The United States likes to picture itself as a prominent player and arbiter in the international community, paving the way for progress on a number of global fronts. A key part of maintaining our legitimacy in the international community is signing the Arms Trade Treaty, which opened for signatures today at the United Nations. Secretary of State Kerry indicated in a statement that the United States looks forward to signing the Treaty, and will soon be able to do so once "the process of conforming the official translations" is finalized. This is a firm step in the right direction.
The Arms Trade Treaty is a multilateral international agreement, in the making since 2006 and negotiated at a 2012 global conference, that seeks to implement and enforce standards in the international sale and transfer of "all conventional arms" (tanks, planes, artillery, ships, missiles, small arms, etc.). Don Kraus, President and CEO of GlobalSolutions.org, succinctly described the purpose of the ATT, explaining how it "is designed to help prevent the more than 500,000 deaths worldwide that happen as a result of armed violence." Further, the ATT will bring "foreign governments up to US export standards" and prohibit arms transfer when a country knows that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity.
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman previously said that the United States would sign the ATT "in the very near future." And why shouldn't it? The United States was an incredibly positive influence in crafting the text of the ATT, which reflects longstanding US foreign policy on the international arms trade. Signing the treaty is entirely in line with American domestic and foreign interests, and the act will show the global community that the United States is dedicated to both stemming the illicit arms trade and preventing the human rights abuses these weapons cause. But as of today, over sixty countries have already signed the treaty - and the US is not yet one of them.
Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation have advocated refusing to offer an exact time when the United States will sign the ATT (or completely refusing to sign it), arguing that more review of the agreement is necessary. But there is little substance behind this argument; right wing organizations simply want to throw as many roadblocks in front of the US signing the treaty as possible so as to keep the country from participating in such a landmark international venture. The National Rifle Organization has similarly played fast and loose with the facts, claiming that signing the treaty would directly infringe with the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. Even though the ATT explicitly states that "the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory" will not be affected by the treaty, right-wing entities, like Breitbart.com and Fox News, and other gun-rights activists still choose to use fear-mongering over facts to barrel forward with their objective.
Yet, the United States is undeterred by fear, and will not bend to the will of a vocal yet small minority of Americans who believes it's their duty to keep the country from guiding the international community. The United States will likely sign the Arms Trade Treaty - this is clear; there is only the question of when. By signing the treaty today, we could have shown the world that we are as committed to humanity as we are to our own country. But the opportunity for American global leadership still exists; we must prove to the world, by signing the Treaty this week, that the United States is willing to play a more cooperative and responsible role in the international affairs. We must prove that human rights are not less important to us than corporate rights. We must show that we are a true member of the global community.
We've taken the first step, but one step is not enough. It's time to lead. It's time to sign.