Trump shows the NRA crowd the signed document rejecting the UN arms trade treaty. Trump also told the crowd: ‘The level of corruption and dishonesty in the media is unbelievable.’

Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The White House announced today that it will withdraw the US’ signature from the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This announcement follows the US’s withdrawal from two other key instruments, the Paris Agreement in June 2017 and more recently the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It follows last week’s difficult negotiations on the UN Resolution 2467 (2019) addressing sexual violence in conflict when the US insisted that any language about the need for sexual & reproductive health services be removed from its text as well as President Trump’s veto of the Yemen War Powers Resolution and continued military support for Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. The announced intention to un-sign the ATT is therefore yet another step back by the US from rules-based international cooperation which aims to reduce human suffering. In this instance, the US is aligning itself with states such as Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria, moving away from its traditional friends and allies.

The ATT is the first global instrument to set common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms and ammunition with the express purpose of reducing human suffering. The Treaty seeks to regulate the $100bn global arms trade, requiring governments to assess the risk of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law before they authorise an arms deal, to not transfer arms where they are likely to end up in the hands of terrorists and organised criminal groups.  As the Treaty applies only to cross-border transfers, the ATT does not interfere with the US’ citizens the right to bear arms, protected under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, or the US’s ability to acquire arms for national security.

Irresponsible arms transfers and illicit arms flows fuel brutal conflicts in for example Yemen and Syria, and armed violence, organized crime and terrorism in countries like Afghanistan, Jamaica, Honduras and Nigeria. Their reverberating effects – the refugee crisis, instability, economic decline – are felt globally.

The announcement today is an indication that the US is turning it’s back on the millions of civilians affected by conflict and armed violence each year around the world. It is an indication that the US is ready to put economic interests above human rights.

Secretary of State of the United States of America, John Kerry signing the Arms Trade Treaty on 25 September 2013. Photo credit: Control Arms

When then-Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Treaty on behalf of the US on 25 September 2013, only six months after it opened for signatures, Oxfam International, a member of the Control Arms Coalition, welcomed it as a “powerful step demonstrating the United States’ commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protect civilians from armed conflict”. Today, we lament the US’s loss of commitment and respect for multilateral efforts to promote and protect International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

As the biggest arms exporter, the US’s signature to the ATT demonstrated its support for the establishment of common international standards for all states in the global arms trade. The US, who holds the “gold standard” in export controls, was already compliant with the Treaty’s key provisions. Ironically, the ATT is, or could be, one of the most effective tools for getting other States to bring their own export controls more into line with the rules applied in the US.

Despite the actions of the US, the international community more broadly continues to recognise the value of the Treaty, with the number of States Parties recently passing 100 and with more than 30 other signatories working towards full membership. Control Arms urges the US Government to recognise the value that the ATT brings and to think again. Instead of seeking to undermine its promise, the US should be working to support its effective implementation, both at home and abroad.

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States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty