On Thursday, Iran, North Korea, and Syria blocked the passing of the final draft of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a U.N. effort to set standards and regulations for the cross-border arms trade. Approval of all 193 nations of the United Nations would have been necessary for the treaty to pass.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that the draft had “loopholes” that did not ban sales of weapons to rebel groups. Syrian ambassador Bashar Ja’afari echoed Iran’s concerns, adding that “[Syria’s] national concerns were not taken into consideration.”
The ATT covers weapons systems that include tanks, combat aircraft and missiles. First negotiated in New York in July 2012, it failed to pass when the United States, Russia, and China, all large weapons exporters, rejected the treaty due to a lack of consensus on its details.
The bid for ATT was revived this year on March 18 when Mexico issued a U.N. statement signed by 120 countries in support of the treaty. “Our voice must be heard,” their statement read.
For signatories, the United States’ willingness to sign the treaty this year had been a cause for optimism. Like other members of the permanent five (P5) nations of the UN Security Council, the United States had balked at the prospect of signing and ratifying the ATT last year. Stewart M. Patrick, Senior Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, writes that this unwillingness was in part because “the Obama administration did not want to hand Republicans a red meat issue in the run-up to the November elections.”
Pre-election season politics did not affect the United States’ stance this year, nor did the contentious issue of drone warfare, which was absent from this year’s draft treaty.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International have pressured the US government to support the treaty, but gun rights groups like National Rifle Association say the treaty, though it does not address domestic arms commerce, poses a threat to Second Amendment rights in the U.S. constitution.
To challenge the opposition from Iran, Syria, and North Korea, the treaty could be referred to the General Assembly for another vote as early as next week.