President Trump struck another blow for his America First agenda with his announcement at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting that he was rescinding the U.S. signature on a United Nations global arms treaty. Former President Barack Obama signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in 2013 and sent it to a U.S. Senate that he well knew would never ratify it.
“Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone, we will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedom, and that is why my administration will never ratify the U.N. trade treaty,” Trump said at the meeting. “By taking these actions, we are reaffirming that American liberty is sacred and that American citizens live by American laws not by laws of foreign countries,” the president added.
That last sentence is the crux of the issue. Whereas pro-gun rights organizations like the NRA see the treaty as a domestic gun grab, the real danger appears to lie with the Obama administration’s attempt to normalize U.S. submission to international legal “consensus.” The treaty was never recognized by leading arms-exporting giants like China and Russia, thus rendering it useless, but does not seem to deter its enthusiastic supporters in the least. Every European Union nation was on board, as well as Obama’s State Department. Subjecting Western nations to globalist law would seem to be the higher purpose at work here.
Longtime treaty critic Theodore Bromund of the Heritage Foundation has been pointing out this internationalist scheme since the Obama administration first signed on to ATT in 2013. “[P]rogressive activists openly acknowledge that they want to use international law and evolving international norms to change U.S. policy, U.S. law, and even existing interpretations of the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote in 2018. Bromund referenced a 2012 speech made by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh. “Make no mistake: this is not your grandfather’s international law,” Koh asserted in his address.
“Instead, it is a classic tale of what I have long called ‘transnational legal process,’ the dynamic interaction of private and public actors in a variety of national and international fora to generate norms and construct national and global interests.”
In Koh’s speech, he describes how such “norms” can be hardwired into sovereign countries:
“Nations tend to obey international law, because their government bureaucracies adopt standard operating procedures and other internal mechanisms that foster default patterns of habitual compliance with international legal rules. When I became Legal Adviser, I found that this is even truer than I thought.”
‘Cooperation’ Over Sovereignty
This motive would go far in explaining why Obama signed a treaty that was clearly doomed to failure in the Senate ratification process. “Sec. [of State John] Kerry and President Obama are at it again,” Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in 2013. “As we saw in 2009 with cap-and-trade in Copenhagen, Sec. Kerry and President Obama are being dishonest by telling the United Nations that we’ll be a part of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty is already dead in the water in the Senate, and they know it.”
Perhaps Obama was hoping to push America one step closer to eventual acclimation with Koh’s “transnational legal process.” His fellow treaty supporters unapologetically see that process as the wave of the future.
Dennis Jett, currently a professor of International Affairs at Penn State, is a career diplomat who served as the Clinton administration’s ambassador to Peru and Mozambique. In a 2014 article for The New Republic, he urged ratification of the ineffective treaty and explicitly rejected “American exceptionalism” in the era of globalization:
“One of the most frequent criticisms of any treaty is that it undermines American sovereignty. But that is the price of international cooperation. Any relationship, whether between two people or among two hundred countries, requires some limits on what one party can do. Globalization has made such cooperation even more imperative; it is impossible for one nation to deal unilaterally with today’s gravest problems. Even the world’s only superpower cannot ignore that fact.”
This is the internationalist mindset that President Trump is publicly repudiating by pledging to walk away from a treaty that will never be ratified. Over 60 million Americans elected Donald Trump because they want America to be in control of its own destiny and not held captive to the whims of globalist international organizations. Gestures have meaning. Rejecting Obama’s efforts to weaken U.S. sovereignty via an empty shell of a treaty sends the world a message that America will be steering its own ship of state in both its domestic and foreign affairs.
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