At the Close of the U.N.’s Programme of Action, Wins—and a Few Losses—for the U.S.

by Ted R. Bromund

The U.N. Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PoA), which I’ve been covered for the Corner over the past week, wrapped up on Friday afternoon with a consensus outcome — i.e., one that’s unanimously tolerated, if not unanimously liked. In the field of firearms, nothing that the U.N. does can be genuinely good for the U.S., but as these things go, the PoA wasn’t too bad.

Here’s my quick read of the wins:

1. The outcome document (as verbally amended from the linked version) didn’t include ammunition. That’s good, because there’s already a U.S.-endorsed U.N. agreement on technical guidelines for ammunition, and because including it in the PoA would have opened the door to demands for ammunition marking and tracing. As I noted on Tuesday, this was the most contentious item at the meeting, and on Friday its absence was the most commonly expressed regret.

2. The document contains only a brief mention of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), under the heading of “Other Issues,” and even this is prefaced by the clear statement that this mention did not command consensus. Any mention of the ATT is one too many, because it plays into the activist strategy of intermingling and hence confusing the ATT with other, unrelated U.N. programs and activities, but this could have been worse.

3. The document didn’t include any reference to the International Small Arms Control Standards, a gun-controller’s delight composed by the U.N. and anti-firearms activists. This is a clear U.S. win, and, as the closing statements showed, it’s one that many delegations resented.

4. The document contains only an anodyne mention of new firearms technologies, not a specific endorsement of “smart guns” or any other supposed technological silver bullet. It is similarly vague about new technologies for securing arms stockpiles. While any mention of new technologies will provide grist for future meetings, the document is about as well-hedged as it could be.

5. The U.S. fought off demands for an addendum on new technologies to the International Tracing Instrument (ITI), which concerns international cooperation on firearms marking and tracing.

6. The U.S. caught and corrected a sneaky effort to gimmick the outcome document, which would have had it assert that firearms generally have a “devastating effect” on women and children.

7. With Canada and Israel, the U.S. rejected the outcome document’s incorporation — by reference back to the original 2001 PoA — of the “right of national self-determination,” which is U.N. code for support for Palestinian terrorism. Because that language was adopted in 2001, the U.S. couldn’t keep it entirely out of this outcome document, but it did at least speak up.

8. The outcome document makes no mention of support for a “culture of peace,” which is U.N. code for state propaganda in schools and communities, and state censorship of media and video games.

9. The outcome document largely keeps the PoA and U.N. peacekeeping missions separate. As I explained on Tuesday, running them together risked saddling the U.N. with yet another mission to fail at, and — at worst — could have turned the U.N. into the gun-controller general. By the same token, the U.S. also kept a number of other U.N. resolutions, institutions, and publications on small arms that activists wanted to include out of the outcome document.

10. Finally, the U.S. made it clear that any aid provided under the PoA will be at U.S. discretion and subject to agreements reached between the U.S. and the recipient of the aid. Whether providing aid is actually a good idea is another question, but the PoA cannot be read to require U.S. aid.

Against this, there are a few losses.

1. While the mentions of the ATT and new technologies are brief, they are there. Experience shows that anti-firearms activists will seek to grow an oak out of even the smallest acorn.

2. The U.S. did concede that new technologies would be discussed in the 2015 Meeting of Government Experts on small arms and light weapons. This is a forum that suits the U.S. because we understand firearms issues better than most other nations. It is even possible that this forum will shed light on genuine issues, such as how to mark new polymer firearms frames. But when the Experts reports, that by itself will keep the issue alive for the next meeting of the PoA.

3. The separation between the PoA and U.N. missions is not complete. The involvement of U.N. missions could be read into paragraphs 18 and 42, and it is explicitly contained in paragraphs 30 and 41 (though both of these are on the ITI, not the full PoA, and hence less damaging).

4. While the U.S. blocked the sneaky effort to gimmick the “devastating effect” paragraph on women and children, the paragraph survived in a less damaging form. More broadly, though the outcome document contains fewer references to the supposedly vital role of women in stockpile management than the activists wanted, it still does a lot of cheerleading.

I wouldn’t call the PoA a success for the U.S. Real success can only come from ending this charade and putting everyone involved in it to more useful work. Most of what the U.S. does is not about succeeding: it’s about limiting the damage.

There’s enough in the outcome document to give the activists grist to chew on at the next meeting of the PoA in 2016, and as this week’s NGO side events and statements confirmed — and as I’ll discuss in another post — the broader context of the PoA remains absolutely set on promoting gun control. But by and large, the outcome of this meeting was about as tolerable as it could be.