Want to know what UN thinks of 'democracy'? Just look at its Arms Trade Treaty

The United Nations turns 70 in 2015.  Fox News is asking a selection of distinguished contributors occasionally to contribute their thoughts on what it has become, and how to shape its future.

As the United Nations starts to celebrate its 70th anniversary, it’s showing Americans the kind of openness it really believes in.

The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a controversial effort that is highly sensitive in the U.S. due to Second Amendment concerns and worries about its impact on U.S. foreign policy, is nearing the fifty ratifications it needs to come into force,  and all critics have been kicked out of the room.

The ATT is ostensibly intended to keep conventional weapons ranging from pistols to battle tanks out of the hands of drug lords, terrorists and human-rights abusing dictators, but is unlikely to be effective. . It was voted into existence in April 2013, and the Obama administration signed on—among 118 nations that did so—promising vociferously that American Second Amendment rights would be respected.


By the end of September, the ATT is likely to get the last five national ratifications it needs to get to the magic threshold. The next step is to hold a conference of the nations that are party to the treaty, which could take place by May 2015.

The government of Mexico has taken the lead in organizing that conference, where activists will kick off their campaigns to put the treaty into effect And that’s where the trouble starts.

While the ATT was negotiated at the U.N., it was pushed along by anti-gun groups. But the negotiations were also watched by U.S. and international organizations that were critical of the treaty, including the World Forum on Shooting Activities (WFSA) and my own employer, The Heritage Foundation. The U.N. generically calls these and other groups, regardless of their views on the treaty, “civil society.”

But that is not how the U.N. wants to work. It pretends to support open and transparent processes, and to value input from everyone. But what it really wants is to pick groups who agree with it and define them alone as“civil society.”

But now, in the run-up to the Mexico conference, the skeptics have been shown the door. Thomas Mason, the U.S. Executive Secretary of the WFSA, reports that when they tried to register to attend conference preparatory meetings, they were told that “attendance is constrained to . . . [organizations] that have been supporting and promoting the ATT.”

The argument that the Mexico conference is only for the treaty’s friends is ridiculous. This is a U.N. treaty. The critics, all of them U.N.-accredited organizations, have as much right to attend as the cheerleaders. They are not nations that have the power to sign the treaty; they are observers who speak only for themselves.

Mexico has long wanted all firearms sales – including those inside the U.S. – to be controlled by the treaty. It’s outsourced the role of door-keeper to its conference to the anti-gun groups. And none of those people have any interest in allowing critics in the room. They want to work in secret.

As Mason puts it, “The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty is not yet in effect and yet it is already being abused. If this continues, the ATT will be nothing more than a vehicle for international gun control schemes.”

This kind of back-room bureaucratic control is typical of the way that the U.N. operates, and why Americans don’t trust it. Yet according to the Obama Administration, if the U.S. didn’t negotiate the ATT through the U.N., the anti-gun groups would make an even worse treaty outside it.

But now, predictably, we have the worst of both worlds: a U.N. treaty dominated by collaboration with the anti-gun groups.

This U.N.-sanctioned discrimination has not gone unchallenged. Continuing his outstanding leadership on the issue, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) has written to President Obama, pointing out the U.N.’s hypocrisy and urging him to protest the way the preparatory meetings are being conducted.

As Rep. Kelly puts it, “If a U.N. activity is open to one civil society organization, it must be open to all such organizations that are properly accredited with the relevant U.N. body.”

But that is not how the U.N. wants to work. It pretends to support open and transparent processes, and to value input from everyone. But what it really wants is to pick groups who agree with it and define them as “civil society.”

That’s the way the U.N. (and other transnational organizations, like the European Union) define democracy: rule in secret, with oversight by those who agree with it. Then, when the  body calls for input, what it gets is applause.

As the U.N. stands on the threshold of its anniversary year, it’s never looked less civil, less open, or less democratic. This must change — starting with action by an administration that defended working through the U.N. as the best way to ensure that American rights and concerns were respected.