Our Loretto Committee for Peace supports ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) passed by the United Nations last April by a vote of 154 to 3. One of our committee members, Eileen Harrington, wrote the following account on our behalf for our in-house Loretto newsletter, Interchange:.
Conventional weapons include guns, bullets, land mines, tanks, planes, and missiles. Although there are international treaties regulating trade of nearly every other good -- from bananas to iPods, textiles to cars -- there have been no international rules governing trade of conventional arms.
Conventional arms are sold to armed combatants in the world's conflict zones -- Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Mexico, Colombia, Iraq, Iran, Kashmir, Burma, Darfur, Republic of the Congo, and other countries and regions. These weapons often are used to commit human rights violations and atrocities. Women and children frequently are the victims of these abuses. Ongoing armed combat, fueled by unrestricted arms trafficking, destabilizes entire regions, disrupts all aspects of life, and creates large populations of refugees. Oxfam International estimates that the African continent loses at least $18 billion in annual economic activity from the use of imported conventional weapons -- a loss that exceeds the combined annual amount of all international development aid to African nations.
The ATT, when implemented, will prohibit the export of conventional weapons from ratifying countries to conflict zones where human rights violations and other atrocities have been committed. As with all international trade treaties, only those countries that agree to, or "ratify," the ATT will be bound by its terms. The ATT will go into effect 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 nations. To date,  nations have ratified the ATT, and 116 more have indicated their intent to ratify by signing the ATT. The Obama Administration supports ratification, and Secretary of State John Kerry recently signed the treaty. To keep up with the ATT's status, go to http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT .
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In the United States, treaty ratification is the responsibility of the Senate. Ratification requires a vote of two thirds -- or 67 -- members of the Senate. Well before the UN General Assembly approved the ATT, 53 US Senators announced their opposition to its ratification. Why? The answer is simple: The National Rifle Association opposes the ATT. ...
US weapons manufacturers turn out more conventional weapons than their counterparts in any other nation, and the US accounts for thirty percent of worldwide exports of conventional weapons. Most weapons exported from the US go to developing nations. Although US law requires that arms provided by the US government to other governments be used only for self-defense, there are no similar limitations on the private sale of conventional arms by US commercial entities to non-governmental groups in other countries. Under US law, weapons exporters must obtain a license from the US government, but there are no restrictions on their sale of weapons to private parties in other nations. Large weapons manufacturers – Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Colt – may sell conventional weapons on the international market through weapons dealers licensed by the US government. So, while private corporations and gun dealers may not sell weapons to foreign governments, they are free to sell assault rifles and ammunition to armed “security forces” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who routinely use them to intimidate, torture, and rape women. Although the NRA claims to be about the protection of Second Amendment rights, and the encouragement of safe gun sports, it really is about one thing: profits for gun manufacturers and dealers.
The international trade in conventional weapons trade is estimated to produce $60 billion to $85 billion in annual sales. Much of that revenue goes to U.S. gun manufacturers and dealers. The NRA has these interests at heart, so it opposes ratification of the ATT, claiming that the sales reports the ATT requires that track dealers will serve as a de facto gun registry for U.S. gun owners.
And so we continue to live in a world where international trade of bananas is better regulated than international trade of guns, tanks, missiles and ordinance.