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former IAEA Director-General

Conventional Arms Control

Trump Favors Arms Industry in Effort to Loosen Export Controls

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If the Trump administration is serious about changing U.S. arms sales policies, it should add much greater transparency into the arms transfer and monitoring process. 

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Volume 10, Issue 6, June 7, 2018

The Trump administration is pushing to make sweeping changes in U.S. conventional arms export policies in order to sell more weapons, more quickly, and typically with less transparency and oversight. One reason given for these changes—advancing economic security—is simply faulty.

Worse still, the policies are dangerous, creating new risks that these weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and international criminals and further undermining the promotion of human rights norms that should be central to U.S. actions.

In mid-April, the president issued a new conventional arms transfer policy, giving the State Department 60 days to submit an implementation plan. In May, the administration also started a 45-day public comment period on regulatory changes that would transfer the control of assault rifles and other weapons of choice in armed violence to the Commerce Department.

If the administration is serious about claims that these changes make for responsible policy, it should add much greater transparency into the arms transfer and monitoring process. Congress, if it does not act to stop these new approaches, should make sure, at a minimum, that it maintains meaningful oversight to prevent abuses that undermine longstanding U.S. foreign policy objectives designed to avoid fueling conflicts around the world and propping up regimes that do not respect the basic human rights of their people.

Background

On April 19, Donald Trump issued a national security presidential memorandum replacing a January 2014 presidential policy directive that, like the 1995 iteration from the Clinton administration, included an unweighted list of criteria to guide decisions on U.S. conventional arms transfers.

Common to these policies are goals to improve the security of the United States and its allies, prevent proliferation, and support relevant multilateral agreements. With the backing of major arms producers, the Trump approach explicitly adds “economic security” as a factor in considering whether to approve arms exports. It promises that “the executive branch will advocate strongly” on behalf of U.S. companies and “maximize the ability” of U.S. industry “to grow and support allies and partners.”

Michael F. Miller, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State discusses new US conventional arms transfer policy and proposed changes to firearms exports at Forum on the Arms Trade conference in Washington DC on May 22. (Photo: Stimson Center)The memorandum retains many of the same provisions regarding human rights as the Obama-era conventional arms transfer policy, although consolidating their reference to a single section rather than reiterating them throughout. The new policy, however, does not explicitly say that past records on human rights will be a factor in decisions. It does contain a new commitment to “facilitate” ally and partner efforts “to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm.”

Whether the implementation plan due soon from the Secretary of State explains how this will be done remains to be seen, but it is expected that training of forces will be touted as a critical component. Such training was written into arms sales last year to Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

Proposed changes to the regulation of exports were announced May 14 and published in the Federal Register May 24, beginning a public comment period that ends in July.

Specifically, the rules relate to the first three categories of the United States Munitions List (USML) maintained under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), whose lead administrator is the Department of State. Under the proposal, many items would move from the USML to the Commerce Control List (CCL) to become part of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), whose lead administrator is the Commerce Department. Most notably, non-automatic and semi-automatic firearms and their ammunition currently controlled under USML category I would move to new EAR 500-series classifications in the CCL.

The primary rationale given for the change is that these weapons no longer merit tight control. According to the State Department: 

The Department of State is engaged in an effort to revise the U.S. Munitions List so that its scope is limited to those defense articles that provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence advantage or, in the case of weapons, are inherently for military end use. The articles now controlled by USML Categories I, II, and III that would be removed from the USML under this proposed rule do not meet this standard, including many items which are widely available in retail outlets in the United States and abroad.

The revisions were drafted during the previous administration’s export reform control initiative, which sought to build higher fences on fewer items. During Obama’s presidency, action was taken on 18 of the USML’s 21 categories, but frequent mass shootings and an administration more supportive of gun control efforts contributed to the firearms categories going unpublished.

Critics of President Trump, such as Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), have pointed to the domestic U.S. gun lobby as the real driver behind these changes and called the decision to move forward “politically tone deaf as our nation reckons with a gun violence epidemic.”

Adding in Transparency and Enabling Assessment

As the Trump administration works to implement these changes, it should build in transparency and process changes that make it possible to assess whether U.S. arms exports are meeting the stated goals of the new policies.

This would not only be good public policy, but such an approach has the potential to address rising congressional and international distress about an administration that has shown less restraint, including by moving ahead with arms sales to Bahrain, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia that the previous administration had held back on due to serious human rights concerns.

As a start, a public accounting and evaluation of training that might go along with arms sales is desperately needed, especially if it will be a cornerstone of an effort to protect civilians. With another round of controversial precision-guided munition sales expected soon to Saudi Arabia (as well as the UAE), it is imperative that much more is shared about how training is done, who receives it, and whether it works.

As the Saudi-led coalition continues to hit civilian areas and an invasion of the port of Hodeida looms that threatens to further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is not enough to simply say training is important. It must make a difference.

Similarly, much greater transparency into the arms sales process at a public level is critical. Under current procedure Congress is notified of potential major arms sales whether through the foreign military sales (FMS) process or via direct commercial sales (DCS), starting a review period by which it could block agreement to the sale.

Unlike FMS notifications, DCS notifications are not posted on a publicly accessible website, giving the American people less time to inform their representatives of any concerns. If the administration wants to make it easier for companies to negotiate their arms sales, it should also improve transparency into them.

While Congress can block or amend an arms sale up until a weapon is delivered, those deliveries often occur years after notification. There is typically much less public attention on arms sales during this period. If the administration wants to speed the time between agreement and delivery, it should agree to also make clear when a delivery is imminent, so as to create predictable moments for oversight. In 2014, Congress created a mechanism for receiving notification at least 30 days before delivery when requested on select sales, but has only used the authority once. The administration should instead make this standard on all sales and make it public.

Public reporting afterward, via the State Department’s so-called 655 report, also now has less detail than in the past. These reports, as well as others on end-use monitoring, should provide information on the number of specific weapons involved and other data, rather than broad categorical details. Importantly, reports from the Commerce Department should also improve in detail, especially if the changes on firearm exports are put into place that transfer oversight away from the State Department.

Without these specifics, it becomes more difficult not only to assess these policy changes, but to further goals such as combating illicit trafficking and weapons flows to terrorists and other unintended users.

A recent report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict and Stimson Center offers an array of good suggestions that run the life of a weapon—from pre-transfer to end-use monitoring—with “trigger” mechanisms along the way that allow for reassessment as situations change. Those recommendations, primarily focused on protecting civilians but also relevant to promoting human rights and international law, deserve strong consideration.

The Value of Congressional Oversight

In 2002 Congress amended its notification threshold so that it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, as opposed to $14 million for other major weapons sales.

During a Sept. 26 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, then-ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) pointed to forestalling small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines as recent examples of Congress’ needed role. In 2017, the administration notified Congress of more than $660 million of proposed firearms sales regulated under the USML, according to the Security Assistance Monitor.

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)No similar statutory requirement of congressional notification exists for most arms sales under the CCL, meaning Congress would lose its oversight role on these weapons. It could take steps to require that notification continues. In response to the new measures, Cardin said May 15

For years, I advised both the Obama and Trump Administrations against this type of transfer. Weakened Congressional oversight of international small arms and munitions sales is extremely hazardous to global security.  Small arms and light weapons are among the most lethal weapons that we and other countries export because these are the weapons that are most likely to be used to commit atrocities and suppress human rights, either by individuals, non-state groups, or governmental security and para-military forces.

While Congress does not have control over the president’s conventional arms transfer policy, it can mandate the types of transparency recommended above, including an expansion on pre-delivery notifications. It could also pass legislation that retains the classification of firearms as military weapons and placement on the USML.

The Administration’s Faulty “Economic Security” Excuse

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States remains the leading and expanding provider of major conventional weapons into a growing international arms market. Russia, long the number two arms exporter, is in decline as Washington accounts for more than one-third of all major weapons deliveries.

It begs credulity to argue that the United States needs a special push in order to compete in the international arms market. Linkages of U.S. jobs to international arms sales are also overblown as arms deals frequently come with co-production agreements or other incentives that support jobs abroad rather than at home.

At a more fundamental level, U.S. arms are not like any other commodity and should not be treated as such. These are first and foremost killing machines. The over-emphasis on economic security threatens to jeopardize higher priorities, including peace and security concerns. If more weapons flow to countries with poor human rights records, norms around responsible weapons use and transfer will be harder to build and uphold.

Regarding firearms, these weapons are controlled because a significant amount of violence that occurs, including against U.S. military and law enforcement personnel, is inflicted by small arms. Research indicates that the types of weapons being transferred to Commerce control—AR-15s and AK-47 style assault rifles and their ammunition—are “weapons of choice” of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Many can also be easily converted to fully automatic weapons, which will remain under USML control. U.S. military members often operate their fully-automatic-capable weapons in a semi-automatic or less-than-automatic mode.

The transfer of firearms export control to the Department of Commerce will also likely remove a number of brokering registration requirements, may open up license exemptions that facilitate weapons ending up in the wrong hands, and limit legal or investigative actions to stop such results.

Claiming that these weapons do not have military utility because they may be commercially available, are somehow less dangerous,or do not merit stronger international control, is wrong.

In the end, these policies continue the wrong-minded approach of the Trump administration to treat weapons as any other trade commodity, threatening to undermine long-term global security and true U.S. national security interests.—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

Posted: June 7, 2018

Diplomats Debate Future of ‘Killer Robots’

Diplomats Debate Future of ‘Killer Robots’


 

The legal and moral issues surrounding lethal autonomous weapons systems were discussed April 9-13 in Geneva, the second such conference convened by the Group of Governmental Experts established by member-states of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. A total of 82 nations plus nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) attended the talks centered on developing a common understanding of the emerging technologies, potential future military use, and possible regulations and laws that could address security and humanitarian concerns about these systems.

Austria, China, and Colombia joined the list of nations urging a ban, which now totals 26, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. France and Germany stated that use of such weapons systems should be subject to a code of conduct based on international humanitarian law and national regulations. Jordan expressed concern that this advancing technology will lead to a new arms race. Cuba remarked on the possibility of hacking attacks on these systems and their potential use by terrorists. Germany also advocated for export controls of goods related to such autonomous weapons capabilities. The United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Russia refuse to accept any legally binding instrument to ban such prospective weapons. Another meeting is planned for Aug. 27-31.—MATTHIEU ORTIZ

Posted: May 1, 2018

The Ottawa Convention at a Glance

January 2018

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: January 2018

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, typically referred to as the "Ottawa Convention" or "Mine Ban Treaty," seeks to end the use of anti-personnel landmines (APLs) worldwide. It was opened for signature on December 3, 1997, and it entered into force on March 1, 1999.

As of January 2018, 164 states are party to the treaty, including Palestine.  One country, the Marshall Islands, has signed but not ratified it.  There are 34 non-signatories, including major powers such as the United States, Russia, and China. Few countries in key regions of tension, namely the Middle East and South Asia, have opted to participate. For more information on signatories and states-parties to the treaty, see: “The Ottawa Convention: Signatories and States-Parties.”

Because of the treaty, international norms have now formed that discourage any country, signatory or not, from using mines.  Many non-signatories are in de facto compliance with the Ottawa Convention by refusing to use landmines and committing to voluntary destruction of stockpiles. Non-state armed groups continue to use mines, in particular improvised landmines (improvised explosive devices [IEDs] that meet the definition of banned APLs) in about 10 countries per year.  (Millions of mines are estimated to be planted in the ground in 61 countries and disputed areas.

Global APL stockpiles are thought to be around 50 million mines, down from earlier estimates of about 100 million. Some of the countries that suffer the most from the humanitarian impacts of landmines include Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Chad, and Iraq.

The Obama administration undertook a review of its policy towards the Ottawa Convention and in 2014 expressed an intention to eventually accede to the treaty. US policy now bans the production and acquisition of APLs as well use of the weapons outside of the Korean Peninsula.

Prohibitions: States-parties commit to not using, developing, producing, acquiring, retaining, stockpiling, or transferring anti-personnel landmines, which are defined by the treaty as mines "designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons." APLs that are remotely triggered, such as claymores, are not proscribed, nor are anti-vehicle mines, including those equipped with anti-handling devices, which are designed to protect anti-vehicles mines from being tampered with or moved.  The treaty also forbids signatories from assisting or encouraging any other state or party from engaging in the activities outlawed by the treaty.

APL Destruction and Clearance: Each state-party is expected to destroy all APLs stockpiled in arsenals, except those retained for demining training, within four years of becoming bound by the treaty. Collectively, states parties have destroyed more than 50 million stockpiled landmines, with only five states, at most, still to complete destruction. Greece and Ukraine missed their deadlines to complete stockpile destruction.

Within 10 years of its entry into force date, each country is required to destroy all APLs under its jurisdiction and control, including those planted in the soil. A country may request renewable extensions of up to 10 years to complete this clearance task. A majority of participants at a meeting of states-parties or review conference must approve an extension request. Many states have sought and received extensions and more than 25 countries have completed clearance of all mined areas.  

Cooperation and Assistance: The treaty calls on any state-party "in a position to do so" to assist other states-parties in aiding mine victims, providing demining assistance, and helping with mine destruction. States-parties are expected to be as helpful as possible in making sure all states-parties have access to equipment, material, and scientific and technological information for implementing the treaty without "undue restrictions."

Transparency: Each state-party is to provide the United Nations with a comprehensive report on the numbers, types, and locations of all APLs under its control as well as the status of all programs for destroying APLs. An initial report is required 180 days after the treaty becomes legally binding for each state-party, and thereafter reports are expected annually by April 30.

Compliance: The treaty did not create an implementation or verification body or outline punitive measures for noncompliance. A state-party may question the compliance of another state-party, and a special meeting of states-parties can be convened to address the allegation. States-parties can establish a fact-finding mission to investigate the alleged noncompliance and, if necessary, call on the state-party in question to address the compliance issue.

Amendment and Withdrawal: Treaty amendments can be proposed, and then approved by two-thirds of all states-parties attending a special amendment conference. A state-party may withdraw from the treaty six months after submitting an instrument of withdrawal, though it will not take effect if the country is engaged in armed conflict.

Updated by Sara Schmitt

Conventional Arms Issues

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Posted: January 4, 2018

Cluster Munitions at a Glance

December 2017

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: December 2017

Cluster munitions, also called cluster bombs or CBUs, are gravity bombs, artillery shells, and rockets that fragment into small bomblets or grenades. Some cluster munitions disperse only two bomblets while others can spread up to hundreds of submunitions over a large area. These weapons are designed for use against massed formations of troops and armor or broad targets, such as airfields. Cluster submunitions, however, sometimes fail to explode on impact and can kill or maim civilians who later come into contact with them. These unexploded submunitions may remain dangerous for decades. According to Cluster Munition Monitor 2017, at least 21,200 cluster munition casualties have been confirmed globally since the 1990s. About 17,291 came from unexploded submunitions, and about 3,983 from strikes. Estimated totals, however, are considered much higher, and according to the Monitor, “are likely a better indicator of the true numbers.” Estimates for a global total range from 58,000 to 85,000. Almost all reported cluster munition casualties have been civilians, in large part because of the unwillingness of militaries to provide information.

Cluster munitions have been used during armed conflict in 40 countries and four disputed territories since the end of World War II. Almost every part of the world has experienced cluster munition use at some point over the past 70 years, including Southeast Asia, Southeast Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. Although cluster munitions first saw use in World War II and more than 50 countries have since acquired stockpiles of such arms, efforts to regulate or ban the use of cluster munitions gained greater attention and momentum after the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, a Shiite organization that the United States identifies as a terrorist group. Israel’s extensive cluster munitions use in the last 72 hours of that conflict resulted in an estimated one million unexploded bomblets scattered across southern Lebanon, arousing some strong condemnation. Jan Egeland, then-UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, blasted Israel’s use of cluster munitions as “shocking and completely immoral.”

Convention on Cluster Munitions

The Convention on Certain Conventional Munitions (CCW) did not restrict the use of cluster munitions. Although a group of states initially sought to establish a new protocol banning cluster munitions in the CCW, years of negotiations in the consensus-based forum failed to produce such a protocol. Frustrated with the slow-moving CCW approach, Norway at the November 2006 review conference announced an alternative effort to negotiate a treaty on cluster munitions. The inaugural meeting of that effort convened February 2007 in Oslo. Of the 49 governments attending the conference, 46 ultimately signed the “Oslo Declaration” to “conclude, by 2008, a legally binding instrument that will…prohibit the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”

Much of the debate among participating governments over the treaty centered on two issues. The first was whether future use restrictions would take effect immediately or, as Germany argued, be phased in to allow time for the development of alternative weapons. The second was whether the treaty should outlaw all cluster munitions or permit some exemptions for certain types or for their use in certain circumstances. Sweden called for a treaty balancing “legitimate humanitarian and military interests,” while the United Kingdom sought exemptions for systems equipped with self-destruct or self-deactivation devices that are supposed to render unexploded munitions harmless after a short period of time. Other countries, such as Norway, Ireland, and Mexico, favored a total ban.

On May 30, 2008 the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions adopted a comprehensive new treaty banning cluster munitions. The 107 states adopted the treaty. The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is a legally binding international treaty that prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and requires clearance of remnants and destruction of stocks. It requires states to provide assistance to survivors and their communities and builds on existing international human rights and humanitarian law. The treaty requires states to destroy existing stockpiles within eight years and to clear contaminated land within 10 years. The obligations relating to victim assistance were groundbreaking; they demanded the full realization of the rights of people affected by cluster munitions and require states to implement effective victim assistance measures. 

The Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed by 94 countries at the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008, and entered into force on August 1, 2010, after 30 states ratified it by February 16, 2010. In November 2010, the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (1MSP) took place in Vientiane, Lao PDR. After holding their First Meeting of States Parties in Lao PDR in November 2010, states parties convened in Lebanon, another highly contaminated country, for the convention’s Second Meeting of States Parties on September 12–16, 2011. At the meeting, states parties adopted the Beirut Progress Report, charting implementation of the Vientiane Action Plan, which guides the work of the convention through to its First Review Conference in 2015.

Status of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions

A total of 102 states have ratified or acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to become full states-parties as of 1 August 2017, and 17 states that have signed have yet to ratify. States-parties include former producers and users of cluster munitions such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (UK). Since the convention entered into force on August 1, 2010, becoming binding international law, states can no longer sign, but must instead accede.

A total of 53 signatories have ratified the convention since August 2010, including countries where cluster munitions have been used (Afghanistan and Mauritania), former cluster munition producers (Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland), and countries that have stockpiled cluster munitions (Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Mauritania, Sweden, and Switzerland). 

Unilateral restrictions on use

Several states that have not joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions have imposed restrictions on the possible future use of cluster munitions. Romania has said it restricts the use of cluster munitions to use exclusively on its own territory. Poland has said it would use cluster munitions for defensive purposes only, and does not intend to use them outside its own territory. Estonia and Finland have made similar declarations. During the CCW negotiations on cluster munitions, several states that have not signed or ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions publicly stated that they were prepared to accept a ban on the use of cluster munitions produced before 1980 as part of the proposed CCW protocol, including Russia, China, India, and South Korea. The CMC urges that as an interim measure toward joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions, these states should institute the commitment made at CCW as national policy. 

U.S. Cluster Munitions Policy

In June 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense released a directive requiring that any U.S. use of cluster munitions before 2018 that results in a one percent or higher unexploded ordnance (UXO) rate—which includes all but a tiny fraction of the US arsenal—must be approved by a “Combatant Commander,” a very high-ranking military official and that after 2018, the United States would no longer use cluster munitions that result in more than one percent UXO.

However, in a Defense Department memorandum circulated on November 30, 2017, the Trump administration eliminated the 2019 deadline to stop using cluster munitions resulting in more than one percent UXO but retained the requirement for Combatant Commander authorization for their use.

The United States is a producer and exporter of cluster bombs. In 2011, the United States reported that it possessed more than 6 million cluster munitions. In 2001, the United States adopted a policy that all cluster munitions produced domestically after late 2004 must have submunitions with failure rates of less than one percent. As with all U.S. arms exports, transfers of cluster munitions are governed by conditions restricting their re-transfer and use by importers.

One such agreement applies to U.S. cluster munitions shipped to Israel. Although secret, the agreement is generally understood to prohibit the use of cluster munitions in populated areas and against targets that are not clearly military. Following the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, the Department of State’s Office of Defense Trade Controls opened an investigation into whether Israel had violated the agreement. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said that the preliminary report, delivered to the president and Congress in January 2007, found that “there likely could have been some violations.” The United States sanctioned Israel for misusing cluster munitions in the past. The Ronald Reagan administration suspended cluster munitions sales to Israel between 1982 and 1988 following Israel’s widespread use of such arms during an earlier invasion of Lebanon.

While as recently as 2006, the United States opposed negotiating a protocol on cluster munitions at CCW review conferences, in 2007, it changed its position. Ronald Bettauer, head of the U.S. delegation, attributed the reversal “to the importance of this issue, concerns raised by other countries, and our own concerns about the humanitarian implications of these weapons.” Department of State Legal Adviser Harold Koh stated November 9, 2009, that the United States has determined that it’s “national security interests cannot be fully ensured consistent with the terms” of the CCM but that “the United States remains committed to negotiate a legally binding Protocol on Cluster Munitions in the CCW.”

Research Assistance by Daria Medvedeva

 
Conventional Arms Issues

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Posted: December 10, 2017

Congress Should Not Cede Oversight on Small Arms Exports

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An administration proposal on firearms export rules could effectively undercut the important oversight role that Congress provides.

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Volume 9, Issue 8, October 5, 2017

In the coming weeks, it is likely that the Trump administration will formally propose new U.S. firearms export rules designed to increase foreign sales but that also make it easier for terrorists and international criminals to obtain lethal weapons. The proposal could also effectively undercut the important oversight role that Congress provides.

With the Trump administration showing far less restraint regarding the transfer of sophisticated U.S. weaponry, it is essential that the Congress carefully review the new firearms export policy approach and use what levers it has to ward off changes to longstanding policies that have served U.S. national security interests in the past.

Background

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) questioned witnesses on the role of Congress in the oversight of U.S. arms sales during a Sept. 26 hearing. [Photo credit: Senate Foreign Relations Committee]Early in his administration, President Obama launched the Export Control Reform Initiative, based on a review that found the United States was “trying to control too much.” Indicating that it sought to “strengthen the United States’ ability to counter threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the administration proposed and/or enacted changes to 18 of the 21 categories of major weapons and technology controlled under the United States Munitions List (USML), moving many items to the Commerce Control List (CCL).

A thrust of the effort was described as “building higher fences around fewer items” and those fewer items were ones that tended to be high-tech and give the U.S. a unique military advantage. Left undone were the first three categories: firearms, close assault weapons and combat shotguns (category I), guns and armaments (II); and their ammunition/ordnance (III).

The Trump administration is now moving to address arms transfers in these three remaining categories. The Defense Trade Advisory Group, a committee of private sector defense exporters and defense trade specialists that advises the State Department, discussed possible revisions Sept. 8. It is expected that proposed changes will be made public later this month, with an expedited 60-day public review period.

Faulty Logic Leads to Dangerous Risks

At the core of export reform push is the mistaken belief that small arms and light weapons do not merit the tighter controls of the USML because they are neither high-tech nor provide unique military advantages. In reality, however, many of the weapons in categories I-III are the ones most frequently used in violent conflict, in perpetuating human rights abuses, and that can most easily fall into hands of those who seek to undermine U.S. national security.

Recognizing this, in 2002 Congress amended its notification threshold so that it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, as opposed to $14 million for other major weapons sales. During that notification period, as well as during informal prenotifications, Congress can seek to block or delay sales. During a Sept. 26 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) pointed to forestalling small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines as recent examples of Congress’ needed role.

No similar statutory requirement of congressional notification exists for most arms sales under the CCL. According to the Security Assistance Monitor, $556 million in firearms notifications have already gone to Congress through July this year

In a cautionary Sept. 15 joint letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Senators Cardin, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote that: “Moving such firearms from the USML to the CCL would be directly contrary to congressional intent … effectively eliminating congressional oversight of exports of these weapons.”

However, due to the less restrictive nature of the rules surrounding the CCL, the dangers go beyond a lack of Congressional oversight. A number of license exemptions available on Commerce-controlled items may enable illegal procurement and diversion of reclassified weapons, a risk that concerned many current and former enforcement officials interviewed for a recent Institute for Science and International Security report. Different or missing brokering registration and agreement approval requirements, as well as confusion over regulations, may also make it harder to identify and prosecute arms smugglers and illegal exporters. The State Department also has the proper mandate to take into account the impact of firearms transfers on terrorist activity, human rights norms and other considerations beyond commercial interests. Lessening State's role would pose significant risks to longstanding U.S. efforts to advance the support of the rule of law and human rights around the globe.

Next Steps

Given the uncertainty around the impacts of any proposed reclassifications, Congress would be wise to ask the GAO to conduct an assessment of the export control reform initiative to this point and independently identify any risks of transferring items on categories I-III to Commerce control. Leaders should ask the Trump administration to wait until those findings come in so that they can be taken into account in any plans to change current implementation.

Concerned members of Congress should also make their opposition known. If rules are indeed notified this month, they should analyze those closely and weigh in during the comment period. They must also rise above the loud voices that will seek to tie this issue to the Second Amendment. These rules are strictly about the international transfer of firearms, not in any way related to domestic possession.

While the administration can proceed with changes to the USML and CCL without Congressional approval, legislators can also pass laws. If needed, for example, Congress could mandate that their oversight role be retained on any weapons moved from the USML to CCL.

In the end, these are the weapons most responsible for so much suffering in the world and ones that could easily be found aimed at U.S. forces. It is irresponsible to lessen control of their export for simple commercial gain or because they are not America’s most sophisticated weapons. As Senators Cardin, Feinstein and Leahy reminded, “combat firearms and 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. As such, they should be subject to more – not less – rigorous export control and oversight.”—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

Posted: October 5, 2017

The Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions (IACTCW) At a Glance

Contact: Jeff Abramson, Nonresident Senior Fellow, [email protected]

Updated: September 2016

On November 21, 2002, the Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions entered into force. Negotiated by the 35-member Organization of American States (OAS)1 and opened for signature in June 1999, the convention is an unprecedented, regional transparency regime that requires its states-parties to annually report on their weapons exports and imports, as well as make timely notifications of their weapons acquisitions, whether imported or produced domestically. Twenty-one countries, including the United States, have signed the convention and seventeen have ratified or acceded to it. (States-parties are in bold and signatories are in italics in footnote 1.)

Terms of the Convention

Annual Reports: No later than June 15 each year, states-parties will submit to the OAS General Secretariat a report on their exports and imports of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile systems. These seven categories mirror those of the voluntary U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, which calls on all countries to annually submit reports on their import and export of these same weapons to the United Nations. In their annual OAS reports, states-parties must identify the type and quantity of weapons transferred and name the exporting or importing country. Additional information, such as the designation or model of the weapon, may be volunteered.

Notification of Acquisitions: No later than 90 days after incorporation of a weapon system into a state-party's armed forces inventory, a notification must be submitted to the OAS General Secretariat. This notification requirement applies to both imported and domestically manufactured weapons in the same seven categories covered by the annual report. The United States, a leading proponent of the convention, had sought inclusion of a provision for advance notification, but Latin American countries objected. States-parties are free to provide advance notification if they choose to do so.

The OAS General Secretariat will transmit the annual reports and notifications received to all states-parties, though the information will not be made publicly available. States-parties are free to consult with each other on the shared information.

Background

The convention grew out of a June 1997 OAS General Assembly resolution calling on members to consider a legal framework for advance notification of arms acquisitions. Shortly thereafter in August 1997, the Clinton administration dropped a two-decade-old policy of "presumption against" the export of advanced weapons to Latin America. This policy change cleared the way for U.S. arms manufacturers to compete for weapons sales to the region. Former President Jimmy Carter and several Latin American heads of state, both past and those in office at the time, criticized the new Clinton arms transfer policy as one that would divert scarce resources from more important government investments, such as education, and lead to increased regional tensions. Since the U.S. policy change, the United States completed a deal to sell 10 F-16 fighter jets to Chile and offered combat aircraft to Brazil. Citing other economic priorities, Brazil postponed in January 2003 a decision on buying fighter jets.

In comparison with other regions, Latin America is a relatively small arms market. The region's arms imports accounted for roughly two to five percent of the world arms market from 1990-2000.

Note
1. The 35 members of the OAS are Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, PeruSt. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. 

Conventional Arms Issues

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Posted: September 7, 2017

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) At a Glance

September 2017

Contact: Jeff AbramsonNon-Resident Senior Fellow for Arms Control and Conventional Arms Transfers, [email protected]

Updated: September 2017

Seeking to restrict or outlaw specific types of weapons used in armed conflict, 51 states negotiated the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 1980. The agreement is formally known as the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. It is also sometimes referred to as the Inhumane Weapons Convention. The convention aims to protect military troops from inhumane injuries and prevent noncombatants from accidentally being wounded or killed by certain types of arms. When it entered into force in December 1983, the treaty applied to incendiary weapons, mines and booby-traps, and weapons designed to injure through very small fragments. Since then, treaty states-parties—numbering 120 total as of August 2017—have added provisions to ban blinding laser weapons and address lingering dangers posed by unexploded munitions leftover after combat ends.

The Convention

The operative provisions of the CCW are contained in several protocols annexed to the convention. States that become CCW members must sign on to at least two of the convention’s protocols, but do not have to become party to all of them. Currently, there are five protocols in force (see below). All states-parties must agree to the addition of a new protocol. Each protocol is only binding on those states-parties that ratify it. 

Initially, the scope of the convention covered only international armed conflicts. However, states-parties amended a single protocol in 1996 to apply to intrastate conflicts and in 2001 elected to extend that modification to the entire convention. Still, the change only applies to those states-parties ratifying the amendment, and it does not automatically extend to new protocols. Henceforth, states-parties must specify whether new protocols they ratify cover intrastate conflicts in addition to interstate wars.

The convention lacks verification and enforcement mechanisms and spells out no formal process for resolving compliance concerns.

A state-party can refute its commitment to the convention or any of the protocols, but it will remain legally bound until one year after notifying the treaty depositary, the UN Secretary-General, of its intent to be free of its obligations.

Protocols to the Convention

Protocol I: Non-detectable Fragments

Protocol I prohibits the use of any weapon designed to wound or kill with small fragments that cannot be detected by x-rays. Conventional x-ray imaging cannot locate small pieces of glass, plastic, or wood lodged in human tissue. This makes it prohibitively difficult for doctors to remove the fragments, effectively preventing victims from receiving necessary treatment.

Amended Protocol II: Landmines, Booby-Traps, and Other Devices

Protocol II, which was amended in May 1996, regulates but does not ban the use of landmines and booby-traps. Anti-personnel landmines (APLs) must be kept in clearly marked and protected minefields or be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms that disarm and render the mine unusable after a certain period of time. Mines dropped from aircraft or delivered by artillery or missiles must be outfitted with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms. All APLs must further be detectable using common mine detection equipment to enable them to be located and safely removed after a conflict ends. The responsibility for clearing any mines is on the government controlling the territory where the mines are located.

Amended Protocol II entered into force in 1998. The 102 countries bound by the protocol include most of the world’s major current or past landmine producers—China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States—which have refused to join the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines.

Protocol III: Incendiary Weapons

Protocol III regulates the use of weapons designed to set fire to or burn their target. The protocol proscribes targeting civilians with incendiary weapons and restricts the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons against military targets in close proximity to concentrations of noncombatants. It also prohibits parties from targeting forests or other plant cover unless the vegetation is being used to conceal military forces. The protocol only covers weapons created intentionally to set fire or burn, such as flamethrowers. Weapons that ignite fires or burn as a side effect are not subject to the protocol.

Protocol IV: Blinding Lasers

Added in 1996, this protocol prohibits the use of lasers specifically designed to cause permanent blindness. It further obliges states-parties to make every effort to avoid causing permanent blindness through the use of other lasers. While prohibiting the use of blinding lasers, the convention does not rule out their development or stockpiling. However, it does outlaw any trade in such arms.

Protocol V: Explosive Remnants of War

In November 2003, states-parties approved this protocol to deal with unexploded and abandoned ordnance left over after fighting ends—so-called explosive remnants of war (ERW). The protocol, which entered into force Nov. 12, 2006, covers munitions, such as artillery shells, grenades, and gravity bombs, that fail to explode as intended, and any unused explosives left behind and uncontrolled by armed forces. Such weapons pose severe threats to civilians because they could explode without cause or accidentally be triggered to detonate. Like the landmines protocol, the government controlling an area with explosive remnants of war is responsible for clearing such munitions. However, that government may ask for technical or financial assistance from others, including any party responsible for putting the munitions in place originally, to complete the task. No state-party is obligated to render assistance.

Other Issues

CCW states-parties have been unable to reach consensus on starting negotiations on several other matters, including adding a compliance mechanism to better ensure that states-parties live up to their commitments and a provision to ban small-caliber bullets because they can cause major internal injuries by ricocheting or tumbling around inside a body. One controversial issue is whether the body should negotiate on limiting the use of anti-vehicle mines, including requirements that such mines be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms. Some countries, such as China and Russia, have objected to this proposal.

Frustrated with the CCW process, some treaty members led by Norway in February 2007 launched negotiations outside the CCW to ban cluster munitions “that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” The Cluster Munitions Convention was adopted in May 2008 and has 102 states-parties as of August 1, 2017. See Cluster Munitions at a Glance for more information. 

Conventional Arms Issues

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Posted: September 5, 2017

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale


July/August 2017
By Jeff Abramson

In a sign of growing criticism of President Donald Trump’s approach toward arming Saudi Arabia, 47 senators voted to disapprove of an approximately $500 million arms sale to the kingdom, falling just short of a majority. A vote in 2016 on a controversial billion-dollar tank sale to the Saudis garnered the opposition of 27 senators. (See ACT, October 2016.)

Yemenis stand on the rubble of houses near the presidential palace in Sanaa that were destroyed in a June 9 air strike attributed to the Saudi-led coalition. Four civilians, including two teenagers, reportedly died in the strike. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)In May, the State Department notified Congress of its intent to sell more than $500 million in precision-guided munitions components and related services to Saudi Arabia, starting a 30-day clock during which Congress could block the deal if each chamber passed a resolution of disapproval. The Obama administration had put the deal on hold in December, in part due to independent reports that Saudi forces have repeatedly struck civilian areas in Yemen, including locations the United States asked to be placed off-limits.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said June 7 that he would oppose the sale, citing concern about the civil war in Yemen. The administration’s decision to proceed with the sale “absent leadership to push all parties toward a political process for a negotiated settlement, including Saudi Arabia, sends the absolutely wrong signal to our partners and our adversaries,” he said in a statement.

Such opposition is unusual because committee leaders typi­cally give approval before official congressional notification occurs. Ultimately, all but five Democratic senators voted for the resolution of disapproval. The anti-sale Democrats were joined by Republicans Dean Heller (Nev.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Rand Paul (Ky.), who all also opposed the 2016 tank deal, as well as first-term senator Todd Young (Ind.).

After the June 13 vote, resolution co-sponsor Paul said, “This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take a stance against waging an undeclared war and fueling an arms race in the Middle East.” Co-sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that “today’s vote total would’ve been unthinkable not long ago, but Congress is finally taking notice that Saudi Arabia is using U.S. munitions to deliberately hit civilian targets inside Yemen.”

What future steps Congress might take are unclear. During a visit to Riyadh in May, Trump announced $110 billion in prospective arms sales to Saudi Arabia, specific details of which will need to be worked out in the coming years and be subject to congressional oversight.

One step may be to place conditions on actual arms transfers, which typically occur years after notifications. A dozen House members and eight senators have sponsored resolutions to suspend deliveries of certain air-to-ground munitions, including precision-guided munitions, until the president certifies that the Saudis show commitment to fighting terrorism, facilitating the flow of humanitarian and commercial goods, and protecting civilians in Yemen. The week before the Senate vote, Congress received pre-delivery notification of air-to-ground munitions based on a $1.3 billion November 2015 deal with Saudi Arabia. (See ACT, March 2016.)

In May and June, the Trump administration notified Congress of potential foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia totaling nearly $1.7 billion for naval and air force training, as well as radar and related support.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Posted: July 10, 2017

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Scheduled international talks this year on lethal autonomous weapons, or so-called killer robots, have been cut by half due to insufficient funding, according to Matthew Rowland, UK ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and 2017 chair of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the forum for the autonomous weapons talks. A meeting of governmental experts planned for Aug. 21-25 was canceled, along with some other CCW activities. A second session scheduled for Nov. 13-17 will be held, assuming sufficient funds, Rowland said in a June 6 letter.

At their fifth review conference in December 2016, CCW states decided to formalize and expand their deliberations by establishing a group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems that would meet in August and November this year. The August cancellation may slow the momentum of previous discussions. Nineteen countries have endorsed a ban, and others have affirmed the need to maintain human control over the selection of targets and use of force, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The CCW’s financial squeeze is due to the failure of several states, most notably Brazil, to pay their assessed dues for the convention’s meetings, according to the advocacy group. “The collective failure of countries to find a solution to their financial woes doesn’t mean they can stop addressing concerns over weapons that would select and attack targets without further human intervention,” said Human Right Watch’s Mary Wareham, the campaign’s global coordinator.—SARA SCHMITT

Posted: July 10, 2017

Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

Description: 

Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

Body: 

For Immediate Release: June 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Jeff Abramson, senior fellow (646) 527-5793; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director (202-463-8270 x107)

(Washington, D.C.)—Congressional votes to block major arms deals are very rare, but today a substantial, bipartisan group of 47 Senators voted to support S.J. Resolution 42, a resolution of disapproval to transfer U.S. precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, which is waging a controversial military campaign in Yemen. The close vote was a rebuke of Trump’s Middle East policy. In the final tally, 47 Senators voted for full consideration of the resolution, while 53 rejected that step.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 19, 2017. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. BrantleyThe growing opposition to the roughly $500 million sale indicates that President Trump will face tough resistance should he try to move forward with other elements of the still mostly undefined $110 billion arms package he announced last month to Saudi Arabia.

“The Senate’s bipartisan stand today against the sale of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia puts the Trump administration on notice that their approach is off target,” said Jeff Abramson, nonresident senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.

“The United States should not be sending more weapons into an unwinnable conflict and into the hands of a country that uses U.S. weapons against civilian targets. Instead, the Trump administration should use its influence to find a political solution to the disastrous war in Yemen, which has led to a massive humanitarian crisis,” Abramson added.  

“Current U.S. conventional arms transfer policy includes the goal of ‘Ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.’” Abramson noted.

“With today’s vote, the Senate is sending a strong message that U.S. arms transfers should not go to states that target civilians and violate human rights.”

Additional resources

  • “Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should Be Rejected,” Arms Control Association Issue Brief, Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2017.
  • “Defiant Congress Sparks Showdown With Trump Over Saudi Arms Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2017.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Posted: June 13, 2017

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