What do Iran, Syria, North Korea and the NRA have in common? They are all on the losing side of trying to block the creation of a new Arms Trade Treaty. This landmark agreement has been in the making since 2006 and will be the first international treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade. The most powerful way the United Nations can agree to a treaty is by "consensus," where all nations agree to the text. But these three rogue nations blocked agreement. It was a sad sight to witness.
But fortunately, the treaty's sponsors did the next best thing and brought it to the General Assembly where it was agreed to by an overwhelming majority: 154 to 3, with the U.S. voting in favor. A treaty is born!
The Arm Trade Treaty is a great step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide.
The United States played a positive role in negotiating the Treaty which is designed to help prevent the more than 500,000 deaths worldwide that happen as a result of armed violence. Firearms are used in armed conflicts and to carry out human rights violations, including genocide and gang rapes. More than 250,000 children have been forced into combat as under-aged child soldiers.
The treaty will address these heinous crimes by bringing foreign governments up to U.S. export standards and moving black markets out of the shadows. This is a legacy issue for President Obama, who has made genocide and atrocity prevention a priority. The Arms Trade Treaty explicitly prohibits arms transfers when a country "has the knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity... "
The agreement is also a win for women's rights. Before agreeing to an arms sale, it specifically calls for countries to assess the risk of weapons being used "to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children."
This treaty is in America's security, business, and moral interests. Because of the diligent negotiations led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman, the treaty is consistent with current U.S. practices and laws.
Unfortunately here in Washington the conservative Heritage Foundation and the NRA have dreamed up dark visions of how any limits on conventional arms sales would deprive Americans of their 2nd amendment right -- a big lie: The Obama administration made sure the treaty excluded domestic sales and the American Bar Association confirmed the treaty did not infringe on Americans' Second Amendment Rights.
The next step is for President Obama to sign the treaty on June 3, when it is open for signatures. This should be a no-brainer. The United States, after all, is the top global supplier of major conventional weapons. It also maintains the world's gold standard in national trade controls.
Not only is it good for our nation to have all countries operating from the same rule book, it's also our responsibility. Without the treaty, warlords and terrorists will continue to get weapons used to force child soldiers to kill their parents, to attack American soldiers and missionaries, and to rape refugee women and girls.
This is a moment to celebrate a significant step forward. As Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said, "The new treaty says to every United Nations member that you cannot simply 'export and forget."
But the Arms Trade Treaty will not go into force until 50 countries have approved or ratified it. So global citizens will have our work cut out for us to make sure the United States continues to play a cooperative and responsible role and implements this great new international law.