How to Lobby the U.N. General Assembly: A Case Study

by Julian Ku

The U.N. General Assembly next week will likely vote to approve a resolution proposing an Arms Trade Treaty designed to regulate and limit the international trade in small arms. David Kopel of the Volokh Conspiracy has some very tough words for Control Arms, the leading NGO lobbying for the Arms Trade Treaty. But whether or not Control Arms is a nefarious organization secretly plotting to ban all guns or whether it is out to get Israel, there is little doubt that this NGO has mastered the art of lobbying the UN General Assembly.

Nearly 96 countries have already signed onto a draft resolution proposing the Arms Trade Treaty and more will no doubt do so. Control Arms and other NGOs have been furiously campaigning for some kind small arms control treaty for many years now and their latest gambit: sending lobbyists in running shorts to lobby all 192 General Assembly members in 192 minutes. Getting 96 countries to support the treaty is an impressive display of NGO activism.

Whether the treaty will actually do anything is another question. My hunch with respect to these kinds of treaties is that countries can easily sign on to them, or even co-sponsor them, because they impose few if any real obligations on them. So it is easy to get lots of support to do pretty much nothing. Maybe I’m wrong. But because the actual text of the latest version of the Arms Trade Treaty is nowhere to be found on the Control Arms or UN websites, so it is hard to evaluate it (lots of young and beautiful people support the treaty, though, which counts for something). In fact, as opaque as the U.S. congressional legislative process might be, the GA process appears to be even worse. Aside from some tediously dull accounts of committee discussions (see one here), it is nearly impossible to figure out exactly what the GA will consider next week. A little transparency might be useful here, assuming we should bother to care.

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