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Good news from Washington -- UN Arms Trade Treaty DOA in US Senate

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle signs the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations headquarters in New York, June 3, 2013. (REUTERS)

Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) released a bipartisan letter this week signed by 48 of their colleagues pledging to oppose the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which Secretary of State John Kerry signed on behalf of the United States in September. 

This letter makes it clear that the Senate will not ratify the treaty in the foreseeable future.

Since a treaty requires a two-thirds majority to win the Senate's advice and consent, the ATT is at least 17 votes short of the 67 votes needed to secure ratification. And if anything, the Moran-Manchin letter understates Senate opposition to the treaty.

If anything, the Moran-Manchin letter understates Senate opposition to the treaty.

Eleven other senators, all Democrats, supported either an amendment opposing the ATT offered earlier this year by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a concurrent resolution led earlier this year by Moran, a 2012 letter led by Moran or a 2011 letter led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Put it all together, and a total of 61 senators either have pledged to oppose the ATT or have publicly expressed skepticism about it. If it ever reaches the Senate, the ATT is more likely to be opposed by 67 senators than to find a two-thirds majority willing to support it.

It’s not hard to see why. 

The ATT nominally requires signatory nations to act to regulate their import and export of conventional weapons and related activities. But all nations already have the unquestioned right to control such activities.

The fact that many nations haven’t done so suggests that they’re not actually interested in or capable of such regulations. The ATT will bind the U.S., but it is unlikely to lead the world’s bad and incompetent governments to behave any better. We have nothing to gain from signing.

In the House, the strength of the opposition is also impressive. True, the Senate has the lead responsibility for treaties, but opinion in the House is another gauge of the sentiments of the American people.

And the House never has been more opposed to the ATT. 

Earlier this year, 149 representatives joined Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) on the House side of the concurrent resolution. This week's bipartisan letter, led by Kelly and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), has 181 signers. 

With Kelly's Special Order last month in the House on the ATT, and his House-adopted bans on funding to implement the treaty, the House's attitude is even clearer than the Senate's.

The ATT also faces a rough ride north of the border. 

The Canadian government so far has refused to sign the treaty. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird noted that there is a potential link between the treaty and Canada's recently abolished registry of certain types of firearms.

That is the sort of news the ATT's defenders don't want to hear. They are losing the battle in Congress, and the sensible Canadians haven’t signed on the grounds that the ATT might be bad for the firearms rights of Canadian citizens—and Canada doesn’t even have the Second Amendment to defend.

The Canadian stand shows that it doesn't sign treaties simply to win cheap applause in the U.N. General Assembly. It's a pity the U.S. government won’t take Canada’s principled stand.

Unfortunately, Canada is in the minority: 113 nations already have signed the ATT, and seven have ratified it. The ATT is likely to get the 50 national ratifications it needs to come into force in months.

While Inhofe sees the ATT joining the other bad treaties that are permanently stuck in the Senate's in-basket, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has warned the Obama administration not to try to implement the treaty without the Senate's advice and consent. Both are right.

With the ATT going nowhere in the Senate, the Obama administration is likely to soft-pedal ratification and claim that it can implement the treaty under its existing powers. With the treaty moving towards coming into force abroad, the Senate (and House) should hold hearings if the administration acts on this claim.

As Corker implies, the U.S. should not become a de facto party to the ATT. The only way forward for the treaty is through the Senate. And right now, that way is completely blocked.

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