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U.N. Passes Global Arms Treaty That Faces Opposition in Senate

The U.N. Global Arms Trade treaty took seven years to negotiate. It aims to block the sale of weapons to countries charged with crimes against humanity, prevent future genocide, and assure terrorists won’t get their hands on tanks, artillery and helicopters.

Scott Stedjan, senior policy adviser with Oxfam America, a group that supports the treaty, said the new rules would force arms dealers to weigh human rights equally with profit.

“It puts an end to what some call the body bag approach to international arms control,” he said Thursday. “That’s where countries wait until a situation becomes really bad, a situation like Syria right now, or previously in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan, where the body bags have to pile really high before the international community does anything to stop arms flowing into those countries.”

Fifty countries will need to ratify the treaty. In the United States, only the Senate does so, and because of the magnitude of these treaties, they require 67 votes.

“Anything with UN on it is almost dead on arrival in the Senate,” said Mark Helmke, a longtime aide to former Senator Richard Lugar.

Lugar, a moderate Republican and two-time chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, lost a primary campaign last year.

Helmke said the administration knows there’s no chance of ratification in the Senate.

But it needs to make a show of support because it wants to distance itself from the three countries that voted against the treat: Iran, North Korea and Syria.

And in the Senate, opposing the treaty gives conservatives a chance to rile a base opposed to the United Nations.

“Every time a U.N. treaty comes up, the opposition raises a lot of money with a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails to people who somehow believe blue-helmeted people are going to come in and confiscate our guns,” Helmke said.

Helmke, who now teaches at Trine University in Indiana, said the Senate could use a Republican internationalist like his former boss to get colleagues on board.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who declined an interview for this story, supports the separate U.N. Law of the Sea treaty. She’s tried unsuccessfully to recruit her fellow Republicans to support that cause.

But on this international agreement, she stands with her party in opposition. Senator Murkowski signed a letter to President Obama saying she worries the treaty will enforce international arms regulations on Americans.

Senator Mark Begich is one of the few Democrats who signed that letter.

“It’s going to be a problem if can’t differentiate between domestic trade and international trade. That treaty melds it all together. Therefore it does infringe and jeopardize the Second Amendment rights of this country,” Begich said.

The National Rifle Association has maintained that argument as well.

Oxfam America’s Scott Stedjan said the treaty clearly lays out its boundaries, noting that the preamble states domestic regulations will be handled within the country.

“The treaty does not undermine the Second Amendment in anyway whatsoever,” he said. “The treaty is only about the cross border trade of armaments.”

Stedjan warned the treaty won’t become law for several years. Countries can begin signing onto the treaty in June, and then the ratification battle will begin.

There’s no indication whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring the treaty to the floor before the next election in 2014.

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