Model international actors Iran and North Korea came together to block the adoption of a treaty regulating the $70 billion dollar arms trade at the United Nations on Thursday, no doubt endearing them to the National Rifle Association.
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has been in negotiations for the past two weeks, the second attempt to gain a unanimously agreed upon text. The final draft was put before the delegates on Wednesday, with the assumption that it was set to cruise to an easy approval. That assumption was trampled once the Iranian delegation rose to break the required consensus for the treaty’s passage. Iran’s disapproval opened the door for North Korea to join in blocking the treaty. Syria also took umbrage at the text, leading to it and Iran reportedly both objecting to the lack of reference in the treaty’s final draft to foreign occupation or “crimes of aggression.” The President of the Conference quickly suspended the debate before a final vote could be held, leaving the door open to bringing the Iranian and North Korean delegations around, but the chances remain slim.
While not perfect, the treaty had still managed to appease the concerns of many advocates for stronger treaty-language. In particular, a hard fought clause regulating the import and export of ammunition and munitions made its way into the final text. Given the United States’ past hesitance in moving forward on the treaty — including its insistence that the ATT Conference work through consensus — and its current support, the late hour block from Iran and North Korea comes off as slightly ironic. The irony is even more pronounced when one considers that the Iranian delegate, in explaining his objection to the treaty, denounced the U.S.’ influence in shaping the treaty. “The right of individuals to own and use guns has been protected in the current text to meet the constitutional requirements of only one State,” Iranian ambassador Mohammad Khazeee said.
The treaty will now likely move to the General Assembly, however, where it will find the two-thirds necessary to finally pass next week. Given the crazy rhetoric present the last time it almost passed, the eventual passage of the ATT will be sure to provoke even more inflammatory opposition now. In opposing this version of the treaty, the National Rifle Association was much quieter about its lobbying effort, including a push for provisions exempting so-called “civilian firearms” from the treaty’s effects. There is no sign of that influence in the final draft of the ATT. However, the NRA still seems set to come out with a win on this one. Either the treaty is delayed, allowing more time to take it down for good, or it passes with the individual protections it supports hard-coded into the final document.
Their domestic influence will be marshaled once more though once the treaty is signed. At that point, the ATT will go to the U.S. Senate for ratification, where several Republicans have already made abundantly clear their skepticism regarding the very idea of regulating the arms trade. For years now, conservatives have used the supposed threat that an Arms Trade Treaty would entail as a fundraising tool or way to burnish their right-wing credentials. The Heritage Foundation has been slamming each successive draft of the ATT, and will now likely begin a campaign alongside the NRA to doom it in the Senate.