The UN is coming together to negotiate an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and it has said that Colorado and Washington’s legalization of pot last election violates current international treaties. It’s not hard to see, with the two stories juxtaposed, why people are concerned about the potential of severe infringements on national sovereignty coming from the UN.
The arms treaty had been discussed before, but a drafting conference in July 2012 was postponed until this month because the US (followed by Russia and China) said they wanted more time. The US delegation, as well as both supporters and opponents of the ATT (and even a UN website) had said that Washington wanted to push the controversial issue past the November elections.
The treaty would apply to all conventional weapons, military and civilian alike, because UN officials say it cannot create a meaningful distinction between the two and still enforce the treaty (this is in contrast to the US debate over “assault weapons,” many of which are described as being for “military” use). Russia and China have expressed reservations about the subjective nature of other distinctions the treaty makes, though, such as banning sales to “human rights violators.”
US gun rights advocates say the ATT’s record-keeping requirements could lead to a domestic gun registry, the avoidance of which is one of their central issues. John Kerry has said he would not support a treaty which infringed on domestic ownership, but did not address that issue specifically. The US is currently opposing the inclusion of ammunition in the treaty, saying it “cannot be marked in any practical way which would permit it to be traced or tracked."
Negotiations are expected to conclude on March 28, after which Congress would have to ratify the treaty by a two thirds margin. The Obama administration has voiced support for the treaty, and with so much controversy over gun control in America, this will likely only fuel the debate. In addition, it presents an opportunity to bring other countries into a domestic debate. UK newspapers, for instance, have already released articles criticizing Second Amendment advocacy organizations for sparking “anti-UN sentiment.”
As they argue that such a treaty would not affect domestic gun ownership, though, the UN Anti-Narcotics panel is arguing that recent legislation in the states of Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational marijuana is contradictory to international treaties. The US’s counterargument is that this legislation did not occur on a federal level, where marijuana remains illegal, and the UN has responded that that is “good but insufficient.”
The UN Single Convention on Narcotic drugs was ratified in 1961. The treaty requires criminalization of the cultivation or use of recreational narcotic drugs, including marijuana. It unified its predecessor treaties, including those dealing with international trade, manufacturing, regulating and distribution of such substances.
Though many Western European nations, like the Netherlands, don’t prosecute petty drug offenses, they are severe enough in their criminal punishments for production and trafficking to be in accordance with the Convention. Again, trafficking is the core of the treaty.
There has been a strong push for the decriminalization or outright legalization of marijuana in recent years, and a UN treaty, ratified over half a century ago in which nations agreed on which legislation they would and would not pass in the future is providing one of the main sources of opposition to these reforms.
The UN has been involved in many controversies in recent years, most of which involved the perception of too much international involvement in domestic politics. These include UN monitoring of American elections, UN endorsement of and opposition to political candidates and treaties which would dictate federal law in a way some felt could undermine parents’ rights and even support abortion and sterilization.
The combination of these issues raises the question of what treaties should be used for. They have been growing as a type of legislation in recent decades, but this only removes more and more power from the people. Treaties should only be used for consenting countries to achieve mutually beneficial goals which they could not otherwise accomplish, not in any way which could dictate legislation on the state or national level. Likewise, the UN, to the extent it should exist at all, should not infringe upon the sovereignty of its member states, but rather provide a limited-scope forum for such treaties and to prevent international conflict.