Login/Logout

*
*  

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
Conventional Arms Control and Trade

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

July 2019

Updated: July 2019

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of April 2019, the United States possesses 3,800 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,385 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total of 6,185 nuclear warheads. On Feb. 2, 2018, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, detailing its strategy for the role of U.S. nuclear forces. The United States has destroyed about 90.6% of its chemical weapons arsenal as of 2017 and is due to complete destruction by September 2023. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention and has destroyed its biological weapons arsenal, although Russia alleges that U.S. biodefense research violates the BWC.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • New START
  • Nuclear Reductions Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons

 

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1982

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -

2015

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2015

Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 1998, entered into force January, 2009.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with Russia

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Founder

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

The United States has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of April 2019, the United States possesses 3,800 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,385 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total arsenal of 6,185 warheads. In April 2019, the Defense Department stated it would no longer declassify the number of U.S. nuclear warheads.

Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the United States can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable strategic warheads on 700 deployed delivery systems until February 2021 when the treaty expires. According to the March 2019 New START data exchange, the United States deploys 1,365 strategic nuclear warheads on 656 strategic delivery systems.

The United States also deploys an additional 150 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads based in Europe. While the United States and Russia maintain similarly sized total arsenals, the United States possesses a much larger number of strategic warheads and delivery systems while Russia possesses a much larger number of non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear warheads.

The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against another country, dropping two bombs (one apiece) on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Delivery Systems

(For a detailed overview of current and planned U.S. nuclear modernization programs, see our fact sheet here.)

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  •  As of April 2019, the United States Air Force deploys 400 LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs.
    • The Minuteman III has a range of over 6,000 miles (9,650-13,000 km).
    • Each missile is equipped with either one 300 kt W87 warhead or one 335 kt W78 warhead.
  • Under New START, the United States reduced the number of deployed ICBMs from 450 to 400. 50 excess silos have not been destroyed but have been kept in a “warm” operational status and can be loaded with missiles relatively quickly if necessary.
  • In 2015, the United States concluded a multibillion dollar, decade-long modernization program that will extend the service life of the Minuteman III to beyond 2030.  
  • The U.S. Air Force is also developing a new ICBM, known as the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD), which is intended to replace the Minuteman III between 2029 and 2035.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • The U.S. Navy operates 14 Ohio-class SSBNs submarines, two of which are undergoing overhaul of their nuclear reactors at any given time. The remaining 12 are available for deployment. However, since some operational SSBNs also undergo minor repairs at any given time the actual number of SSBNs at sea usually numbers at around 10.
  • 7 submarines are based out of Bangor, Washington and 5 submarines are based out of Kings Bay, Georgia.
  • The submarines originally had 24 missile tubes for Trident II D5 SLBMs, but under New START, the Navy deactivated 4 tubes on each submarine, finishing this process in 2017.
  • The Ohio-class submarines have a life-span of 42 years.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs):

  • The Trident II D5 was first deployed in 1990 and has an operational range of 7,400-12,000 km.
  • The Trident II D5 missile can hold up to eight warheads (but usually holds an average of four to five) and carries 3 variants:
    • the W88—a 475 kt Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warhead.
    • the W76-0—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
    • the W76-1—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
  • To comply with New START, the Navy will not deploy more than 240 missiles. As of February 2018, 203 submarine-launched ballistic missiles were deployed. 
  • An ongoing life extension program is expected to keep the Trident II D5 in service until  2042.
  • The Trident II D5 is the only MIRV’ed (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) strategic missile remaining in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Bombers

  • As of April 2019, the Air Force deploys 46 nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers and 20 nuclear-capable B-2A Spirit bombers.
  • The Air Force plans to deploy no more than 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers under New START.
  • An estimated 850 nuclear warheads are assigned to the strategic bombers, but only about 300 are typically deployed at bomber bases.
    • B-52H Stratofortress bombers: dual-capable; can carry 20 AGM-86B cruise missiles. The AGM-86B has a range of 2,500 km and is equipped with a 5-150 kt W80-1 warhead
    • B-2A Spirit bombers: dual capable; can carry 16 B61-7, B61-11, or B83-1 gravity bombs.
  • The United States also maintains several fighter-aircraft that serve in a dual-capable role. The F-15E and F-16C have been the cornerstone of this aspect of nuclear deterrence, carrying the B61 gravity bomb. The new stealth F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, will replace the F-16 as the U.S. Air Force’s primary nuclear capable fighter-aircraft.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

The United States develops and deploys several ballistic missile defense systems around the world. To learn more, see: "U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance." 

Fissile Material

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The United States has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons purposes. It stopped production of HEU in 1992.
  • In March 2016, the United States announced the declassification of its national inventory of highly enriched uranium (HEU) of 585.6 tons, as of September 30, 2013.
  • The United States halted the production of HEU for weapons in 1964 and ceased plutonium separation for weapons in 1992.
  • Estimates from 2016 place the U.S. HEU stockpile at around 600 metric tons, including 253 metric tons of military HEU and 264 metric tons of fresh and spent naval HEU.
  • According to the 2015 Global Fissile Material Report, the United States has about 40 metric tons of HEU remaining to be downblended of the 187 metric tons it declared as excess to defense requirements and has committed to dispose.

Plutonium

  • The United States ended production of separated plutonium in 1988.
  • At the end of 2014, U.S. military plutonium stockpiles amounted to a total of 87.6 declared metric tons (49.3 metric tons of which are declared as excess military plutonium).
  • In October 2016, citing U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, Russia suspended its own implementation of the deal. Russia refuses to resume the agreement’s implementation until U.S. sanctions against Russia are lifted and NATO forces in Europe are reorganized along lines favorable to Russia. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into MOX fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because doing so would fail to change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor grade. 
  • The United States possesses no separated civilian plutonium but at the end of 2014, an estimated 625 metric tons of plutonium were contained in spent fuel stored at civilian reactor sites.
  • Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), finalized with Russia in 2000, the United States committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium beginning in 2018. The agreement was amended in 2010 to change the agreed disposition methods in which Russia abandoned using mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in light-water reactors in favor or irradiating plutonium in its fast-neutron reactors. The amendment also expressed renewed U.S. commitment to provide $400 million towards the Russian disposition program. Russia suspended cooperation with the agreement in November 2016.

 Proliferation Record

  • A close relationship exists between U.S. and British nuclear weapons programs. The United States supplies the United Kingdom with the Trident II D5 SLBM.
  • Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey all host U.S. tactical nuclear gravity bombs as part of NATO nuclear sharing agreements. The estimated 180 weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime, but some may be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.
  • Beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” initiative, the United States has engaged in extensive worldwide trading and exchanging of fissile materials and technical information for nuclear science research and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In 1954, an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act allowed bilateral nuclear agreements with U.S. allies to proceed, with the intent of exporting only low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel; however, this soon expanded to include HEU.
  • Under the “Atoms for Peace” program a number of former, aspiring, and current nuclear-weapon states such as South Africa, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel all received, directly or indirectly, training and technology transfers utilized in their nuclear weapons programs. For example, in 1967, the United States supplied Iran with a 5 megawatt nuclear research reactor along with HEU fuel. Iran admitted to using the reactor in the early 1990s for the production of small amounts of Polonium-210, a radioactive substance capable of starting a chain reaction inside a nuclear weapon.
  • Since the end of the Cold War the United States has tried to mitigate the adverse effects of the “Atoms for Peace” initiative and returned exported HEU and plutonium to the United States.

Nuclear Doctrine

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, in a Feb. 2, 2018 press briefing, claimed that the 2018 NPR “reaffirms that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear policy is deterrence.” Critics of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) argue that the NPR reverses previous policy to reduce the role and number of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Declaratory Policy

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” For more on declaratory policy, see: Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances.

Negative Security Assurance

The NPR also includes a negative security assurance that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons states that are “party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The review caveats this negative security assurance by retaining “the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.” For more on negative security assurances, see: U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

Testing
 
The United States has conducted 1,030 nuclear weapons tests. The first test was conducted on July 16, 1945 and the last test occurred on Sept. 23, 1992. The United States was the first country to conduct a nuclear test. 

Back to Top

Biological Weapons

  • In the early 1970s, the United States destroyed its entire stockpile of biological weapons, which had been developed between 1943 and 1969.
  • The United States ratified the Biological Weapons Convention in 1975.  However, in 2001, the Bush administration opposed and killed an effort dating back to 1995 to augment the Biological Weapons Convention with a legally binding verification protocol. U.S. officials said the protocol would be too burdensome on legitimate governments and private biodefense programs, while at the same time failing to deter cheaters.
  • According to a 2016 State Department report, “In December 2015 at the annual Meeting of States Parties to the BWC, the delegation of the Russian Federation asserted that the United States had knowingly transferred live anthrax spores to a foreign country for use in open-air testing, and that this constituted a ‘grave violation’ of Articles III and IV of the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention].”
  • The United States maintains that these transfers were a blunder. The report also notes that, “All U.S. activities during the reporting period were consistent with the obligations set forth in the BWC. The United States continues to work toward enhancing transparency of biological defense work using the BWC confidence-building measures.”

Back to Top

Chemical Weapons

  • Behind Russia, the United States has declared the second-largest stockpile of chemical agents.
  • As of 2017, the United States had destroyed about 25,154 metric tons, or about 90.6 percent, of its declared Category 1 chemical weapons stockpile. The United States has completed destruction of all its Category 2 and 3 chemical weapons. 
  • The United States received several extensions on its initial deadline for chemical weapons destruction under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it now due to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal by September 2023.
  • Destruction of the United States’ largest remaining stockpile of chemical weapons began in 2016 at Colorado’s Pueblo Chemical Depot. Upon completion, the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky will have the last remaining chemical agent stockpile in the United States.

Back to Top

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities  

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.
 
However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In February 2019 the United States announced its intention to suspend its obligations and withdraw from the treaty, beginning a six-month withdrawal period that will end in August.  For more information on the INF Treaty visit our "INF Treaty at a Glance" fact sheet.
 

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor agreement to the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) accord. The 2010 agreement, known as New START, commenced on Feb. 5, 2011. It requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICBMs, SLMBs, and bombers by Feb. 5, 2018 and both sides met the limits by the deadline. In addition, it contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement. President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of New START, calling it a “one-sided” agreement.

New START allows for a five-year extension subject to the agreement of both parties. The Trump administration has begun an interagency review on whether to extend the treaty and is weighing several factors, including the lack of China’s participation in the agreement, Russia’s new and developing strategic systems, and Russian tactical delivery systems currently not covered by the treaty. Though no official decision has been made yet regarding the Trump administration’s decision to extend, National Security Advisor John Bolton called it “unlikely” in June 2019.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions. In the spring of 2019, the White House told reporters that the administration is seeking a new trilateral arms control agreement that limits all types of nuclear weapons and includes China in addition to the United States and Russia. 

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community. At the 65-member CD, the United States has expressed support for continuing discussions on the CD's core issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and negative security assurances. The United States has been a prominent supporter of a proposed FMCT.

In March 1995, the CD took up The Shannon Mandate which established an ad hoc committee directed to negotiate an FMCT by the end of the 1995 session. A lack of consensus over verification provisions, as well as desires to hold parallel negotiations on outer space arms control issues, prevented negotiations from getting underway. Later, in May 2006, the United States introduced a draft FMCT along with a draft mandate for its negotiations. However, following an impasse in negotiations on a FMCT in 2010, the United States (and others) signaled its desire to look at alternative approaches outside the CD and called for negotiations to be moved to the United Nations General Assembly where the agreement could be endorsed by a majority vote. However, the United States no longer makes comments to this effect.

The United States does not support negotiations on PAROS, deeming it unnecessary because there are no weapons yet deployed in outer space. China and Russia continue to articulate a desire to hold parallel negotiations, a point which has further stalled efforts to begin FMCT negotiations.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The United States has ratified a protocol to the Latin America and the Caribbean Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) treaty pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the contracting parties. The U.S. has declined to ratify similar additional protocols to any of the remaining NWFZ treaties for Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. 

Nuclear Security Summits
In April 2010, the United States hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC. Participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. The United States also attended the NSS in Seoul, South Korea, on March 26-27, 2012 and the third NSS on Mar. 24-25, 2014. Washington hosted a fourth summit in the Spring of 2016 where attendees developed action plans for five global organizations to continue the work of the summits.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Under the Obama administration the United States played the central role in the brokering of the July 2015 JCPOA, better known as the “Iran deal,” which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Congress in September 2015 debated a resolution that would have blocked implementation of the accord, but it failed to receive enough votes to pass the Senate. In January 2016, sanctions on Iran, including those targeting the financial and oil sectors, were lifted and $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets were released after international inspectors confirmed that Iran had rolled back large sections of its nuclear program and met more intrusive monitoring requirements.

On May 8, 2018 President Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the agreement, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was adhering to its commitments under the deal and over objections from the remaining parties to the agreement. Since the U.S. decision to withdraw, the remaining parties to the deal have reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA and taken steps to bypass U.S. sanctions and preserve legitimate trade with Iran.
 

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, United States reached an agreement with Russia to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. Before the deal was reached, the United States was planning to use airstrikes to punish the perpetrators of the attack, which the United States blamed on the Syrian government. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, the United States has raised concerns about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to suggest that the Assad regime was the likely perpetrator of the chlorine gas attacks; Russia, however, was hesitant to assign blame. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by immediately blaming the regime of Bashar Assad and launching 59 Tomahawk missiles targeting the airfield that had allegedly launched the attack. Following the launches, Trump stated that “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” As a justification for the U.S. response, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”  

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

 

Back to Top

 

Country Profiles

Country Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:

Saudi Arms Sales Hit Hurdles in U.S., UK


July/August 2019
By Ethan Kessler and Jeff Abramson

U.S. and UK leaders received rare rebukes on the same day in June to their plans to sell conventional arms to Saudi Arabia, highlighting the challenges that Riyadh’s top two arms suppliers face in justifying their support for the kingdom and its allies.

Displaced Yemeni children carry water containers at a camp in the country's Hajjah province on June 23. The U.S. Senate voted June 20 to halt $8.1 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the conflict in Yemen. (Photo: Essa Ahmed/AFP/Getty Images)The Republican-led U.S. Senate voted June 20 to block issuing licenses for $8.1 billion in arms sales to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that had been previously promised by the Trump administration. Senators approved two resolutions, each by a 53-45 vote with seven Republican senators in support, and 20 resolutions en bloc by a 51–45 vote with five Republican senators voting in favor. The resolutions came in response to the administration’s use of emergency powers to bypass the normal congressional notification process on 22 arms sales agreements. The House is expected to pass similar resolutions of disapproval.

The legislative action echoes earlier congressional efforts to curb U.S. military support for Saudi combat activity in Yemen as lawmakers have expressed concern about the humanitarian consequences of the war in Yemen and the Trump administration’s muted response to the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post. Congress approved a resolution in March under the War Powers Act to limit U.S. military action in Yemen, but it could not muster enough votes to overrule President Donald Trump’s veto of the resolution. Trump is expected to veto the June resolutions as well. (See ACT, June 2019.)

Aspects of the planned arms sales faced early opposition from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who placed a hold in 2018 on precision-guided munition sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, acting during a customary informal period that precedes formal notification. (See ACT, September 2018.) On May 24, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoked a provision in the 1976 Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to allow the administration to conclude the sales, citing the need to “deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity.” The declaration allowed the president to bypass Menendez's hold and a formal 30-day review process, using authority under the AECA to expedite arms sales to foreign governments if the president declares that “an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States.”

That emergency authority has been used three times in the past, according to R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on June 12. He argued the sales sent a “loud and clear message to Iran that we stand by our regional partners.”

At that hearing, Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) flatly declared that “there is no emergency,” saying that “a real emergency would require weapons that can be delivered immediately...not months or even years from now, as these do.” Cooper agreed that some of the sales would take place over a longer time frame, but said that others are “happening now, and actually, it’s happened prior to this hearing.” It appears that precision-guided munitions would be among the first weapons to be delivered.

Menendez also sought to send a message to the region. “If the Senate wants to show the world that even if you are an ally you cannot kill with impunity, this is the moment,” he said before the June 20 vote. He urged his colleagues to “stand up for the proposition that we won’t let our bombs fall upon innocent civilians and have the moral responsibility which will be a blemish on our history for years to come.”

With Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Menendez and five other senators first introduced the 22 joint resolutions of disapproval on June 5. Such resolutions have been rarely introduced, and their passage by both chambers is exceedingly rare. None has survived a presidential veto.

The pushback against arms sales to Saudi Arabia also extended to the United Kingdom, Riyadh's second-largest arms supplier. The UK Court of Appeal determined on June 20 that the government had failed to sufficiently scrutinize the Saudi-led coalition’s adherence to international humanitarian law, in violation of UK and EU law. In a press summary of their ruling, the judges said the UK government “made no concluded assessments” of the Saudi-led coalition’s record in Yemen, nor did it try to do so. Instead, the government had assessed Saudi “attitude” and engaged Riyadh in an attempt to avoid breaches of law and civilian casualties. The court found that approach insufficient and directed the government to reassess past decisions and change this practice moving forward. The court did not ban any arms transfers, but the UK government said June 25 that while it was reviewing the decision it would “not grant any new licenses for exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners (UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt) which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.”

U.S. and UK leaders face domestic hurdles to their efforts to sell Saudi Arabia conventional weapons.

U.S. to Quit Arms Trade Treaty


May 2019
By Jeff Abramson and Greg Webb

The United States will drop out of the Arms Trade Treaty, the 2013 pact designed to regulate the international trade of conventional arms, President Donald Trump announced April 26.

Speaking to the National Rifle Association on April 26, President Donald Trump displays an order he signed during the speech for the United States to reject the Arms Trade Treaty. (Photo Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“The United States will be revoking the effect of America’s signature from this badly misguided agreement,” Trump told a large audience at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Indianapolis. “The United Nations will soon receive a formal notice that America is rejecting this treaty.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed the pact in 2013, but the United States has not ratified it. On stage in Indianapolis, Trump signed a message to the U.S. Senate asking it to discontinue the treaty’s ratification process.

International and U.S. treaty supporters decried Trump’s decision. The pact is the third major arms-related agreement from which the United States has withdrawn since he took office in January 2017.

Latvian Ambassador Janis Karklins, who will preside over the upcoming August 26-30 conference of the treaty's states parties in Geneva, said, “I hope that the U.S. administration will reconsider its decision in the future.”

“This is yet another myopic decision that jeopardizes U.S. security based on false premises and fearmongering,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was echoed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) who said, “It is abhorrent to use international diplomacy for blatant political pandering.”

Although popular today internationally, the treaty was not concluded easily. Measures to curb illegal and define responsible arms sales were discussed for decades, and a special treaty negotiating process failed in 2013 when Iran, North Korea, and Syria refused to join a consensus agreement. Instead, the pact was taken to the UN General Assembly days later and approved there against their “no” votes. It entered into force on Dec. 24, 2014. Today, the treaty has 101 states-parties and another 34 signatories that have not yet ratified.

The treaty is the first global accord to regulate a broad array of conventional weapons. It establishes common international standards that must be met before states authorize weapons transfers. The treaty generally seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade, reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, and promote accountability and transparency by state-parties concerning transfers of conventional arms.

U.S. negotiators made clear during the treaty-making process that the pact would not threaten the right to bear arms afforded by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It has no authority over national gun control laws.

Nevertheless, U.S. gun-rights organizations, led by the NRA, have alleged that the treaty would impose limits on U.S. domestic gun sales, and Trump repeated those claims in his NRA speech. “Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedom.”

Such rhetoric was misplaced, according to Thomas Countryman, the lead U.S. negotiator of the treaty and now the chair of the Arms Control Association board. “The treaty, if ratified by the U.S. Senate, would not require the United States to change anything in its law or procedures,” he said. “The president's action today is yet another mistaken step that threatens to make the world less
safe rather than more secure.”

Trump to revoke U.S. signature of treaty regulating international trade of conventional weapons.

Trump Move to Withdraw from Arms Trade Treaty Counterproductive

Sections:

Body: 

For Immediate Release: April 26, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

In a speech before the National Rifle Association, President Donald Trump declared today that the United States would be "revoking the effect" of the U.S. signature of the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and taking the treaty back from the Senate. The treaty which entered into force in December 2014, is the first global treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade. The Obama administration signed the treaty in 2014, and the treaty is before the Senate for consideration for ratification.

Key security experts and former officials sharply criticized the move as misguided, counterproductive, and dangerous.
 
The ATT establishes common international standards that must be met before states authorize transfers of conventional weapons or export ammunition and weapons parts and components. It aims to reduce the illicit arms trade, reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, and promote accountability and transparency by state-parties concerning transfers of conventional arms.
 
The treaty came into force on December 24, 2014 and has a total of 101 states-parties and 135 signatory states.
 

QUICK QUOTES

"The President's action today is yet another mistaken step that threatens to make the world less safe, rather than more secure. The ATT, if ratified by the U.S. Senate, would not require the United States to change anything in its law or procedures. It is sad, but to be expected, that this president opposes efforts to require other countries to meet the high standards of U.S. military export decisions."
   —Thomas Countryman, former assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and lead U.S. negotiator on the Arms Trade Treaty

"In rejecting the Arms Trade Treaty, Donald Trump joins the ranks of the leaders of the only three states—Iran, Syria and North Korea—who voted to oppose the adoption of this common-sense treaty."
   —Thomas Countryman, former assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and lead U.S. negotiator on the Arms Trade Treaty

“President Trump’s decision to unsign the ATT is misguided and not consistent with U.S. national security or economic interests. The ATT was intended prevent the irresponsible and illegal transfer of conventional arms to commit violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. By turning its back on multilateral diplomacy yet again, the United States is disregarding global norms and allowing nefarious actors to trade weapons with impunity. Walking away from a treaty that includes nearly all of the United States' closest allies and partners, the United States is instead choosing to be in the company of governments that routinely flout responsible transfer controls."
   —Rachel Stohl, managing director, Stimson Center, and former consultant to the UN ATT negotiations

"In contrast to the Trump administration’s false claims about the Arms Trade Treaty, the treaty text explicitly says that each country is responsible for implementing the treaty in accordance with its own constitutional law. The United States already has the most detailed legislation that govern the substance and process of U.S. arms sales. The ATT simply requires the rest of the world to raise their process and standard to something that approaches the United States' level.”
   —Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association.

RESOURCES

EXPERTS AVAILABLE IN WASHINGTON

###

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.

Description: 

Security experts weigh in on counterproductive Trump move to withdraw from Arms Trade Treaty

U.S., Saudi Arms Transfers Top Global Trade


April 2019
By Izabella Czejdo and Jeff Abramson

Persistent regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, have fueled continuing growth in the global trade of major conventional weapons systems, according to a March study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The United States, long the world's top arms supplier, has increased its share of the global arms trade, and Saudi Arabia has become the world's largest customer of major conventional weapons systems over the past five years.

A Yemeni boy waters plants and cleans tombstones in a Sanaa cemetery in March.  More than 17,000 civilians have died in the fighting that began in 2015, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Photo: Mohammed Hawais/AFP/Getty Images)The March 11 SIPRI report, which uses five-year periods to study global arms transfers, found that these transfers have steadily risen since 2003. SIPRI measures the volume of trade with a trend-indicator value, a metric based on actual deliveries of military equipment rather just financial value, making the measure more conducive to comparing trade over decades.

Since the 1990s, the United States has remained the world’s leading arms exporter, and the gap between it and the second-largest exporter, Russia, has grown steadily. Together, they supply nearly 60 percent of all major conventional weapons systems exports, with 98 nations importing U.S. weapons, about double the number of Russian customers. Adding French, German, and Chinese transfers brings the exports of the five countries to 75 percent of the global market.

Accounting for just more than one-third of global arms imports as a region, Middle Eastern countries increased weapons purchases by 87 percent from the 2009–2013 period to the 2014–2018 period. The United States supplied 54 percent of weapons to the region, which is wracked by ongoing conflicts and is increasing its weapons imports faster than any other region.

Saudi Arabia, which has nearly tripled its weapons imports over the past decade, now accounts for 12 percent of global imports and has replaced India as the largest global importer. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq were also top 10 global importers from the region.

Arms transfers to the region have grown increasingly controversial, especially to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are leading the air and ground forces fighting Houthi forces in Yemen. The conflict there has become a major humanitarian crisis. More than 17,000 civilians have died in the fighting as of August 2018, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which estimated that 60 percent of those deaths resulted from airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Regional arms imports have enabled the coalition to blockade Yemeni ports, halting the inflow of commercial goods. About 24 million people, 80 percent of the Yemeni population, require humanitarian assistance, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The European Parliament has approved numerous nonbinding resolutions prohibiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with countries such as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden taking steps to restrict exports to Riyadh. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have continued to provide Saudi arms, although a UK court is expected to resume consideration of a case in April, challenging the legality of London's sales to Riyadh.

U.S. Sales

Already the top arms exporter, the United States has recently sought to boost its sales. SIPRI reports that Washington now accounts for 36 percent of global exports, up from 30 percent in the prior five-year period.

The misuse of U.S. arms transferred by recipient countries has drawn recent scrutiny after reports that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had provided U.S. weapons to al Qaeda militias in Yemen. Separately, Indian leaders raised allegations that Pakistan had misused U.S.-supplied fighter aircraft during recent border tensions.

In implementing U.S. conventional arms transfer policy moving forward, “we are examining our procedures for evaluating allegations of misuse,” Laura Cressey, State Department deputy director of the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers, told Arms Control Today March 18.

That policy, overdue for a quarterly implementation update, currently states the intent to “facilitate ally and partner efforts…to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm.”

The policy has received criticism for justifying arms transfers to “maximize the ability of the United States industry to grow and support allies and partners” in the face of competition from other exporters.

SIPRI “does not support this narrative” of stiff competition as a rationale for U.S. policy, said report co-author Aude Fleurant in a press statement. “The United States is “by far the largest exporter…[and] has increased its gap with Russia,” she added. Noting that changes in broader patterns take time, she also cautioned that “the policy was adopted in 2018, it is a bit early to see its potential impacts.”

Global arms transfers are expected to experience continuing growth, Fleurant said, despite somewhat lower transfers in 2018 than the previous year. “Outside of a major economic downturn like the 2008–09 crisis, I don’t think we will see a reversal of the upward trend,” she said.

U.S. is top-seller again as questions simmer over where its weapons end up.

Open Skies Treaty Flights Resume in 2019

The United States conducted an airborne surveillance mission over Russia under the auspices of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Feb. 21, the first routine treaty flight since 2017. Following agreed procedures, all treaty parties received advance notification of the mission, and six Russian officials flew on the unarmed U.S. aircraft “to monitor all phases of the flight,” said Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.

Using an OC-135B observation aircraft, shown here in 2000, the United States conducted an Open Skies Treaty flight over Russia in February. It was the first routine treaty flight since 2017. (Photo: Mike Freer/Touchdown Aviation)Last year, there were no regular treaty flights because of a dispute over on-board observers that was resolved in October. There was, however, one “extraordinary flight” on Dec. 6 over Ukraine, requested by Ukraine shortly after a Russian attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by applying excessive restrictions on surveillance flights over Kaliningrad, a sensitive Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, but U.S. officials expressed hope that the dispute could be settled. Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said on Sept. 18 that Russia has “made overtures that suggest” it could resolve the alleged violation. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, aims to increase confidence and transparency between the United States, Russia, and European nations by allowing unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The 34 parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the collected information available to all treaty parties.—SHERVIN TAHERAN
 

Open Skies Treaty Flights Resume in 2019

“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...

U.S. Firearms Export Changes Meet Challenges


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.”

 

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

Congress Has Opportunity to Halt Dangerous Firearms Export Changes

Sections:

Body: 


Statement from Jeff Abramson, non-resident senior fellow for arms control and conventional arms transfers

For Immediate Release: Feb. 8, 2019

Media Contacts: Jeff Abramson, (646) 527-5793

The Trump administration will soon publish final rules that would likely expedite how certain firearms and military-style weapons are sold internationally. Congress can and should seek to block these changes, which exacerbate the export of U.S. gun violence problems abroad.

On Monday, mildly revised versions of rules first released for comment in May were presented to Congress, starting a 30-day review period.

Specifically, the proposed 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 new rules, nonautomatic and semi-automatic firearms and their ammunition currently controlled under the USML would move to the Commerce Control List (CCL) to become part of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), whose lead administrator is the Commerce Department.

Under the new rules, Congress would lose its ability to provide oversight on many firearms sales. In 2002, Congress amended notifications 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 CCL. In recent years, Congressional involvement has helped forestall firearms transfers to repressive forces in Turkey and the Philippines.

At the core of these proposed changes is the mistaken belief that firearms do not merit tighter control because they are neither high-tech nor provide unique military advantages. In reality, they are some of the weapons most often used to commit abuses and extend conflict around the world. These weapons, used in the mass shootings at Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, Las Vegas, and Parkland, are not the commodities that the United States should make easier to export. Exported and trafficked into Mexico and Central America, for example, U.S.-origin small arms are already falling into the hands of human rights abusers and criminal organizations.

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. The value of transfers that would be subject to the new rule is not yet clear as that data cannot be fully disaggregated.

A bill introduced Friday by Representative Norma Torres (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chair Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and others would simply prohibit the changes.

If not halted or significantly changed, the new rules would continue the cynical approach of the Trump administration to treat weapons as any other trade commodity, threatening to undermine long-term global security and upsetting decades of more responsible U.S. arms transfer policy.

Description: 

Statement from Jeff Abramson, non-resident senior fellow for arms control and conventional arms transfers

Country Resources:

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

Sections:

Body: 


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

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.

Country Resources:

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Conventional Arms Control and Trade