US gun lobby trains sights on UN arms treaty

US gun lobby trains sights on UN arms treaty
Force of the gun lobby is brought to bear on US foreign policy as powerful interest group lobbies against historic arms treaty and for huge profits for companies whose victims will almost always be poor Arabs, Afghans and Africans.
5 min read
26 December, 2014
Gun lobby is aiming to shoot down ratification of international arms trade treaty (Getty stock)

On Wednesday, Christmas Eve’s day, when John Kerry, the US secretary of state, signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly he did so, he said, because it was “significant”.

“On behalf of President Obama and the United States of America, I am very pleased to have signed this treaty here today. I signed it because President Obama knows that from decades of efforts that at any time that we work with – cooperatively to address the illicit trade in conventional weapons, we make the world a safer place. And this treaty is a significant step in that effort."

     There are huge amounts of profits to be made for weapons manufacturers and merchants everywhere.

On 24 December, the ATT officially entered into force around the world. But its fate in the US remains hampered by significant senate opposition and funding prohibitions included in appropriations legislation. That situation that is likely to be even more complicated when the next Congress returns on January 6, and the conservative, pro-gun Republicans officially take over the senate, which is supposed to ratify the treaty.

Even before this Republican majority – the American weapons industry’s most loyal servant – clasps its chokehold on ratification, the backtracking on US commitment to the ATT began.

The omnibus government funding bill passed by Congress earlier this month contained new prohibitions on the administration using any funds to implement the conventional arms treaty.

Funding the enforcement of the ATT is of course significant, and under UN procedures the US would be liable for 22 percent of the budget for the ATT secretariat, the body that will oversee its implementation.

This is not likely to see daylight because long before the midterm elections last November when Republican swept the Senate, 50 US senators signed a letter to President Obama pledging "not to give advice and consent" to the ATT. In order for a treaty to be ratified, no more than 33 senators can oppose it.

A most powerful lobby

Before delving into the details of the power of the American arms industry and the influence it wields over elected American officials, one should remember that these same politicians, even as they pose as paragons of security, by and large reject meaningful gun-control laws.

This is despite the fact that more than 11,000 people die of gunshot wounds in the United States each year. Thousands more are injured and maimed. Americans themselves tend to ignore not only the single deaths, but even the mass shootings that should be harder to overlook.

This is because the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful lobby in America (especially when it closes ranks with the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC), can determine the political fate of hundreds of legislators under the guise of the 2nd Amendment of the US constitution. It spends hundreds of millions of dollars year-round targeting opponents of obscene profits to the arms industry.

In the last few weeks, the NRA triggered alarm-bells among the American public that is so infatuated with its guns, making false assertions that the treaty will form part of the broad body of international law, implying that even if the senate does not ratify the treaty, the US will be bound by its provisions. Putting its money where its propaganda is, the NRA has blatantly and vigorously urged lawmakers in the new Congress to take steps to ensure the administration does not advance the treaty even if it is not ratified.

They cite a statement last week by Amnesty International saying that the ATT “will become binding international law on 24 December, after which it will require states to adhere to strict global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and abuse", as evidence of the ATT's hidden agenda of curtailing Americans' right to bear arms.

Profits before prophets

When the UN’s General Assembly adopted the ATT in April 2013 only three member states voted against: Iran, Syria and North Korea. Upon entry into force Wednesday, 90 days after a mandatory threshold of 50 ratifying states was crossed last fall, the US was among 70 nations to have signed, but not ratified, the treaty.

An additional 60 countries had as of Wednesday both signed and ratified the ATT, mostly European democracies and island nations in the Caribbean and Pacific. Only seven of Africa’s 54 countries (Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa) have signed and ratified.

No Middle Eastern country, ironically except Israel, has ratified, even though Arab countries are experiencing one of the bloodiest episodes in their conflict-laden history and the peoples of the region have suffered more innocent casualties from armed conflict than any other place in the world since the ATT was adopted in April 2013.

The non-signatories include Russia (the world’s second biggest arms exporter, after the US), China (the fifth biggest), Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Here is the bottom line: There are huge amounts of profits to be made for weapons manufacturers and merchants everywhere. And the overwhelming majority of the victims of these weapons will be poor Arab, Afghan and African civilians.

Not ratifying the treaty would seem the uncivilized thing to do. Yet that is exactly where the US is heading.