Late last year, 90-some countries that signed a brand-new treatyregulating how countries should transfer weapons across borders met in Berlin, where dozens of diplomats started hashing out the details of how the new agreement will work. One country was conspicuously absent: the United States.
Treaty advocates saw the U.S. decision to boycott the Berlin meeting as an overreaction and a worrying sign that U.S. commitment to the arms trade treaty was thin. Rachel Stohl, a treaty advocate at the Stimson Center, criticized what she called Washington’s “strong-arm tactics” and unwillingness to engage constructively with other states on NGO participation. Anna Macdonald, the executive director of Control Arms, sees nothing remarkable or unprecedented about a requirement that attending NGOs broadly support the treaty objectives. “It seems a bit strange to be putting quite so much effort to ensure the participation of those who are vehemently opposed to a treaty that [the United States] has signed and presumably wants to work,” she told me. But Macdonald also insisted that transparency is beneficial, and argued that meetings of treaty signatories should be streamed live online.