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Public Statements

Letter to President Barack Obama - U.S. Will Not Be Bound By U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman joined a bipartisan group of 50 U.S. Senators, including Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), in reiterating to President Obama that the Senate overwhelmingly opposes the ratification of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and will not be bound by its obligations.

"The U.S. cannot and will not place the Second Amendment rights of the American people in the hands of the United Nations," said Portman. "I am disappointed that the Administration has backed down on its self-proclaimed red line and chosen to sign the U.N. Arms Treaty in spite of Congress' bipartisan rejection. Such an agreement will weaken the United States' ability to conduct our own foreign policy while violating the rights of law-abiding Americans, and I strongly reject the ratification of this treaty."

In the letter to the president, the Senators outline six reasons why they will not give advice and consent to the treaty and are therefore not bound to uphold the treaty's object and purpose.

"We urge you to notify the treaty depository that the U.S. does not intend to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, and is therefore not bound by its obligations," the 50 Senators wrote to President Obama.

The six reasons for opposing ratification of the ATT include:
1. The treaty failed to achieve consensus, and was adopted by majority vote in the U.N. General Assembly. This violates the red line drawn by the Obama Administration;
2. The treaty allows amendments by a three-quarters majority vote, circumventing the power and duty of the U.S. Senate to provide its advice and consent on treaty commitments before they are assumed by the United States;
3. The treaty includes only a weak non-binding reference to the lawful ownership, use of, and trade in firearms, and recognizes none of these activities, much less individual self-defense, as fundamental individual rights. This poses a threat to the Second Amendment;
4. The State Department has acknowledged that the treaty is "ambiguous." By becoming party to the treaty, the U.S. would therefore be accepting commitments that are inherently unclear;
5. The criteria at the heart of the treaty are vague and easily politicized. They violate the right of the American people, under the Constitution, to freely govern themselves. The language restricts the ability of the United States to conduct its own foreign policy and allows foreign sources of authority to impose judgment or control upon the United States; and
6. The State Department has acknowledged that the treaty includes language that could hinder the United States from fulfilling its strategic, legal and moral commitments to provide arms to key allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel.

The letter is signed by a bipartisan group of 50 U.S. Senators including: Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Jeffrey Chiesa (R-N.J.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jim Risch (R-Ind.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

The letter appears below and can also be viewed here.

October 15, 2013

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500Dear President Obama:

Dear President Obama:

We write to express our concern and regret at your decision to sign the United Nations' Arms Trade Treaty. For the following reasons, we cannot give our advice and consent to this treaty:

First, the treaty was adopted by a procedure which violates a red line laid down by your own administration. In October 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the U.S. supported the negotiation of the treaty only by "the rule of consensus decision-making." But in April 2013, after the treaty failed to achieve consensus, it was adopted by majority vote in the U.N. General Assembly. We fear that this reversal has done grave damage to the diplomatic credibility of the United States.

Second, the treaty allows amendments by a three-quarters majority vote. As the treaty is amended, it will become a source of political and legal pressure on the U.S. to comply in practice with amendments it was unwilling to accept. This would circumvent the power and duty of the Senate to provide its advice and consent on treaty commitments before they are assumed by the United States.

Third, the treaty includes only a weak non-binding reference to the lawful ownership and use of, and trade in firearms, and recognizes none of these activities, much less individual self-defense, as fundamental individual rights. It encourages governments to collect the identities of individual end users of imported firearms at the national level, which would constitute the core of a national gun registry, and it creates a national "responsibility" to "prevent . . . [the] diversion" of firearms, which could be used to justify the imposition of controls within the U.S. that would pose a threat to the Second Amendment and infringe on the rights protected therein.

Fourth, the State Department has acknowledged that the treaty is "ambiguous." By becoming party to the treaty, the U.S. would therefore be accepting commitments that are inherently unclear. The Senate cannot effectively provide advice on an ambiguous treaty, and it should never provide its consent to such a treaty.

Fifth, the criteria at the heart of the treaty are vague and easily politicized. They will restrict the ability of the U.S. to conduct our own foreign policy, and will steadily subject the U.S. to the influence of internationally-defined norms, a process that would impinge on our national sovereignty. We believe that treaties which allow foreign sources of authority to impose judgment or control upon the US, as this one does, violate the right of the American people, under the Constitution, to freely govern themselves.

Sixth, the State Department has acknowledged that "specific . . . country concerns, including Taiwan, China, and the Middle East, create challenges for establishing [treaty] criteria that can be applied without exception and fit U.S. national security interests. These concerns would make Senate ratification difficult." We are indeed deeply concerned that the treaty criteria as established could hinder the United States in fulfilling its strategic, legal, and moral commitments to provide arms to key allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel.

We urge you to notify the treaty depository that the U.S. does not intend to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, and is therefore not bound by its obligations. As members of the Senate, we pledge to oppose the ratification of this treaty, and we give notice that we do not regard the U.S. as bound to uphold its object and purpose.

We appreciate your consideration on this issue and look forward to your response.


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