Tuesday, July 10, 2012
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty
Mr. ISAKSON. Madam President, I come today to share with the Senate a letter which I have written to Ambassador Susan Rice, the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations. It is a letter I have written over a grave concern I have over actions that have taken place recently in the United Nations but also reflects back on some things that have happened in the last year or so that are very troubling to me and, quite frankly, very troubling to my constituents.
As I know the Presiding Officer is aware and as all the Senate is aware, the U.N. convened this month in New York a conventional arms trade treaty, where they are looking at an international treaty on limitations and governance over small arms shipment and trade between countries.
I have expressed my concern about the threat to the United States second amendment, our constitutional right to bear arms, and my concern over the U.N. subordinating U.S. law to itself. But I have never ever been as concerned as I am today to find out that Iran has been named, without objection, as a member of the conference that will lead this debate.
I want to talk about it for a few minutes, because a lot of U.N. politics and U.N. governance and U.N. practices are not understood by the American people. But when the U.N. has one of these conferences working toward a treaty, they will appoint a general conference or a general bureau or a board which is made up of members of the U.N. who will work out the details on the conference and then submit the entire convention to the United Nations.
There is a process in the United Nations where anyone can object to the appointment or to any other motion that may be made on the floor, because the U.N. operates under what is known as consensus, which is the absence of an objection. If there is an objection to a motion that is made, then a vote takes place.
Iran has been seeking a position on this U.N. conference on small arms and arms trade treaty agreement for some time. That has been known.
This is the same Iran the U.N. has sanctioned four times in the last 3 years for its progress on its nuclear arms program and the enrichment of nuclear material. It is the same Iran that as recently as last week the U.N. sent its former chief head president to try to negotiate a settlement on the horrible things that happened in Syria. This is the same Iran that is accused of shipping arms to Syria and to the Asad regime, which has resulted in the killing of over 17,000 Syrians in the last year.
How in anybody’s right mind could they allow a country that is in the process of doing that and that has been sanctioned four times by the U.N. to ascend to a position to negotiate a conference on a treaty on small arms on behalf of the U.N?
I have written this letter to Secretary Rice because I have great respect for Ambassador Rice, and I know she is doing a great job. But I cannot understand for the life of me why the United States would not use its right to object to the appointment of a country such as Iran on any treaty, much less one on arms and the Arms Trade Treaty. It reminds me of what happened a year ago when North Korea went on the disarmament committee in the United Nations. Today, Syria is seeking a position on the Human Rights Commission. These types of appointments to people who are often serial violators of the governance of the committee they are trying to seek is laughable and puts the United Nations and the United States in an embarrassing position.
I have written Secretary Rice to find out the answer to this question: Did we have the opportunity to object to Iran being named to the conference? If we did, why didn’t we object to that? How in the world can we be expected to have any confidence in what comes out of the conference if, in fact, one of the worst perpetrators in the world is being appointed to the conference? I hope the Secretary will inform me so that I can inform my constituents because, frankly, I cannot explain it.
I have great concern that any U.N. treaty on small arms would, intentionally or unintentionally, affect the second amendment rights of the American people. I am a great supporter of the second amendment, and I have had a concern all along. I signed a letter with Senator Moran from Kansas last week to the Secretary registering my objections and concerns about the threat of that treaty itself, but to find out now that one of the 15 members writing the treaty and negotiating it this month in New York City is the nation of Iran concerns me greater.
I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record my letter to the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, of the United States and New York.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
Washington, DC, July 10, 2012.
Hon. SUSAN E. RICE,
United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, United States Mission to the United Nations, United Nations Plaza, New York, NY.
DEAR AMBASSADOR RICE: I write today concerning the United Nations (U.N.) Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty being held this month in New York City. I have already expressed my concerns and objections over the danger that the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty poses to our sovereignty and to our Second Amendment rights. I now write to voice my strong concern over the recent inclusion of Iran as a member of the Conference’s Bureau/General Committee, and the failure of the United States to exercise its right to block this action.
On July 3, 2012, the members of the Conference unanimously supported Iran’s bid for membership on the Conference’s Bureau/General Committee. The Conference supported Iran’s inclusion in the Bureau/General Committee despite both Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons program in defiance of numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions and a recent U.N. report detailing Iran’s central role in enabling the continuing massacre of Syrian civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Situations such as these are not without precedent. Just last year, North Korea ascended to the presidency of the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament, and recent reports have indicated that Syria is actively pursuing membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council. Given this recent history, the possibility of Syria joining such a body at a time when it is slaughtering thousands of its own citizens does not appear as implausible as it should.
It is my understanding that the United States had the opportunity to oppose Iran’s membership. If this is true, it is particularly troubling that Iran faced no opposition. As Iran becomes increasingly isolated on the international stage a unanimous vote in favor of its membership on an international panel legitimizes the regime. The United States must vocally lead the opposition to any attempt by Iran to use an international body to further its aims. I am requesting a full explanation as to why the United States did not oppose Iran’s membership on the Bureau/General Committee of the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, and a commitment that the United States will do all that it can to oppose Syria’s membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
My constituents regularly voice their concerns that their tax dollars go toward supporting the United Nations, an organization that many of them see as operating in direct opposition to U.S. interests. As a member of the United Nations and as a permanent member of the Security Council, our resolve must be the catalyst for the United Nations to assert itself as a positive force in unifying the world community against tyranny, terrorism and totalitarianism. I look forward to your response and look forward to sharing it with my constituents.
Mr. ISAKSON. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter from the Members of the House of Representatives–over 100 of them–to the President and Secretary of State Clinton regarding the U.N. arms agreement.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES,
Washington, DC, June 29, 2012.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA,
Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON,
C St., NW, Washington, DC.
DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA AND SECRETARY CLINTON: We write to express our concerns regarding the negotiation of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the text of which is expected to be finalized at a conference to be held in New York during the month of July. Your administration has voted in the U.N. General Assembly to participate in the negotiation of this treaty. Yet the U.N.’s actions to date indicate that the ATT is likely to pose significant threats to our national security, foreign policy, and economic interests as well as our constitutional rights. The U.S. must establish firm red lines for the ATT and state unequivocally that it will oppose the ATT if it infringes on our rights or threatens our ability to defend our interests.
The U.S. must not accept an ATT that infringes on our constitutional rights, particularly the fundamental, individual right to keep and to bear arms that is protected by the Second Amendment, as well as the right of personal self-defense on which the Second Amendment is based. Accordingly, the ATT should not cover small arms, light weapons, or related material, such as firearms ammunition. Further, the ATT should expressly recognize the individual right of personal self-defense, as well as the legitimacy of hunting, sports shooting, and other lawful activities pertaining to the private ownership of firearms and related materials.
The U.S. must also not accept an ATT that would interfere with our nation’s national security and foreign policy interests. The ATT must not accept that free democracies and totalitarian regimes have the same right to conduct arms transfers: this is a dangerous piece of moral equivalence. Moreover, the ATT must not impose criteria for determining the permissibility of arms transfers that are vague, easily politicized, and readily manipulated. Specifically, the ATT must not hinder the U.S. from fulfilling strategic, legal, and moral commitments to provide arms to allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel. Indeed, the State Department acknowledged in June 2010 that the ATT negotiations are expected to introduce such regional, country-specific challenges. Finally, the ATT should not contain any language that legitimizes the arming of terrorists–for example, by recognizing any right of resistance to “foreign occupation”–or implies that signatories must recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
Furthermore, the U.S. must not agree to an ATT that would damage U.S. economic interests. The ATT must not create costly regulatory burdens on law-abiding American businesses, for example, by creating new onerous reporting requirements that could damage the domestic defense manufacturing base and related firms. Furthermore, the ATT must not pressure the U.S. to alter either the criteria or the decision-making system of its current arms export control system, which Secretary Clinton has called the “gold standard” of export controls. The ATT should not in any way skew domestic debate on export control reforms, as the U.S. continues to modernize export controls to increase U.S. global competitiveness, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our allies.
Lastly, regardless of negotiated text, the Administration must make clear in its reservations, understandings, and declarations that the ATT places no new requirements for action on the U.S., because U.S. law is already compliant with the treaty regime or that the treaty cannot change the Bill of Rights or the constitutional allocation of power between the federal and state governments. Moreover, the U.S. must not accept the creation of any international agency to administer, interpret, or add to the ATT regime because it might represent the delegation of federal legal authority to a bureaucracy that is not accountable to the American people.
We urge this Administration to uphold the principles outlined above in the ATT negotiations at the July conference and any future venues for discussion. Should the final ATT text run counter to these principles or otherwise undermine our rights and our interests, we urge this Administration to break consensus and reject the treaty in New York. Further, the Constitution gives the power to regulate international commerce to Congress alone, and the ATT will be considered non-self-executing until Congress enacts any legislation to implement the agreement. As members of the House of Representatives, we reserve and will maintain the power to oppose the appropriation or authorization of any taxpayer funds to implement a flawed ATT, or to conduct activities relevant to any ATT that has been signed by the President but has not received the advice and consent of the Senate.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS.