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Arms Experts Criticize Defense Trade Treaties
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For Immediate Release: September 24, 2010

Media Contacts: Jeff Abramson, Deputy Director, (202) 463-8270 x 109, Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x 107

(Washington, DC) Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved by voice vote a resolution for advice and consent for ratification of Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties with Australia and the United Kingdom as well as legislation to implement them. Experts at the nonpartisan Arms Control Association (ACA) recommended today that the full Senate indefinitely defer consideration of these treaties.

"The Senate should indefinitely defer consideration of these treaties because they would create country specific exemptions from export licensing of military items, which invites opportunities for diversion and misuse," said Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association.

"In negotiating these treaties, the Bush administration sought to circumvent the House of Representatives, which plays a vital role in monitoring U.S. arms policy and practice. Any measures to dramatically alter U.S. export practices should have the consent of the entire Congress" ACA Deputy Director Jeff Abramson said.

In letters to the committee in 2008 (PDF) and 2009 (PDF) , Arms Control Association experts outlined concerns about the treaties, including the lack of implementing legislation, lack of legal clarity for enforcing violations, and circumvention of Congressional oversight. Legislation forwarded by the committee would address many of these issues and need to be approved by both the House and Senate to become law.

"Leaders in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have done a good job of attaching useful strings, but this treaty approach remains deeply flawed," said Abramson.

As Senator Feingold (D-Wisc.) noted in a Sept. 21 statement, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that diversion of weapons from the United States, including through the United Kingdom and Australia, is a major source of weapons for countries of concern to the United States, including Iran. The GAO also has reported that U.S. officials charged with enforcing our arms export controls are concerned that licensing exemptions reduce the evidentiary trail they use to detect and prosecute the diversion of weapons.

The treaties, signed in 2007, provide a framework for licensing exemptions for pre-approved defense projects and firms. The Obama administration has continued to support the treaties, but in 2009 broke with the previous administration on efforts to create a more expansive, legally binding global accord regulating all international arms trade, referred to as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). In announcing the decision to pursue an ATT, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said October 14, "the Arms Trade Treaty initiative presents us with the opportunity to promote the same high standards for the entire international community that the United States and other responsible arms exporters already have in place to ensure that weaponry is transferred for legitimate purposes."

"Ratifying pacts that create loopholes in a robust export control system undermines U.S. interest in seeing that a future arms trade treaty promotes tough global standards," Abramson added.

Additional Resources:

U.S. National Export Controls resources page

Letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dec. 9, 2009

Concerns Regarding Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties, May 21, 2008

ACA's Arms Trade Treaty resources page

Posted: September 24, 2010