You might be forgiven for imagining that laws are serious things. When you violate them, you can be locked in a cage for decades. That’s not true for big-time weapons dealers like the U.S. government.
Two years after the creation of the Arms Trade Treaty, the news is that it’s failing in Yemen. I’m hard pressed to see why it isn’t, thus far, failing everywhere. The weapons dealers keep dealing weapons by the tens of billions of dollars exactly as if nothing has changed.
Here (courtesy of the CIA-funded Amazon data cloud) is the key text of the treaty:
“. . . A State Party shall not authorize any transfer of conventional arms . . . if it has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party . . . .”
The dominant weapons dealer, the U.S. government, has not ratified the Arms Trade Treaty. The second-place dealer in instruments of death, Russia, has not either. Neither has China. Certainly France, the United Kingdom, and Germany have ratified it, but they seem to have little difficulty ignoring it. They’ve even ratified the convention on cluster bombs but, at least in the case of the UK, ignore that one too. (The U.S. has temporarily paused its sales of cluster bombs, but not ratified the treaty.)
And another 87 nations have ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, none of which do any significant weapons dealing on the scale of the top 6, but plenty of which violate the treaty in their own small ways.
The U.S. has very similar laws on its own books already and long has. Ignoring them, or taking advantage of the ability to waive them, has become routine. The United States is far and away the biggest seller of weapons, giver of weapons, producer of weapons, buyer of weapons, deliverer of weapons to poor countries, and deliverer of weapons to the Middle East. It sells or gives weapons to all types of nations just as if no restrictions applied. Yet, here are some U.S. laws almost pretty enough to frame on the wall:
“No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. . . .
“. . . Of the amounts made available to the Department of Defense, none may be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for a unit of a foreign security force if the Secretary of Defense has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
And there’s this one:
“The prohibitions contained in this section apply with respect to a country if the Secretary of State determines that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. . . .”
This one may actually have been written with the assistance of medical marijuana:
“No [weaponry] shall be sold or leased by the United States Government under this chapter to any country or international organization . . . unless —
(1) the President finds that the furnishing . . . to such country or international organization will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace. . . .”
This may come as shocking news, but none of the weapons sales made by the United States or any other nation thus far in the history of the world has promoted world peace. None has reduced — on the contrary, all have increased — terrorism. All have constituted gross violations of human rights. All have been transferred with knowledge that they would be used against civilians and in violation of international laws. Here are a few of those laws:
“. . . the Signatory Powers agree to use their best efforts to insure the pacific settlement of international differences. In case of serious disagreement or conflict, before an appeal to arms, the Signatory Powers agree to have recourse, as far as circumstances allow, to the good offices or mediation of one or more friendly Powers.”
“The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”
“All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. . . .”
The United States has temporarily halted some of its weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, while continuing others and continuing to actively wage war alongside Saudi Arabia against the people of Yemen. This is no more or less a violation of law and morality than U.S. weapons sales to Iraq or South Korea or (gifts to) Israel or the United States itself. No amount of lawyerly rejiggering of terminology, selective definition of “terrorism,” or narrowing of what counts as a “human right” can change that.
Yet the shoplifters go to jail while the weapons dealers walk free. None of the death dealing nations solves or even strives to solve its disputes by pacific means any more than every heroin user is a model citizen, yet the weapons — like the drugs — keep flowing.
The International Criminal Court denies itself the right to prosecute the crime of war (only “war crimes”) or to challenge the U.N.’s dominant powers (coincidentally the world’s major weapons dealers) or to prosecute crimes by non-members of the ICC committed in the territories of non-members. Yet when Barack Obama drone-murders people in the Philippines (a member), the ICC is silent. And in Afghanistan (another member) it suggests that it might someday see fit to open a prosecution.
Obviously the answer to this charade is not utter lawlessness. Here are some partial answers: