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How liberal anti-gun activists view the American Constitution

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AP

Last month, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit funding for the implementation of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) for one year. 

The Obama administration says it will sign the ATT soon.

The House amendment was vigorously opposed by a group of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) led by Oxfam America, and including Amnesty International, the Arms Control Association, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

The idea that barring the expenditure of funds to implement an unsigned and unratified treaty somehow violates the president’s constitutional authority is truly bizarre.

Obviously, the NGOs’ lobbying was ineffective. But that won’t keep them from continuing to try to shape the interpretation and the implementation of the treaty, which is a creature of their own making, in ways that seek to impinge on U.S. sovereignty.

And now, the U.N. wants to pay NGOs around the world to keep up their efforts, which include this ongoing and misguided effort to make the treaty trump U.S. law.

The amendment that so angered the NGOs was offered by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.). And their arguments against it were odd indeed. In an email to lawmakers (see below), the groups claimed the Kelly Amendment would “infringe on the commander-in-chief authority of the president.”

This is an odd and revealing – not to mention completely wrong – reading of the U.S. Constitution. The president has inherent powers as commander-in-chief, but control of the purse strings is not one of them. That authority resides in Congress.

Moreover, the U.S. hasn’t even signed the ATT yet. After it does, the Senate would have to ratify the treaty. The idea that barring the expenditure of funds to implement an unsigned and unratified treaty somehow violates the president’s Constitutional authority is truly bizarre.

The NGO argument contained further oddities. They claimed that the Kelly Amendment “could require the Pentagon to no longer implement the rigorous export control system it currently employs.” 

Wrong again: while the Amendment was about the Defense Department’s budget, it’s actually the State Department that controls the U.S.’s export control system.

But leave aside the incorrect implication that the Pentagon runs the U.S. system. The NGOs are asserting that even though the U.S. has not signed anything yet, its entire arms export control system and the ATT are already legally inseparable and beyond Congressional control. To ban funding for the treaty is, according to the NGOs, to drop the entire U.S. export control system.

This is an amazing claim.

The NGOs assert that “maintaining a strong export control system is, in fact, ‘implementing’ the Treaty” and thus that the system the U.S. “currently employs” is mandated by the treaty. It would therefore seem that, according to the NGOs, the ATT already profoundly limits the freedom of the U.S. to run and reform its own export control system.

But according to the NGOs, the ATT does more than control and freeze the U.S. export control system. The NGOs believe it compels the U.S. to alter its foreign aid programs. As they put it, because other nations may sign and implement the ATT, “Pentagon programs and projects [against arms trafficking] . . . will be required to adapt to this new reality.”

This is a strange “new reality” indeed. An unsigned and unratified treaty cannot “require” the U.S. to do anything. It certainly cannot change programs that exist to pursue objectives approved by Congress. Moreover, these programs have no connection to the U.S. implementation of the ATT, which was the subject of the Kelly Amendment.

The Pentagon does not conduct its activities “pursuant” to the ATT or “in accordance with and in furtherance of these global standards.” It conducts them pursuant to U.S. policy, as directed and funded by Congress. If Congress wants to enact a bill that would explicitly violate the terms of the ATT, it may do so. Such a bill would prevail over the ATT as a matter of domestic law.

Throughout their email, the NGOs completely fail to distinguish between the ATT and the authority of Congress: as they see it, everything the U.S. does in the realm of arms export control is already regulated by the ATT.

In fact, that’s the NGO strategy: Set up the ATT as the controlling moral and legal authority for U.S. policy, then slowly reinterpret the ATT to drag U.S. policy into alignment with their preferences. 

It’s hard to think of a more blatant demonstration of the fact that the most vociferous supporters of this treaty see it as a way to constrain the U.S.

Moreover, the U.N. is in on the NGO game too. It recently announced a “Trust Facility” that will “support all aspects of the Arms Trade Treaty’s implementation, including small arms and ammunition controls.” To that end, the Facility will fund NGOs—not to mention institutions such as universities— so they can provide “legal or legislative assistance” to promote ratification of the treaty by “as many countries as possible.”

In other words, the U.N. will fund NGO lobbying for the ATT here, there and everywhere, no matter how erroneous, misguided and counter to U.S. sovereignty their activities may be.

The U.N. has no business doing this. The Trust Facility is further evidence that the U.N. is far too cozy with the NGOs. The only consolation is that, if the success of last month’s NGO lobbying effort is any evidence, the U.N. is backing the losers.

Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations at the Heritage Foundation.