Will the Colorado Massacre Change US Positions on the Arms Trade Treaty?
Not likely it seems. The tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado may be responsible for moving President Obama to talk about gun control as he did yesterday in New Orleans, despite a noticeable earlier reticence to engage that topic. But that speech was clearly aimed at a domestic audience, emphasizing a need for improved domestic regulations and responses to gun violence. There was no mention of the on-going talks in New York that seek to regulate the international trade in arms and (at least originally) ammunition. By most accounts, those talks aren’t going terribly well as negotiators enter the final 36 hour push to adopt a text before negotiations end on Friday.
On Tuesday, the Conference Chair, Ambassador Moritan of Argentina, circulated a new draft text that excluded any regulation of ammunition, which some States and many NGOs like Oxfam had wanted covered. As David Bosco describes it at The Multilateralist, one of the key obligations is also now clouded by a purpose requirement (which restricts arms trade for certain purposes, such as committing genocide, rather than just regulating the trade of specific arms themselves). Also absent are third-party compliance mechanisms. Now, none of these things are required in order for the negotiators to conclude a treaty. And this would be far from the first instrument to be heavy on rhetoric and light on changes to the status quo. But what does seem interesting here is the narrative that puts most, if not all, of these developments squarely on the shoulders of the United States.
Standing alone, I’m not surprised by the US position(s) on what the treaty should look like — it seems consistent with what I posted earlier this month. The Obama Administration is seeking to thread a very fine needle here — achieving some international regulation of the arms trade via treaty that it could sign onto without triggering much in the way of constitutional, let alone political, objections (so far, its efforts on the latter front aren’t going so well, given how little the last month of negotiations has done to assuage those who oppose the idea of an arms trade treaty entirely). Still, as news reports circulate about the Colorado shooter’s on-line purchases of guns and some 6000 rounds of ammunition, it does put the Obama Administration in an awkward position, especially if any of that ammo had foreign origins (although the shooter’s guns and protective gear appear to be of US origin, I’ve not seen anything one way or another on the origins of that ammunition). As the UN Conference is seeking to adopt a treaty text by consensus, the US can always stand firm and oppose provisions on ammunition or additional controls on State behavior. In doing so, however, the Obama Administration risks being put in the spotlight as anti-gun regulation at the very time when it would like to convey the opposite impression.