How does Trump justify withdrawing the US from UN’s Arms Trade Treaty?

On Saturday, April 27, US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from the United Nations’ (UN) Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Speaking at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) Leadership Forum, Trump signed an executive order effectively withdrawing the US from the ATT citing reasons related to the second amendment or the right of Americans to bear arms.

“I am officially announcing today that the United States will be revoking the effect of America’s signature from this badly, misguided treatment. We’re taking our signature back”, said Trump at the forum.

The UN will be receiving a formal notification of the US’ “rejection” of the ATT.

Trump said that the ATT infringes on the second amendment, a fundamental constitutional rights in the US that allows individual Americans to bear firearms

“Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your second amendment freedom… And that is why my administration will never ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty. I hope you’re happy”, said Trump to the audience at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum.

Trump also said that he was surprised that the cheering crowd even knew what the ATT was. He proceeded to explain that the treaty was a “big, big factor”.

NPR reported that in a statement, the White House says the US will abide by domestic laws that regulate arms sales that “have long been considered the gold standard for engaging in responsible arms trading”.

What is the Arms Trade Treaty?

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a United Nations (UN) agreement that regulates international trade of firearms and other combat-related machinery like tanks, aircraft, helicopters, ships, and missile launchers.

The ATT asks countries to maintain a control system that is headed by national authorities. These officials are tasked with transparently regulating all the arms exports to ensure that no sales interfere with existing embargoes and prevent any exports from being used in human rights crimes or terrorism.

Of the ATT’s 130 signatories, 96 countries ratified it meaning that they each formally approved the ATT a domestic, national law. France, the UK, and Germany have ratified the treaty. The US had signed the treaty, but not ratified it.

In South Asia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh were also signatories to the agreement but did not ratify it. Pakistan, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India did not sign the agreement at all.

Reactions to Trump’s withdrawal from ATT

Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the ATT prompted criticism from human rights groups and trade experts who believe this retrograde decision will facilitate illegal arms trade.

Oxfam President Abby Maxman took to Twitter to share her disagreement with Trump’s decision, calling it “reckless” and “misguided”.

Maxman suggested that Trump’s decision was motivated by American support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in the Yemeni war.

“The arms trade treaty was developed to keep deadly weapons out of hands of those who may use them to commit genocide and war crimes… Despite what the NRA might say, the treaty does NOT infringe on Americans’ right to bear arms or hamper the US’s ability to defend itself or its allies”, said Maxman.

UK Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry also had strong words for Trump.

She said that given his decision on the ATT, Trump no longer deserves a state visit to the UK as he is a “disgrace to his office”.

“Donald Trump’s statement on the Arms Trade Treaty is the final confirmation that he is not the Leader of the Free World, he never has been, and he does not deserve the honour of a State Visit to Britain. He is nothing but a disgrace to his office and a threat to our world order”, she tweeted.

Why India hasn’t signed the Arms Trade Treaty

In 2013, when the ATT was open for signing, India released a statement explaining why it chose not to participate.

Ambassador Sujata Mehta said that the ATT “falls short” of India’s expectations as it is not balanced.

Mehta agreed that the ATT would help curb illegal arms trade, but stated that it was not tough enough on terrorism and does not distribute obligations equally between importing and exporting countries.

“Further, India cannot accept that the Treaty be used as an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take unilateral force majeure measures against importing states parties without consequences. The relevant provisions in the final text do not meet our requirements”, said Mehta.

The US is the world’s largest arms exporter and India is its largest importer. Hence, the relaxation of regulations will seek to benefit both these countries.

Earlier in April, the US signed a deal to build six nuclear reactors in India and approved a $2.6 billion sale of MH-60R helicopters to India, as well. India and the US’ relations that are rooted in arms trade are strengthened because India perceives a need to protect itself from terrorists based in Pakistan who target India.

Moreover, India struggles with vintage and obsolete artillery inherited from British colonizers. The country’s need for updated defence equipment is often stalled because of bureaucratic red tape and controversy like in the case of the Rafale deal.

However, because the US considers India a strong ally in South Asia, Trump exempting itself from the ATT might bode well for India’s national security and defense interests,

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

Arms tradeDonald TrumpIndia-USAUnited Nations