US right up in arms over treaty

More than 65 countries have signed an arms trade treaty that has been championed by Australia at the United Nations since work began on it in 2006.

Speaking after signing the treaty on Monday at the UN’s New York headquarters, Australia’s Minister for Defence Materiel, Mike Kelly, said it was moving to be present at the culmination of such a long effort to bring about a treaty designed to reduce the suffering caused by the unregulated international flow of conventional weapons, especially small arms.

He paid tribute to Peter Woolcott, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, who was president of the drafting conference for the treaty.

The treaty requires signatories to monitor the sale of conventional weapons by manufacturers and prevent their flow to the black market or to groups that may use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

With 154 nations voting for the treaty and only three opposing it – Syria, North Korea and Iran – it is expected to soon win ratification in 50 nations to take effect some time in the next two years.

But despite this overwhelming support it is not clear whether some of the world’s largest arms makers, including Russia and China, will sign it.

And though the treaty has the support of the Obama administration it is not clear if it would survive a ratification vote in the US Senate, where many conservatives are hostile to any measure that could be interpreted as an infringement on gun owners’ rights.

So eager were some members of the Senate to vote against it that they did not even wait for its signing, but voted on a motion against it earlier this year. One of those was Republican senator Jerry Moran, who has criticised the treaty for failing to explicitly recognise the right of individuals to bear arms.

”The United States should ratify treaties only when they are in our national interest, clear in their goals and language, respect our sovereignty, and do not create any openings to infringe upon our constitutional freedoms,” he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed those concerns, saying, the treaty ”will not undermine the legitimate international trade in conventional weapons, interfere with national sovereignty, or infringe on the rights of American citizens, including our Second Amendment rights”.

Nonetheless, America’s most feared lobby group, the National Rifle Association, which has close ties to manufacturers of rifles and ammunition that could be affected by it, has spoken out against it, effectively putting politicians on notice that they could be criticised for voting for ratification.

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