GAINESVILLE, FLA. — A country's foreign policy should be determined by its interests. It seems the Bush administration believes, however, that America's foreign policy should be dictated by the National Rifle Association.
A two-week United Nations meeting recently convened in New York illustrates this point. The purpose of the gathering, called the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, is to find ways to reduce illicit trafficking in such weapons without interfering with the legal trade, manufacture, or ownership of arms.
Shortly after delegates from 120 nations took their seats on July 9, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton presented the American position. It sounded like a laundry list drafted by the NRA.
Mr. Bolton began by claiming that handguns and hunting rifles don't contribute to violence around the world despite the fact that small arms in general are involved in more than 1,000 deaths every day. He then made it clear that the United States defines small arms and light weapons as strictly military weapons - automatic rifles, machine guns, shoulder-fired missile and rocket systems, and light mortars - and he demanded that the conference deal only with those.
He went on to quote Attorney General John Ashcroft saying "the Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms," and he asserted that the US would oppose any measure that sought to limit that constitutional right. Bolton, a former assistant attorney general, and Mr. Ashcroft seem to have forgotten that the Supreme Court, eight US Courts of Appeals, and the Justice Department under a succession of presidents have all repeatedly said the Second Amendment does not extend firearms rights to individuals independent of the collective need to ensure a well-regulated militia.
But Bolton did not stop with parroting the big lie of the gun lobby and applying it to the entire planet. He insisted that the conference concentrate its efforts solely on illegal arms trafficking, while ignoring the fact that half the illegal arms are initially sold in legal transactions and then diverted.
He lauded the efforts of his government to administer export controls on arms without recognizing that other governments may not be as capable as ours.
He asserted that it was undemocratic for the United Nations to provide funds for any international advocacy activities by international or nongovernmental organizations unless all 189 members of the UN agreed with the viewpoints they promoted. A lack of government funds will pose no threat to the NRA; its $200-million-a-year revenue from 4.3 million members provides ample funds for its international lobbying efforts.
Bolton also rejected any measures that would limit the weapons trade only to governments. He noted there might be oppressed nonstate groups that need to defend themselves from a genocidal government. Is arming the opposition the Bush administration's answer to the next Rwanda?
Finally, Bolton demanded that there be no mandatory meeting in the future to review the progress made since this conference. No matter that the final document of the conference will be determined by consensus, will not be a legally binding treaty, and will not intervene in matters that are within any particular country's jurisdiction. Any progress on this issue is too much for the NRA.
So the 10-year-old soldiers in Africa and elsewhere should not be concerned about losing their Kalashnikovs and other assault rifles. Drug traffickers and terrorists should not worry that those black UN helicopters so often seen in Idaho will swoop down and take their weapons away. And any sportsmen and women who want to bag their next Bambi with a rocket-propelled grenade or a mortar should rest easy. The Bush administration is on the job protecting their interests - and those of the National Rifle Association.
Dennis Jett, who served as US ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is dean of the International Center at the University of Florida and author of 'Why Peacekeeping Fails' (St. Martin's Press).
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor