US Lawmakers Send Letter to Obama Administration Warning on Arms Treaty Negotiations

US Lawmakers Send Letter to Obama Administration Warning on Arms Treaty Negotiations

The Hill (a DC newspaper covering US Congress and government) reports that some 130 US Congresspeople have sent a letter to the Obama administration objecting to various aspects of the just-started UN Arms Treaty negotiations in New York and warning the administration against what the lawmakers regard as infringements on US citizen gun rights or US sovereignty.  I thought I would add it as a new entry following Duncan’s excellent summary and links of the treaty negotiations; the text of the letter is here.  In this post, I summarize the letter’s objections, and in a second post, I’ll add a broader discussion of the problems of consensus international negotiations for the US, based in part around part of my book on US-UN relations.

The letter’s main concerns are (I’m summarizing a bit loosely here for clarity):

  • No dilution of US Constitutional protections under the 2nd Amendment (or other existing US laws protecting gun rights, whether at the state or federal level);
  • recognition of an individual right of personal self-defense;
  • no dilution of what the signatories regard as US national security and foreign policy interests, particularly transfers to Taiwan and Israel;
  • no treaty recognition of terrorist right to weapons, including through the language of “resistance to foreign occupation”;
  • no creation or recognition of jurisdiction of the ICC over treaty signatories;
  • no damage to US economic interests through such vehicles as new regulatory regimes imposing compliance burdens on businesses or other mechanisms, direct or indirect, or export control regimes different from what the US does or would otherwise do;
  • reservations and understandings, should the US join the treaty, that the US is already in compliance with the treaty and that no changes to US policy or procedure are required, that the treaty cannot alter the Bill of Rights or the allocation of power in the US federal system, and that the treaty cannot shift authority from US agencies to any international body;
  • asserts (but also demands recognition) that the treaty is non-self-executing and requires legislation to implement; and
  • demands that should any of the above legal-policy requirements not go the US’s way in negotiations (which would seem, well, pretty likely), the US should “break consensus and reject the treaty.”

That’s quite a list.  I’m perhaps not the most neutral person to comment here, since I agree with this list in its entirety and would probably add a few more just to make sure a treaty could not turn into leverage for US domestic gun control advocates.  After all, the history of this international effort has always been the marriage (sometimes sotto voce, sometimes not) of arms transfer controls particularly into armed conflicts (which, broadly speaking and with some important exceptions, I’ve favored ever since the argument came up when I headed the Human Rights Watch Arms Division long ago) – and creating international legal devices to press for domestic arms control and especially handgun bans (which to say I don’t favor is something of an understatement).  I’ll leave the commentary on the substance of the positions above to another discussion – though there are interesting issues here, such as the claim of a personal right of self-defense (the letter is not clear whether it means it as a stand-alone international human right or instead as recognition of or deference to such rights as exist in domestic legal systems). But the letter is a pretty useful summary of the general objections that US domestic treaty opponents have to it – expressed as concerns, but let’s speak plainly, objections.

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Martin Holterman

This is nuts. Essentially these Congresscritters are saying that they don’t want the treaty to make the US do anything that it wouldn’t do already. Someone really needs to explain to them what the nature of law is. What’s the point of negotiating a treaty that is drafted in such a way that you cannot foresee any set of circumstances where you might want to violate it?


[…]  Duncan Hollis at Opinio Juris has an excellent introduction with many links.  Also at OJ, I offer some thoughts on a letter sent by some 130 Congressional lawmakers to the Obama administration warning it of […]


[…] should only ever join negotiations on the condition that they won’t have to give in, and that the resulting treaty won’t actually force it to do anything that it wouldn’t already do … is completely absurd. (Prof. Anderson seems to agree at least with the last part.) But insisting […]

Zeray Yihdego

Certainly, the ATT, if adopted, will require states, including the USA, to behave in accordance with international legal standards. This may have some implications for arms exporting countries’ national interest. However, these countries will also be beneficiaries of the global common good to be achieved by the global ATT –denying tools of violence to terrorists, abusers of human rights and humanitarian law norms, and corrupt regimes and groups. On balance, the benefits outweigh the potential harm on national interest. The leadership role expected of developed countries including the US, on global concerns such as this, must not be forgotten, too. For more discussion and views on the ATT p/s see