Don't Arm Thy Neighbor
By ÓSCAR ARIAS SÁNCHEZ
Published: October 23, 2013
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — I am not one of those who believe the United States’ days of world leadership are behind us. All my life I have been an admirer of our northern neighbor. I believe its strengths — its democracy, its founders’ wisdom, its people’s ingenuity and diversity — give it unique authority in the world. But many of its citizens and their leaders seem to take such authority for granted now, as if it were American property. The truth is, it must be earned, and today the United States is passing up opportunities to earn it.
The Arms Trade Treaty, approved by the United Nations in April, is one such opportunity, and it must not be allowed to slip by. Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry signed it. Given the enormous presence of the United States in the international arms market, the treaty’s ratification, which requires a vote of two-thirds of the Senate, is essential to its success.
But the treaty will face stiff opposition. Two Republican Senators, James Inhofe and Jerry Moran, have gleefully pronounced the treaty “dead on arrival” and argue that the United States should not ratify it because North Korea, Syria and Iran declined to sign it. To do otherwise, they assert, would leave the United States “handcuffed.”
|Oscar Arias Sanchez|
Yours is the country that stood alone in the world’s first and only use of nuclear weapons; the country that stood nearly alone in invading Iraq; the country that seemed ready to stand alone at the brink of unilateral action against Syria.
So why should it be afraid to lead in matters of peace? One reason, clearly, is the extraordinary influence of the National Rifle Association over U.S. elected officials. I have rarely spoken out about the N.R.A., since I believe its position on gun control within the United States is for the American people and government to resolve. But I have campaigned for a treaty to control the international arms trade since the mid-1990s, after Costa Rica, having abolished its own army decades before, witnessed the carnage caused by unrestricted armies’ sales to other nations of Central America.
In opposing the Arms Trade Treaty, the N.R.A. now seeks to impose its agenda on the rest of the world, and I can no longer be silent. Its reckless argument that the treaty violates U.S. sovereignty is simply without any basis in fact. It is shameful to think that any definition of national sovereignty could include a right to sell arms for the violation of human rights in other countries.
To the N.R.A., I say: Inflict your agenda on your own nation if you must, but spare the rest of us. Spare us the notion that the interests of a single interest group, in a single nation, should trump the rights of all other nations to protect their citizens. Spare us your misguided references to a Constitution whose brilliant authors would be aghast to see you equate the right to put a rifle in your gun case with the right to put an AK-47 in the hands of a child soldier.
You should, instead, read the treaty with the seriousness it deserves. You would see that it supports the very causes you endorse: the safety of all citizens, and freedom from fear and oppression.
Ratification would also support a renaissance of U.S. leadership on the world stage. Your country is responsible for nearly half of the world’s outrageous $1.7 trillion military spending, and home to the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. It has unparalleled economic power to attack the root causes of terrorism and unrest by fostering human development, regulating the arms flow to terrorists and dictators, and pursuing the dream of a world without nuclear weapons. But America keeps waiting for someone else to make the first move.
If leadership toward these goals does not come from Washington, only the most arrogant American could think it would never come from somewhere else.
Óscar Arias Sánchez, a former president of Costa Rica, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.
Editor's Note: Paragraphs in BOLD font are my emphasis only.
Source URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/24/opinion/international/dont-arm-thy-neighbor.html?_r=0