- By David BoscoDavid Bosco is a Foreign Policy contributing editor and assistant professor at American University's School of International Service. He is at work on a book about the International Criminal Court's first decade.
A senior U.S. State Department official made clear today that the United States — the world’s largest weapons exporter — will sign the new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman told an audience at the Atlantic Council that "we will sign in the very near future." After Iran, Syria, and North Korea blocked a consensus adoption of the treaty at a diplomatic conference, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the treaty text last month. The United States joined more than 150 other states in supporting the treaty. Only North Korea, Iran, and Syria voted against the treaty in the General Assembly, while 23 countries abstained. The treaty opens for signature on June 3.
Countryman said that a U.S. signature would set an important example and encourage broad adoption and enforcement. "The fact that Iran, North Korea, and Syria voted against it is reason enough to sign," he said. Countryman, who served as the lead U.S. negotiator, also insisted that the treaty requires no changes to U.S. law or regulations, which already include strict export controls, and poses no danger to U.S. constitutional rights. Instead, he insisted that the treaty will encourage "the rest of the world to behave more like we do." Countryman predicted that Russia, China, and other major exporters will eventually join the treaty.
Countryman would not commit the United States to being among the first signatories, however, and would not speculate about whether or when the treaty would be presented for ratification. The ATT faces tough opposition on Capitol Hill, and Sen. Rand Paul recently endorsed a campaign to prevent ratification.