CIFTA: Treaty Without a Purpose

The Organization of American States (OAS) is an enthusiastic backer of its CIFTA treaty, the Spanish-language abbreviation for the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials. President Clinton signed CIFTA in 1997, but it has not been ratified by the Senate.

That is fortunate, for CIFTA is a bad treaty: It poses serious risks to liberties guaranteed by the First and Second Amendments and would undermine U.S. sovereignty by legally binding it to fulfill obligations that some current signatories already disregard. The OAS’s latest statement on “Reducing the Threat of Arms and Munitions in the Americas” demonstrates that the treaty is pointless as well as bad.

The OAS reports on its efforts to help Colombia destroy firearms surrendered by paramilitary forces, assist member states with marking firearms, help Nicaragua and Guatemala destroy stockpiles of expired military ammunition, and aid the same countries with cleaning up munitions from abandoned or military sites. These are worthy projects—not high-profile ones, to be sure, but as long as the destruction of arms is non-coercive, they are sensible, technical ways to provide humanitarian assistance.

According to the OAS, all of this activity falls “within the framework of CIFTA.” Thus, it was Canada that provided funding for the mission in Colombia. In Guatemala and Nicaragua, the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation—headquartered in California—and the governments of Canada, Italy, and the United States worked together to provide financial and technical support for the various projects.

But Italy, of course, is not a signatory of CIFTA. It’s not even in the OAS. Canada and the United States are in the OAS, but neither has ratified CIFTA. And the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation has charitable status from the U.S. government. Thus, apart from the OAS itself, none of the governments and organizations that were involved in these activities “within the framework of CIFTA” are actually party to any of CIFTA’s obligations.

And yet the activities happened anyhow. The treaty has nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, where the U.S., U.S. NGOs, and a few other Western countries are doing solid, sensible humanitarian work. Collaboration like this doesn’t require a treaty that endlessly and automatically commits U.S. resources and pretends to apply to rogue regimes like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. It requires voluntary cooperation between willing partners, the kind of cooperation that allows the U.S. to provide effective, meaningful humanitarian relief while protecting its sovereignty. The OAS’s own report shows that CIFTA contributes nothing to this cause.

Source material can be found at this site.

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