The World Is Coming Up Guns

30 Mar

Arms-Sprouting PolypsAmnesty International supports an international arms trade and condemns Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their “cynical” opposition.

Despite overwhelming support for the treaty, some states still use huge economic interest, the exercise of political power and even claims of sovereignty to justify acts that are patently reprehensible such as the targeting and killing of their own citizens.

OK, so what the US Senate’s excuse for opposing what sounds like the international law equivalent of kittens and puppies?

It’s a rare day when the US Senate finds itself on the same side as Assad and the mullahs, but that’s exactly what’s happening now. The Senate voted last week 53-46 in favor of an amendment to defeat the treaty, indicating that the 67 votes required to ratify it are pretty much out of the question.

Of course the Senate is responding to a very different set of concerns. Jacksonian Americans are skeptical about ceding authority over US interests to an international body and are already stirred up about the new push for gun control at home. This has made them liable to lash out at this new treaty even harder.

None of this has stopped President Obama from pushing for a vote in the UN General Assembly next week. This is a move he may well come to regret. As the measure makes its way through the UN, it’s looking more and more like another global treaty train wreck in which the State Department backs a deal that has no chance of passing the Senate. Is Obama about to get his own Treaty of Versailles?

Damn, General Jackson again! And, in this bizarre world where guns make the world safer – yes, the NRA can propagate that myth with a clear conscience – opponents can spin blame for a world flush with weaponry on arms treaty supporters like Oxfam and Control Arms who naively push for a straight treaty that wakes the arms industry from the intoxication of its peak market frenzy.

What is cynical, according to Andrew Feinstein, author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade is crafting a document designed to compromise with opponents, and then fall into a trap when those same feckless opponents label the resolution ineffective.

ANDREW FEINSTEIN: Absolutely. I think the first point I should make is, as something of an outsider to the U.S., I find it extraordinary that legislation has not yet been passed on gun control. And I think most of the world would be absolutely astonished if there is not quite strict gun-control legislation in the United States. And President Obama is absolutely correct to be pushing for it. Ironically, as you say, at the same time at the United Nations, the United States was really perhaps more responsible than any other country for scuppering the negotiations last summer, as you mentioned.

AMY GOODMAN: And for an American audience, “scuppering” means?

ANDREW FEINSTEIN: Means to effectively end the negotiations before a treaty had been agreed. And now the same mechanism that was used by America in July has been used by North Korea, Iran and Syria to effectively block the treaty at the moment. The hope is that this will only be a temporary delay and that next week we actually will see in the General Assembly the first set of international rules for the global arms trade in place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But this issue of requiring all 193 members of the United Nations, a complete consensus on a treaty, is that the normal method for deciding on these treaties, or is this one way that the United States used to make it more—make it possible for even just the United States by itself to block a treaty?

ANDREW FEINSTEIN: I think that was the intention of consensus. It’s used in some negotiations at the U.N., but certainly not all. And I think the U.S. and then President Obama, with the election in mind, to be quite honest, was thinking about the pressures that would come from the NRA itself, but also from large defense contractors, the interest groups that keep this multibillion-dollar industry going—an industry that, I should mention, is wracked by corruption, in which the boundaries between the illegal and the legal are extremely fuzzy and are constantly broken. So I think the U.S. insisted on this mechanism in these particular negotiations, and in some senses it has now come back to haunt the U.S.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But specifically, there’s been talk about how the current version has been watered down. What would the treaty do, in real life? Because the United Nations, of course, is notorious for its ineffectiveness in terms of being able to police other governments in various other treaties. How would this work?

ANDREW FEINSTEIN: Well, the idea is that it would raise the stakes. It would make it incumbent upon those countries that sign up to it to put in place certain mechanisms that would govern the way in which they export and import weaponry. The difficulty is, and to be honest with you, the treaty, in its current form, is a lot weaker than I would like to see. I think there are a lot of issues that haven’t been adequately addressed. There is also no meaningful enforcement mechanism. But to the credit of the civil society organizations and activist groups who have pushed for this treaty, it will be the first set of international rules. And I think what its real use will be will actually be giving activists and civil society organizations a lever with which to exert pressure on their own governments.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the—oh, Juan, sorry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I just wanted to ask, to follow up on that, can you give examples of some of the provisions that would bring progress on the question of control in the arms flow?

ANDREW FEINSTEIN: Certainly. What governments would have to do is they would have to consider certain criteria before authorizing the export of materiel, military equipment, weaponry, from their country. Those would include the likelihood of it contributing to an intensification of conflict, atrocities against their own citizenry or citizenry from other countries. It would also mean that they would have to document exactly what they were both exporting and importing. So there are a whole number of ways in which it would apply regulation that doesn’t currently exist. However, again let me emphasize, without strong enforcement mechanisms and without really committed political will from individual nation states, the utility and effectiveness of this treaty still will remain to be seen.

As with immigration reform, it’s better just to draft a tough law that exposes the opposition for the gun-sucking prostitutes they are, and work to solidify your voting bloc.

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