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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Jeff Abramson

U.S. Arms Deals Continue During Pandemic


June 2020
By Jeff Abramson

As the Trump administration designated the defense industry as essential, notifications of potential new international arms sales have continued during the coronavirus pandemic. In May, however, the firing of the State Department's inspector general and push for new arms sales raised controversy.

The most high-profile concerns, however, focus on a deal that has not yet been formally notified to Congress for new weapons for Saudi Arabia. In a May 27 CNN commentary, ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he had not received sufficient answers as to why the deal, details of which were not yet public, was needed and that, “Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.” The following day, The New York Times reported that the deal valued at $478 million would include 7,500 precision-guided missiles and licenses to allow Raytheon to expand manufacturing capacity in Saudi Arabia.

Menendez linked his concerns to a congressional effort to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2019, which was given greater attention when President Donald Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general on May 15. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Trump on May 18, saying, “It is alarming to see news reports that your action may have been in response to Inspector General [Steve] Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that weapons sales to the countries needed to proceed on an emergency basis in May 2019, bypassing the 30-day notification period, both chambers passed resolutions of disapproval that the president vetoed last July. (See ACT, September 2019.) Members of Congress had asked for the inspector general to start an investigation into the arms sales.

Overall, between March 30 and May 28, Congress was notified of potential foreign military sales of approximately $7.5 billion. If annualized, that pace of $45 billion for sales notifications would be lower than the nearly $70 billion in sales that were notified in 2019.

The recent notifications included two possible attack helicopters sales, valued at either $1.5 billion or $450 million, for a bid request issued by the Duterte regime in the Philippines, as well as $2.3 billion to refurbish 43 Apache attack helicopters in Egypt and $556 million to sell 4,569 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to the United Arab Emirates that were declared excess defense articles in 2014. Potential sales to Hungary, Taiwan, and India, valued at $230 million, $180 million and $155 million, respectively, were notified during the period, which also included Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, and South Korea as possible clients.

As expected, the May 20 notification of the potential sale of 18 heavy-weight torpedoes to Taiwan for $180 million elicited Chinese opposition.

 

The Trump administration has pressed forward with foreign military sales, triggering calls of concern from some U.S. lawmakers.

Lawmakers Press Esper on Landmine Policy


June 2020
By Jeff Abramson

More than 100 members of Congress expressed their “disappointment” over a new U.S. landmine policy in a May 6 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The message noted that reductions in landmine use and casualties could be put in jeopardy.

Rather than geographically restricting landmine use and setting a notional goal of one day joining the Mine Ban Treaty, the new Trump administration policy announced at the end of January allows for using landmines outside the Korean peninsula. The updated policy also allows combatant commanders to authorize landmine emplacements, a power that was previously held only by the president. (See ACT, March 2020.) Thirty-four senators, led by Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and including Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, signed the congressional oversight letter. In addition, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined 105 Democrats on the message, led in the House by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

The letter asks Esper a list of 27 questions, grouped into sections. The initial six questions on “specific policy issues” are particularly pointed about whether circumstances have recently changed in terms of threats, weapons technology, and the decision-making process to use landmines. Other questions focus on Pentagon reports that might explain the rationale for the new policy, where landmines might be used, alternatives to the weapons, production, transfer, and stockpiling.

Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has indicated he would reverse the Trump policy, Vox reported in February.—JEFF ABRAMSON

 

Lawmakers Press Esper on Landmine Policy

Trump Administration Quietly Adds Foreign Arms Sale to List of "Essential Work"

Why are we continuing to sell arms to repressive regimes amid a pandemic?

U.S. Fuels Growing Arms Market


April 2020
By Jeff Abramson

Although the pace of increase has slowed, the global trend for major conventional weapons trade remains upward, according to a March study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In that trade, the United States continues to account for the largest and growing share, with more than half of its weapons delivered to the conflict-torn Middle East.

The SIPRI report, released March 9, measures the volume of trade with a trend indicator value, a metric based on actual deliveries of military equipment rather than just financial value, and compares five-year periods as a way to measure change. It found that the volume of international trade had increased 5.5 percent during 2015–2019 compared to five years earlier, and 20 percent compared to 2005–2009.

The United States accounted for 36 percent of exports, up from 31 percent during 2010–2014, with identified exports of major arms to 96 states.

Russia, the only other country accounting for more than 10 percent of global exports, had 47 client states and provided 21 percent of global arms, down from 27 percent in the previous period. China, at fifth largest, was responsible for 5.5 percent of exports in each period, with Pakistan accounting for more than a third of the volume of its exports among 51 clients in the past five years.

Saudi Arabia and the Middle East

In justifying arms and other trade with Saudi Arabia, U.S. President Donald Trump pointed to Russia and China as countries likely to replace the United States should it discontinue trade with the Middle Eastern kingdom. More broadly, his administration has elevated economic considerations and argued for greater governmental involvement and faster approval of arms sales as critical to U.S. competition in the arms trade. The SIPRI findings suggest that rather than the United States losing its place, it is expanding its share of global arms trade.

The arms trade, especially to the Middle East, continues to be controversial domestically and internationally. Countries in that region imported 61 percent more arms during 2015–2019 compared to five years earlier, with Saudi Arabia now both the region’s and the world’s top arms importer.

Washington supplied nearly three-quarters of weapons exports to Riyadh in that period, including combat aircraft and large numbers of missiles and guided bombs. It is unclear how much of the nearly $8 billion in arms for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been delivered since Trump used emergency provisions in the Arms Export Control Act to waive congressional notification requirements last May, then used vetoes to override three congressional resolutions of disapproval in July. (See ACT, September 2019.) His administration has yet to notify Congress of any new sales via the foreign military sales program to either country since then.

A number of European countries have stopped arms deals with Saudi Arabia out of concern over the nation’s use of weapons in Yemen, where five years of war have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis. In March, Belgium took new steps to suspend export licenses, and Germany renewed preexisting holds.

In the United Kingdom, an appeals court ruled in May that the country had not properly accounted for possible harm in making arms trade decisions. In December, a group of civil society organizations presented a dossier to the International Criminal Court in an effort to convince that body to investigate European arms suppliers.

India Arms Trade Changes

Cross-border attacks in early 2019 involving India and Pakistan using weapons provided by an array of countries, including the United States, drew international attention to the arms trade involving the long-time rivals. Generally, however, trade with India has not raised the same concerns as that with Middle Eastern states.

India, which until two years ago had been listed as the world’s largest arms importer, now is second largest, accounting for 9.2 percent of global arms imports, according to SIPRI. Russia remains the country’s top supplier, providing 56 percent of arms deliveries, down from 72 percent during the earlier five-year period. The United States, which was India's second-largest arms supplier in 2010–2014, delivered half as many weapons to New Delhi in 2015–2019 as Israel and France provided the second- and third-most weapons to the country, with a combined 26 percent.

That position may change. On Feb. 25 during a visit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, Trump announced $3 billion in arms agreements, saying they “will enhance our joint defense capabilities as our militaries continue to train and operate side by side.” In total during 2019-2020, the Trump administration has notified Congress of more than $6.3 billion in potential foreign military sales to New Delhi.

Some members of Congress have raised alarm about India’s actions in Kashmir and its treatment of Muslims, drawing the defense trade into the debate. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted on March 2, “President Trump is engaging in arms deals with Modi while his administration is ethnically cleansing the country’s religious minorities. We must not enable this rise in sectarian violence.”

Global arms transfers continue to grow, with Washington providing more than one-third of them.

Firearms Export Changes Partially Blocked


April 2020

Despite opposition from some members of Congress and a wide range of civil society groups, Trump administration changes to its oversight of certain firearms exports took effect in March. A federal district judge, however, issued a temporary injunction on portions of the rules that deal with 3D gun-printing plans.

The rules came into effect on Mar. 9, despite congressional efforts such as those of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had twice sought holds on the new rules in 2019. The new system transfers overall authority for the export of certain types of semiautomatic and other firearms and their ammunition to the Commerce Department from the State Department. (See ACT, March 2020.) Renewing a letter delivered in May 2019 from more than 100 civil society organizations, 23 groups sent a message to Congress on March 4 encouraging them to stop or reverse the changes, arguing that the new rules “will thwart congressional oversight and exacerbate gun violence, human rights abuses, and armed conflict around the world.”

On March 6, Judge Richard Jones in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered a preliminary injunction in a case filed by more than 20 state attorneys general that sought to block all the changes. Jones limited the injunction to prohibit changes to how online 3D printing plans for firearms, sometimes called “ghost guns,” are regulated.

Some of the attorneys general criticized the president’s efforts. “If the Trump administration has its way, these ghost guns will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history…. We will keep fighting back against this unlawful, dangerous policy,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on March 9.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Firearms Export Changes Partially Blocked

U.S. Reintroduction of Landmines Sparks Controversy

News Source (Do Not Use): 
National Defense
News Date: 
March 26, 2020 -04:00

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

Trump Shifts Oversight of Some Arms Exports, Easing Sales

News Source (Do Not Use): 
Wall Street Journal, The
News Date: 
March 9, 2020 -04:00

U.S. to Allow Expanded Landmine Use


March 2020
By Jeff Abramson

In January, the Trump administration cancelled an Obama administration policy that had limited the potential U.S. use of anti-personnel landmines (APLs) to the Korean peninsula only. The previous policy sought to bring the United States closer to its allies and international norms for reducing the harm caused by indiscriminate weapons such as landmines. The White House said the new decision was needed because the Obama-era policy placed U.S. forces at a “severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries,” according to a Jan. 31 statement.

A de-miner works to clear mines in Muhamalai, Sri Lanka, in March 2019. (Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)The announcement drew reproach from the international community and members of the U.S. Congress. In a rare rebuke, the European Union said on Feb. 4 that the new policy “undermines the global norm” against APLs. “Their use anywhere, anytime, and by any actor remains completely unacceptable” to the EU, it said. All EU members are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which forbids the use of victim-activated APLs, mandates destruction of stockpiles, clearance of contaminated lands, and other measures. The treaty, which entered into force on March 1, 1999, now has 164 states-parties, including all NATO members aside from the United States. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The U.S. policy change was a “step in the wrong direction,” said treaty president Osman Abufatima Adam Mohammed, deputy permanent representative of Sudan to the United Nations in Geneva, on Feb. 3. The United States is by far the world’s largest funder of mine-clearance activities, contributing more than $3 billion since 1993 to conventional weapons destruction internationally. “This change in U.S. policy goes against its long-standing commitment to work towards the eradication of the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines,” added Mohammed.

U.S. officials defended the new policy, arguing that it aligned with the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy and “the return to great power competition,” according to Jan. 31 comments from Victorino Mercado, performing the duties of acting assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities. In his comments, as well as in a policy memorandum issued that day, concerns about near-peer competitors were cited as the primary rationale for lifting geographic restrictions on landmine use. Mercado said he did not foresee the United States using landmines in such places as Afghanistan, Kenya, Niger, or Syria. Other documents also indicated that the new policy was not in response to Iran. Decisions to use landmines would be made at the combatant-commander level, a four-star general or admiral, not by the president as had been previous policy.

The policy permits the use of what the administration calls “nonpersistent landmines,” which are “specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and partner forces.” According to the administration plans, the munitions must have self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms, with the self-destruct system set for 30 days or less. The policy does not allow for using landmines that do not have these features. Mercado argued that there is “only a six in 1 million chance of a U.S. landmine being active after a predetermined period,” but studies backing this assessment were not made publicly available. Critics of the policy have long argued that such studies are unreliable, and the Mine Ban Treaty does not make such a distinction when banning APLs that explode due to the “presence, proximity or contact of a person.”

U.S. officials stated that the United States will continue to uphold commitments under Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). That protocol permits the use of remotely delivered mines that have an “effective self-destruction or self-neutralization mechanism and have a back-up self-deactivation feature,” and it calls for clearing or marking of mined areas after the cessation of hostilities. Citing 2010 and 2014 figures, the Landmine Monitor estimates that the United States possesses a stockpile of approximately 3 million such mines that could be delivered by aircraft or artillery, including ADAM, GATOR and Volcano systems.

The United States has not used these or other Mine Ban Treaty-banned mines since 1991, with the exception of a single use in Afghanistan in 2002. It has not exported them since 1992, nor produced new mines since 1997. Although President Bill Clinton ultimately did not join the Mine Ban Treaty, he set a goal for the United States to do so by 2006, a goal President George W. Bush rejected in 2004. Obama administration policy, announced in 2014, banned production and acquisition of APLs and halted their use outside the Korean peninsula. It also set the aspiration to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty, but did not set a date for that to occur.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a long-time anti-landmine leader, reacted quickly to the new policy. “The president’s decision to roll back the policy” on APLs “is as perplexing as it is disappointing, and reflexive, and unwise,” he said on Jan. 31. “This decision, like so many others of this White House, reverses the gains we have made and weakens our global leadership.”

In early February, six Democratic presidential candidates indicated that they would reverse the Trump policy, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), as well as former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and businessman Tom Steyer. “Innocent civilians are the main casualties of landmines. This is an abhorrent decision that won’t make America any safer, and could cause untold damage,” Warren tweeted on Feb. 1.

President Trump removes limits on landmine deployments.

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