Code of Conduct' Rejected Again In Committee Vote

On April 30, by a 23-21 vote, the House International Relations Committee rejected a bipartisan effort by Representatives Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to require Congress to preapprove all U.S. weapons exports and military assistance to countries which fail to meet specific criteria, such as promotion of democracy and respect for human rights. Similar "code of conduct" legislation has been rejected twice before in the House in 1995 and in the Senate in 1996.

The proposed bill required the president to submit two lists of states requesting U.S. military assistance and arms transfers with his annual budget request. The first list would consist of states that promote democracy, respect human rights, are not engaged in armed aggression and participate in the UN Register of Conventional Arms. The second would list those states that failed to meet these criteria but which the president determined should receive U.S. military assistance and weapons transfers in the interest of U.S. national security. Currently, countries such as Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey would fall into this category. The legislation would have required a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate to permit transfers to states on the latter list. If no vote occurred, the United States would not transfer weapons or provide military assistance to those countries during the following fiscal year.

Opponents of the legislation, including the Clinton administration, argued the bill would hinder the president's ability to conduct foreign policy. The administration also argued that it already takes code criteria into account when considering possible arms transfers. According to the February 1995 Presidential Decision Directive 34, however, the impact of an arms transfer decision on U.S. industry and the defense industrial base is also a consideration. Clinton's is the first U.S. administration to explicitly list this factor as one of its arms trade criteria.

After the House International Relations Committee derailed the most recent proposal, the House Rules Committee allowed a modified version of the bill into the Foreign Policy Reform Act, tentatively scheduled for a floor vote in June. This version still requires the president to submit the two lists; however, Congress is not required to vote on countries on the second list. Instead, any member of Congress could introduce legislation to block military aid and arms transfers to individual states.