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ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General
Jeff Abramson

Congress Acts on War in Yemen

Congress set to rebuke Trump administration for its role in Yemen, but veto awaits.


April 2019
By Jeff Abramson and Izabella Czejdo

Both chambers of the U.S. Congress recently passed resolutions to prohibit U.S. military involvement in the war in Yemen, a rebuke to the Trump administration's approach of supporting the Saudi-led coalition fighting there. Due to differences in the resolutions, the House needs to act again, after which a presidential veto is expected.

In 2018, 56 senators approved a War Powers Act resolution directing the president to remove U.S. forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen, unless directed at al Qaeda or associated groups. Steps taken by the Republican-controlled House prevented a vote on that chamber's version of the resolution. (See ACT, January/February 2019.) This year, the House took up a new resolution, approving it in a 248–177 vote on Feb. 28. Eighteen Republicans joined 230 Democrats in passing the resolution.

The Senate passed its War Powers Act resolution March 13 by a 54–46 vote, with seven Republicans joining all Democrats and independents in supporting the measure. Last-second changes to the House version to include language on anti-Semitism means that the House must reconsider the Senate version. The House is expected to vote on the Senate version soon, but the vote has not yet been scheduled.

President Donald Trump is expected to veto the resolution should it come to his desk. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered support March 15 for the Saudi-led coalition in the context of Iran. “The Trump administration fundamentally disagrees that curbing our assistance to the Saudi-led coalition” is the way to end the conflict, he told a press conference. “If you truly care about Yemeni lives, you’d support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state of the corrupt, brutish Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Support for the coalition has become increasingly controversial, especially after February reports that U.S. weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had been handed to al Qaeda-linked militias in Yemen. During a March debate, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) flagged these concerns, with Menendez saying, “In addition to the horrifying humanitarian crisis, we’ve also learned that U.S. coalition partners may be transferring U.S.-origin weapons to known—underline known—terrorist organizations.”

The Trump administration takes “all allegations of misuse of U.S.-origin defense articles very seriously,” a State Department official told Arms Control Today March 20. The official reiterated the U.S. position that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict and that “we expect all recipients of U.S.-origin defense equipment to abide by their end-use obligations and not retransfer equipment without prior U.S. government authorization.”

Congress may act to restrict arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, impose sanctions, and stop air-to-air aircraft refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft, according to a bipartisan measure introduced by Menendez with six co-sponsors. Legislation in the House sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) seeks to prohibit further arms sales to Saudi Arabia and has 27 co-sponsors.

Rep. Ilhan Omar Challenges Trump Admin Rule Easing Overseas Gun Sales

News Source: 
Democracy Now
News Date: 
March 28, 2019 -04:00

Rep. Ilhan Omar slams new Trump policy to ease weapons sales overseas

News Source: 
Fox News
News Date: 
March 27, 2019 -04:00

“Proposed Small Arms Transfers: Big Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy”

Testimony by Jeff Abramson, Senior Fellow Arms Control Association The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations “Proposed Small Arms Transfers: Big Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy” March 26, 2019 Good morning, Chair Bera and Ranking Member Zeldin. It is a privilege to testify before this Committee and discuss concerns about how the United States exports some of the weapons most used in violence around the world and proposed changes that I fear could lead to greater human suffering. 1 To sum up my forthcoming remarks in just a few lines: The weapons and...

Arms sales to Middle East have increased dramatically, new research shows

News Source: 
Middle East Eye
News Date: 
March 10, 2019 -05:00

Trump Is Sending Guns South as Migrants Flee North

News Source: 
Foreign Policy
News Date: 
March 8, 2019 -05:00

U.S. Firearms Export Changes Meet Challenges

The Trump administration is trying to change bureaucratic oversight rules for U.S. exports of selected conventional weapons.


March 2019
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration proposed changes in February to how the United States approves exports of certain firearms, a move that triggered quick responses from some congressional leaders who argued that the approach would be dangerous and reduce oversight. They warned that semiautomatic and military-style weapons, as well as 3D-printed "ghost" guns, would more easily end up in the hands of criminals, terrorists, and human rights abusers if the rules were to take effect.

Japanese police confiscated this batch of 3D printed guns in 2014. The Trump administration is seeking to modify how the United States oversees exports of some firearms, including plans for 3D printed weapons. (Photo: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)Under the proposed rules, semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition are deemed to "no longer warrant control under the United States Munitions List (USML)," a State Department-administered list of weapons. Instead, they would be transferred to a list administered by the Commerce Department, the Commerce Control List, an indication of the administration's view that these are "essentially commercial items widely available in retail outlets and less sensitive military items."

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored legislation Feb. 12 that rejected the rationale for the change and would prohibit the transfer to Commerce Department oversight. The proposed new rules would “defy common sense,” Menendez said in a statement. He added, “Small arms and associated ammunition are uniquely lethal. They are easily spread and easily modified and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world.”

The Senate measure also focused on the danger of 3D gun printing, with Menendez saying, “Every terrorist and criminal that wants to hijack an airplane with Americans onboard will more easily be able to smuggle 3D-printed, virtually undetectable guns aboard.” Because online plans for 3D-printed guns currently controlled by the USML are deemed an export, a move to the Commerce Department would likely deregulate their control. The Commerce Department is not expected to impose licensing restrictions on what 3D print advocates are trying to make open-source information. An administration decision last year to allow the organization Defense Distributed to publish 3D plans online met an outcry and has been delayed in ongoing court cases.

On Feb. 26, Menendez sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placing a hold on the proposed rules change, but whether the administration will honor the hold remains to be seen. It could choose to publish the final rules this month, when the 30-day clock for congressional review that began Feb. 4 expires. Such changes typically then have a six-month implementation phase-in period.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) co-sponsored a measure with Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) on Feb. 9 that would also block the change. In his statement about the rules, Engel warned that Congress would lose its oversight role, which is needed "so we can step in and make sure these weapons aren’t sent to bad actors, including terrorists, drug cartels, human rights abusers or violent criminals."

In 2002, Congress amended notification requirements so it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML Category I when they were valued at just $1 million, but no such notifications exist for items on the Commerce Control List.

Data compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor indicates that the Trump administration requested Congress to approve at least $746 million in firearms sales to a total of 14 countries in 2018, more than two-thirds of which was for Saudi Arabia. The value of transfers that would be subject to the new rule is not clear as that data cannot be disaggregated from the automatic and other firearms that would remain on the USML.

The rules were considered during the Obama administration as part of a broader export control effort that transferred portions of the larger USML to Commerce Department control. Changes to firearms and ammunition in the first three USML categories were never formerly introduced, in part due to a different sensibility related to gun violence.

The Trump administration first introduced the rules for public comment in May 2018, garnering thousands of public responses. (See ACT, June 2018.)

These military-style weapons, although more tightly controlled in many other countries, have been sold domestically and used in many mass shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Human rights and gun control groups have backed the legislative efforts to stop the change. Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign, stated on Feb. 8, "While the corporate gun lobby is no doubt thrilled to be able to take their products to a wider audience, we need to be taking steps to reduce gun violence at home, rather than exporting it.”

 

Congress should block rule changes for firearm exports

This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill , February 20, 2019. As the nation is reminded of the tragic consequences of gun violence with the one-year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, the Trump administration is pushing forward with plans to expedite the export abroad of the same kind of military-style weapons used in many of the mass shootings that have taken place in recent years. These are not the commodities that the United States should make easier to export. Congress can and should stop the changes, which would put the Department of Commerce in charge of regulating these...

Congress should block rule changes for firearm exports

News Source: 
The Hill
News Date: 
February 20, 2019 -05:00

How Congress Can Exert Responsible Oversight on Trump’s Dangerous Approach to Arms Sales

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Description: 
Congress has the tools and authority to ensure U.S. arms sales strengthen, rather than undermine, enduring America’s values and norms, writes Jeff Abramson.
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Volume 11, Issue 1, January 15, 2019

In December, the Senate issued a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia and its actions in the bloody war in Yemen, which are exacerbating a massive humanitarian crisis. A bipartisan group of 56 Senators took the extraordinary step of invoking the 1973 War Powers Resolution to direct the president to cease direct U.S. military engagement in the war, including through any aerial refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft fighting there–a step that had garnered steam since nearly winning approval in March 2018.

In a separate measure, the Senate said by voice vote that it “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder” of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi—a finding the president has not fully supported. Trump’s refusal to hold the prince accountable and to consider suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the grisly murder further underscores his retreat from common-sense U.S. and international norms regarding international arms sales.

Trump’s lack of concern about human rights and harm to civilians caused by U.S. arms trade partners is not, however, surprising. The conventional arms transfer policy his administration issued in April 2018 dangerously elevated economic arguments as a driving motive for arms transfer approvals. A November 2018 update on implementing that plan and a related factsheet on sales agreements again stress his administration’s desire to expedite the sale of increasingly more weapons, citing as success agreements to supply American arms to repressive regimes in not just Saudi Arabia, but also Bahrain and Nigeria.

Options to Encourage a More Responsible Approach

As the new Congress develops its agenda, both chambers can be expected to pass another resolution that seeks to restrict the role of U.S. military support for the war in Yemen. Members of Congress should also more fully utilize their oversight powers to ensure U.S. arms trade is more responsible. The first opportunity to do so typically comes when the administration delivers customary pre-notifications of potential arms sales to the Senate Foreign Relations (SFRC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where the chair and ranking members tend to lead any review.

In June 2018, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking SFRC member, properly placed a hold on tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions kits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Other members of these key committees should, as necessary, consider supporting and initiating such efforts during this pre-notification period in order to hold or amend dangerous potential sales.

Once officially notified, Congress typically has 30 days to pass a joint resolution of disapproval that bars the president from going forward with unwise sales. Over the past few years, the full Senate has publicly debated controversial arms sales to places such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during this notification period—positive examples of what a functioning Congress should do—but House procedures make it very difficult to get such measures to the full floor.

Legislation introduced late in the 115th Congress under the Arms Sales Oversight Act should be revisited as one possible avenue for better empowering Representatives to assert oversight, while properly keeping HFAC as the first committee of review. Other measures, such as an amendment offered on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2018 to strengthen oversight as relates to human rights deserve reconsideration. So too does a resolution proposing a comprehensive approach to the conflict in Yemen, especially if it were expanded to incorporate arms suspensions to all Saudi partners, including the critical UAE.

While the public can raise its voice against irresponsible Foreign Military Sales (FMS) because such government-to-government negotiated sales are quickly added to a public website, the increasingly important business-led Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) are not as transparent, in part because any public notification is obscure or functionally comes after the initial review period has passed. Earlier this month, news broke with this exact scenario on a missile defense sale to Saudi Arabia. Members of Congress could insist that, or possibly take it upon themselves to make, these potential DCS transactions more transparent. Proposed sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia via the more opaque DCS process came to light because concerned members of Congress took the initiative to reveal them.

While the notification period garners the most attention, Congress also can block a sale up until weapons are delivered. Given how security, geopolitical, and humanitarian realities can change between the time of notifications and often years-later deliveries, members should follow the entire process. In 2014, Congress gave itself the authority (see Section 201) to receive from the State Department notification of an arms shipment at least 30 days before its delivery. It is currently limited to joint requests by the chair and ranking members of the SFRC or HFAC and may have only been used once. Those leaders should exercise it much more diligently and Congress should consider making it much easier to use by allowing all committee members to request pre-delivery notifications.

In general, transparency around arms deliveries remains too obscure as a New Hampshire NPR reporter recently discovered. When U.S. census export data showed weapons worth more than $61 million had been sold from his state to Saudi Arabia in August 2018, he could not uncover what was in the sales nor which companies provided the weapons. Annual reports on U.S. arms transfers have grown increasingly opaque. Congress should mandate a change demanding much greater transparency on the specifics of what is in U.S. weapons deliveries.

Finally, sometime in the first quarter of 2019, the administration is expected to publish final rules transferring export authority on select firearms from the State Department to the Commerce Department, despite a large number of negative public comments and a great deal of concern. Members of Congress have raised an alarm that they will lose notifications about these sales, which in the past two years has enabled them to forestall small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines. Last year, legislation was introduced to stop these changes and should again be considered. As with Trump’s broad approach to arms sales, these changes risk making it easier for weapons to end up in the hands of terrorists, international criminals, and abusive regimes.

Just before the December 2018 vote on direct U.S. military engagement in the war, Sen. Menendez expressed concern that the Trump administration believed “selling weapons to the Saudis was more important than America’s enduring commitment to human rights, democratic values, and international norms.” Congress has the tools and must now use its authority to ensure U.S. arms sales strengthen, rather than undermine, those enduring values and norms. —JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

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