the Federal Reserve is going to collapse (which has been planned) to further impoverish the American People to the degree of rioting in the streets, because they will be homeless and hungry. This was also planned, or provisions designed well in advance by the “Powers That Be”, for whom you are a pawn in their game. I can see by your photo that you are very young man and I am sure your mentors have taken under their wing(s) to tell you how intelligent you are and more important than most people. This is how the “Powers That Be” recruit those they want to control and use, to be their patsy, all the while they are in the back rooms completely out of the public eye planning and scheming their next move.

    So that you are not left in the dark; the “Powers That Be” are more commonly known as Masons, Illuminati and Banksters as in gangsters. Many of those that are and have been mentored, do not know they are “Pawns in the Game”, a book by William Guy Carr, 1955 and banned from all public libraries, because it is an indictment of nearly all governments on the planet. The book may be out of date, but not the issues, which are all being implemented to this day.

    If you decide to dig deeper into this, I applaud you, but beware that if there is a hint of you turning on your mentors, they will use you to the nth degree and put you away as so many others have met with their demise. They can ill afford to have their agenda tampered with, lest any setbacks. These people are Satanists and serve him and Satan has control over everything, except which YHWH has made sure is hands off.

  • Posted by PearlY

    I’ve read the draft Treaty. I don’t believe it’s compatible with Americans’ understanding of the 2nd Amendment.

    First, while the Treaty recognizes the rights of States to individual and collective self-defense, it completely fails to recognize any individual right of self-defense. No treaty should even be considered that does not explicitly and clearly recognize and preserve that most basic of all human rights.

    Secondly, the Treaty fails to recognize the basic principle, clearly spelled out in our own Declaration of Independence, of a people’s inherent right to overthrow a tyrannical government, by force of arms if necessary.

    Beyond those two fatal flaws, there are numerous provisions that appear to require, ostensibly in the regulation of international trade, a level of interference in intranational activities that is simply incompatible and cannot be made compatible with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

    The direction to maintain records of “end users” of imported arms would, for instance, have this effect: A major U.S. firearms retailer, such as Cabela’s, Midway USA or Cheaper than Dirt, orders a shipment of, say, SKS rifles from overseas, and then offers them for sale. The Treaty would seem to require that the retailer obtain end-user data on each sale and provide those records to a U.S. federal agency for transmission to and ultimate open publication by the U.N. Implementation Support Unit. So if I were to buy one of these rifles I could expect to see my name, address and perhaps other personal data (birthdate, occupation, other household residents, etc.?) made available worldwide for anyone to read. As I understand it, current U.S. law prevents that information from even being shared with our own federal agencies, much less international ones or the general international public.

    The bottom line is that to comply with the requirements of the Treaty as to international trade, intranational trade would have to be heavily regulated. That would not, in itself, abolish private ownership, but the regulations would make the seizure of privately held arms much easier in the future, under some pretext of ’emergency’ need such as occurred after Hurricane Katrina.

    This Treaty should go nowhere. I’m glad that’s where it seems to be headed.

  • Posted by Jack

    The problem with guns is when they are not in safe hands.

  • Posted by Burgher

    Generally I do not read article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do it!

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