October 10, 2013
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
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 capitulation 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 preambular reference to the lawful ownership and use of, and trade in firearms, and recognizes none of these activities, or individual self-defense, as fundamental individual rights. It creates a national “responsibility” to “prevent . . . [the] diversion” of firearms, a requirement that could 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.