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Arms Trade Treaty: Why Donald Trump junked UN pact that controls weapons sales

The Arms Trade Treaty is meant to regulate the international trade of conventional weapons and reduce the transfer of illicit weapons.

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New Delhi: US President Donald Trump, announced last week that the country would be withdrawing from the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which, among other things, seeks to restrict the international transfer of illicit weapons.

Trump made this announcement while speaking at the annual meeting of the US National Rifle Association (NRA), the controversial organisation for gun-rights lobbying.

Former President Barack Obama had brought the US on-board the ATT in 2013.

Announcing that the US was “taking our signature back”, Trump said that he would ask the American Senate not to ratify the treaty, and that the United Nations (UN) would soon be notified about the country’s withdrawal.

In light of Trump’s decision, ThePrint tells you what the ATT is and why the US wants to leave it.

What is the Arms Trade Treaty?

The Arms Trade Treaty is meant to regulate the international trade of all conventional weapons and reduce the transfer of illicit weapons.

The ATT was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2013, and came into force a year later. It has been ratified by 101 states. Another 29 states, including the US, have signed it, but not ratified it.

India has neither signed the treaty not ratified it.

The main purpose of the ATT is to set global rules and standards to govern the international transfer of arms.

The ATT covers all conventional weapons as listed within the seven categories of the UN Register of Conventional Weapons (battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships and missiles and missile launchers), as well as light weapons and small arms.

According to the Arms Control Association, a US-based non-profit working for effective arms-control policies, the aim of the ATT is to “reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, as well as to promote accountability and transparency by state parties concerning transfers of conventional arms”.

The main thrust behind the treaty is to ensure that violent non-state groups or rogue states don’t receive any conventional arms – which they can plausibly use to either destabilise their country or cause harm to civilians.

Also read: Former US envoy Blackwill rates Donald Trump — D+ in foreign policy, B+ for India ties

From where does ATT derive its powers?

Although this treaty provides no enforcing powers at the international level, there are a series of obligations the signatories need to adhere to.

To begin with, all members are required to maintain a “national control system and a national control list”. They are obligated to establish a national-level authority dedicated to ensuring that this control system is implemented and maintained.

The treaty manages to become effective by linking itself to the powers and obligations of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the Geneva Convention.

Thus, members of the ATT are prohibited from selling arms to countries and organisations under an existing UNSC embargo.

Furthermore, members are banned from selling arms to the said state or organisation if there is pre-existing information that they would use them to “commit genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes”.

Also read: In a first, Donald Trump labels Iran’s military a ‘terrorist group’

What explains the US withdrawal?

Considering that Trump made this announcement at the NRA annual event, the attempt seems to be aimed at boosting his popularity among the country’s gun-rights advocates.

The NRA has long opposed the ATT on the ground that the treaty leads to de facto international gun control and is in violation of the second amendment of the US Constitution, which accords citizens the right to bear arms.

Trump echoed the NRA’s position in his speech when he said, “Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your second amendment freedoms.”

It is, however, important to see the US’ withdrawal from the ATT as part of broader trend. Under Trump, the US has either withdrawn or undermined many international institutions – several established by the US itself.

Under Trump, the US withdrew from the Paris climate deal, UNESCO, and the Trans Pacific (Trade) Partnership, with the President constantly undermining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In that sense, the US’ withdrawal from the ATT is just the most recent instance of Trump’s war on global organisations.

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