“I’m officially announcing today that the United States will be revoking the effect of America’s signature from this badly misguided treaty,” he said.
During his speech, Trump signed a document asking the Senate to return the Obama-era pact to the White House. He then threw the pen he used into the cheering audience. The Washington Post reported earlier that an announcement appeared imminent.
The origins of the treaty, which sets out international rules for sales and transfers of everything from small arms to large planes and ships, dates to the George W. Bush administration. The agreement was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations and signed in 2013 under President Barack Obama but has never been ratified by U.S. lawmakers.
The treaty seeks to prevent illicit arms transfers that fuel destructive conflicts, making it harder to conduct weapon sales in violation of arms embargoes. About 100 countries — including U.S. allies in Europe — have ratified the treaty, while more than 30 others have signed but not ratified. Countries that have shunned the treaty entirely include Russia, North Korea and Syria.
The NRA and other opponents of the treaty argue that it is ineffective and, more importantly, poses a threat to Americans’ Second Amendment rights by potentially subjecting domestic gun ownership to internationally drafted rules.
Chris Cox, executive director for NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, praised the decision in a statement, saying it “gave NRA members one more reason to enthusiastically support his presidency.”
Ted Bromund, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the treaty could impinge on U.S. sovereignty in the future. “The ATT is, in effect, an escalator: Once you step onto it, you are no longer in control of your direction of travel.”
Its supporters dismiss those claims and say the treaty was drafted to have no effect on gun laws in the United States. They say any new amendments only affect states that ratify them.
“This is yet another instance of the Trump administration turning its back on multilateral diplomacy,” said Rachel Stohl, managing director of the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, who contributed to the drafting of the treaty.
“By not participating in the ATT, the United States is undermining global norms around the arms trade,” she said. “It says to other countries, ‘The U.S. could become less responsible, so why shouldn’t I?’ ”
After receiving a loud round of applause for unsigning the treaty, Trump said, “I’m impressed. I didn’t know too many of you would know what it is.”
The move adds to earlier decisions underscoring Trump’s suspicion of international groupings and agreements that he says could trample on U.S. autonomy.
Since taking office, Trump has approved decisions to pull the United States from the Paris climate accord, the nuclear deal with Iran and the U.N. educational and cultural body UNESCO. His national security adviser, John Bolton, has championed a campaign to challenge the International Criminal Court.
The decisions have tested U.S. alliances and, critics say, undermined U.S. influence abroad.
Allied countries, including European nations that had worked with the Obama administration to pull the treaty together, appeared to be taken aback by the decision.
The Trump administration has not yet decided whether it will continue to attend international conferences or contribute funds related to the treaty, U.S. officials said Friday.
Thomas Countryman, a former State Department official who served as lead negotiator for the treaty under Obama, said a decision to “un-sign” the treaty would be “another mistaken step by the Trump administration that threatens to make the world less safe, rather than more secure.”
“It is sad, but to be expected, that this president opposes efforts to require other countries to meet the high standards of U.S. military export decisions,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the move a “myopic decision that jeopardizes U.S. security based on false premises and fearmongering.”
He linked the move to the political clout of the NRA, which has strongly supported Trump. “This is another reminder that if we’re going to get anywhere to break the inaction on the kind of common-sense steps to stop gun violence and keep people safe, we must stop letting the NRA set the agenda in Washington,” he said.