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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Conventional Arms Control

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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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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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

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale

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

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

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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.

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Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should be Rejected

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Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2017

President Donald Trump is set to make his first foreign trip as president to the troubled Middle East region. He will meet with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, as well as the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition’s war there will certainly be key topics. So too will pending U.S. arms sales to Riyadh and Manama that the Obama administration put on hold but the Trump administration is now pushing through Congress.

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 potentially massive Saudi arms sale, involving precision-guided munitions (PGM) worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was suspended by Obama in December, in part due to independent reports that Saudi forces have repeatedly struck civilian areas, including locations the United States asked be off-limits.

The new Saudi arms deal has not yet been formally notified, but it has been sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee for review. A multi-billion dollar sale of 19 F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain is in a similar pre-notification status and does not include human rights preconditions that the President Barack Obama administration had mandated. Reports suggest an even larger Saudi arms deal, ranging in value from $100-300 billion, may be in the works and discussed while Trump is in the region.

The Trump administration initiative ignores Saudi Arabia’s repeated failure to avoid civilian targets and would compound the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen that is largely the consequence of the devastating conflict there.

Unfortunately, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson devalued promotion of human rights in an address to his State Department staff on May 3, suggesting that placing an emphasis on others upholding American values “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), among others, has delivered a passionate rebuttal of this argument.

In addition, there are strong national security and legal reasons why these proposed sales are unwise.

A Deteriorating Disaster in Yemen

The Yemeni rebel movement, the Houthi, seized the capital Sanaa in 2014. Since 2015, the United States has backed a Saudi-led coalition fighting nominally on behalf of exiled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, often providing refueling for war planes and other support. The coalition has retaken portions of Yemen, including Aden, which Hadi ostensibly uses as a base for his government. But many Yemenis still live in areas outside of Hadi’s control, including in the capital Sanaa. All sides in the conflict have been implicated for violations of international humanitarian law, including the Saudis who have ignored U.S. “no target” lists and bombed hospitals, civilian areas, and funerals in attacks that may amount to war crimes.

The war has also fueled a humanitarian disaster. After two years of fighting, the United Nations launched an appeal early this year on behalf of 18.8 million people who it found needed assistance in Yemen—more than two-thirds of the country’s population. At that time, it warned of a possible famine with 3.3 million people being acutely malnourished.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres painted a chilling picture April 25 of what he called “a tragedy of immense proportions,” noting that “On average, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every ten minutes.” Now, Houthi leaders in Sanaa have declared a state of emergency after a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 100 people.

The flow of new weapons to states involved in the conflict will only worsen the humanitarian situation. Ignoring UN findings that a military solution is not possible and pleas to unblock access to ports to help address the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” the port city of Hodeida is identified as a next target for the Saudi-led coalition. Despite being crippled by earlier strikes and blocked from receiving new cranes for unloading supplies, a significant portion of humanitarian assistance enters the country through the port. An attack there would likely further cut supplies and significantly escalate human suffering.

News of the potential sale of precision-guided munitions as well as an attack on Hodeida have swirled in Congress since at least March, with many members wisely engaging to express concerns about addressing the humanitarian situation, Saudi behavior, and authority for U.S. military action.

Notionally, precision-guided munitions would better enable Saudi forces to avoid civilian casualties, but evidence suggests that munition accuracy is not the primary reason why Saudi forces are hitting civilian targets. During a March 9 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Yemen, Dafna Rand, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Obama administration, testified that despite hopes in 2015 that the Saudi-led coalition would use precision-guided munitions for better targeting, “what we’ve seen since is not an improvement in the targeting and the issue itself is the target selection.

At that same hearing, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) criticized Saudi actions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) described as “questionable” Saudi commitment to strictly targeting combatants and legitimate military targets.

The two senators led efforts that won the support of 27 senators in a vote against a $1.1 billion tank deal to Riyadh in September 2016. They also drafted legislation last year to suspend certain munitions sales until the U.S. president certifies that the Saudis show commitment to fighting terrorism and to protecting civilians in Yemen. Last month, they introduced similar legislation on air-to-ground munitions, now as S.J.Res 40, with co-sponsors Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), who were joined in May by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

In a press release associated with the bill’s introduction, Murphy said, “The United States has no business supplying a military that targets civilians or enables terrorist groups to thrive, but that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in Yemen.”

“The Saudis are important partners in the Middle East, but they have continued to disregard our advice when it comes to target selection and civilian protection. We have an obligation to ensure U.S. military support is not being used to kill innocent civilians, and requiring Saudi Arabia to meet these basic conditions should be a no brainer,” Murphy added.

Young has also pressed the administration and the Saudis to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. On May 5, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir. Afterward, Young issued a statement urging “the Saudi government to renounce any intention to conduct a military operation against the port of Hodeidah, redouble efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution, and end any delays to the delivery of humanitarian aid caused by the Saudi-led coalition.”

Their efforts followed upon a March 23 letter Marco Rubio (R-Flor.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sent to Tillerson urging action to address humanitarian crises in four countries, including Yemen. Cardin and Young also introduced a resolution calling for such action.

This week Murphy and Young took the Senate floor May 17 to again highlight the urgency of addressing the crisis in Yemen.

In the House, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) led 53 members in signing a March 13 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging him to use “diplomatic clout” to open the port of Hodeida. Lieu and Conyers were among a bipartisan group of 64 House members who had asked Obama to withdraw the tank deal last year.

The two representatives were also among a bipartisan group of 31 House members who sent an April 6 letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Tillerson requesting an assessment of Saudi capabilities before any new precision-guided munition sale is approved. In the letter, they argued, “It is in our national security interest–as well as that of our Saudi partners–to ensure that the [Royal Saudi Air Force] has the ability to avoid civilian casualties before the United States sells them any additional air-to-ground munitions.”

At a more fundamental level, these members of Congress are challenging the authority for this administration to support the Saudi coalition and possibly engage more directly in the conflict. On April 10, a bipartisan group of 55 representatives, led by Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Justin Amash (D-Mich.), sent a letter to Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for the legal justification for U.S. involvement in Yemen's war and urging the administration to receive congressional authorization before launching any direct hostilities against the Houthis.

On May 2, they led in sending a follow-up letter from a bipartisan group of 16 representatives to Mattis inviting him to brief Congress of the administration’s plans for Yemen. They wrote: “Should the administration remain unresponsive to our repeated inquiries into the nature of U.S. engagement in a potentially catastrophic Saudi attack on Hodeida, we will pursue legislation to explicitly prohibit U.S. involvement in any such an assault.”

Such a measure would follow up on a new Authorization of Military Use of Force proposed April 27 by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and nine other Democratic representatives that grants authority to combat the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the Afghanistan Taliban—by logic excluding the Houthi, who are not affiliated with these groups.

Upholding the Law, Security, and Rights

Members of Congress identified above are raising the right concerns. Looking just at arms sales, Congress may block agreement to a deal if both houses pass a resolution of disapproval in the first 30 days after being notified of a potential arms sale. Strong opposition is rare because notifications typically happen only after interagency approval and consultations with congressional leaders. In this case, however, opposition is clearly lined up and a messy fight is in the offing if (and when) the Trump administration decides to move forward.

Congress should first look to the law and recognize that the provision of arms is generally prohibited when a country engages in a “consistent pattern of gross violations” of recognized human rights. Until it is satisfied that Saudi behavior can and will improve, it should not authorize new sales to the country.

S.J.Res 40 underscores this point on air-to-ground munitions and deserves Congressional support. That bill, if approved, would impact not only the anticipated precision-guided missile sale but also a $1.3 billion deal that went through Congress in November 2015. For the first and only time, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) invoked a new authority that requires the State Department to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to the delivery of an arms shipment. Congress should continue to monitor possible delivery of munitions from that deal as it looks ahead to a new notification.

As the Hadi government appears to fracture and evidence mounts of it working alongside Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), congressional leaders must also ask themselves if supporting that regime and doubling-down on U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign makes sense for U.S. security goals. It is difficult to see how it does.

Capturing Hodeida will not, as some claim, force the warring parties to the table to negotiate a political settlement. While Iran provides some support, the Houthi are their own masters and practice a form of Shia Islam nearly entirely indigenous to Yemen, but an attack on Hodeida would more likely drive the Houthi closer to Tehran. Furthermore, as long as the United States provides weaponry and assistance to Saudi war-fighting, the Saudis appear to have no incentive to offer a political solution.

In revising U.S. conventional arms transfer policy in January 2014, Obama included the goal of “Ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.” The United States is also a signatory to the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which requires consideration of whether transferred arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law—measures consistent with U.S. law.

The Trump administration has not yet issued a new arms transfer policy or made a compelling case for abandoning the humanitarian principles of U.S. law and policy.

It would be counterproductive, in fact, to abandon these humanitarian concerns because doing so would only encourage other states to supply arms to groups and countries that support abuse and actions counter to U.S. goals. U.S. actions themselves, even if indirectly through the support of others, help to radicalize individuals against Washington when they are seen as targeting civilians.

Applying Same Standards to Bahrain and UAE

Garnering less attention in Congress thus far has been the pending notification to sell F-16s to Bahrain, a Saudi-coalition partner. In considering such a sale in 2016, the Obama administration attached an undisclosed set of preconditions to encourage the Bahraini government to improve its human rights record. Those conditions likely included the release of human-rights activist Nabeel Rajab and other measures to reverse suppression of nonviolent opposition after the forced closure of the al-Wefaq political party.

Those and many other steps have not been taken. Instead, on Friday the United Nations Committee Against Torture warned of continued ill-treatment of detainees and called on Bahraini authorities to release Rajab, who had been held in solitary confinement for more than nine months. Just as a deal to arm Saudi Arabia with offensive weapons would signal that the United States is unconcerned with how a country addresses human rights, so too would a new F-16 sale to the repressive Bahraini regime.

The national security goals are also unclear. F-16s appear to have little relevance in combating AQAP or the Islamic State. Nor do they further efforts that might resolve problematic Iranian activity.

Further complicating the situation, just last week, Congress was notified of a potential $2 billion sale of Patriot missiles to the United Arab Emirates, whose forces are expected to be in the vanguard of any offensive on Hodeida. Even though that sale would not be of “offensive” weapons, serious concerns about detainee abuse should also give Congress pause as to whether to reward Abu Dhabi.

While there are certainly many challenges in the Middle East, agreeing to arms deals with regimes in Riyadh and Manama that have a record of impunity when conducting airstrikes or suppressing their citizenry runs counter to long-standing U.S. principles and goals.

—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow 

NOTE: This Issue Brief has been updated to reflect the fact that Houthi fighters seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, not 2015.

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Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should be Rejected

On travel bans: Instead of refugees coming out, look at weapons going in

This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill. The Trump administration's new executive order on immigration, replacing the currently-blocked “Muslim ban,” will be top-line news. Likely lost in the conversation will be the vast amount of weaponry the United States has supplied in and around the conflict zones from which refugees are fleeing. The United States remains the world’s top major arms dealer at a time when the volume of global arms transfers has reached its highest point since the Cold War , according to a report released Monday by the well-respected Stockholm International Peace...

Europeans Seek Conventional Arms Talks

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

Fifteen countries in Europe are calling for a “relaunch of conventional arms control” negotiations with Russia amid concerns about the deteriorating security situation in their region due to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

In a joint statement Nov. 25, the foreign ministers of the 15 nations said that the existing pillars of the European conventional arms control architecture, namely the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the 2011 Vienna Document, and the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, are “crumbling” and “need to be strengthened.” They cited “an urgent need to re-establish strategic stability, restraint, predictability and verifiable transparency and to reduce military risks” and urged “a structured dialogue on conventional arms control in Europe.”

Foreign ministers attending a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe December 8-9, 2016, in Hamburg, Germany, called for “creating an environment conducive to reinvigorating conventional arms control.” (Photo credit: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)The ministers said that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should be a “central forum for such a dialogue.” The 57-member OSCE works to facilitate a comprehensive approach to European security.

The countries that joined the statement are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. All are OSCE members. 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier first floated the proposal in a Project Syndicate op-ed on Aug. 26, citing “new and deep rifts” between Russia and Western nations that would likely endure for the near future. Further, he warned of a “new arms race” in Europe due to developing technologies such as offensive cybercapabilities and “new combat scenarios” such as smaller, more mobile fighting units that “are not covered” by existing arms control regimes.

Steinmeier said that a new arms control dialogue should address regional military force ceilings and transparency measures; take into account new military capabilities and strategies, including smaller, mobile units; include new weapons systems, such as drones; permit effective verification in times of crisis; and be applicable where territorial status is disputed. 

Steinmeier conceded that such an undertaking might not succeed “at a time when world order is eroding and relations with Russia are strained” but that “it would be irresponsible not to try.” 

Germany served as chair of the OSCE in 2016. Austria is the chair in 2017, as the position rotates annually. 

The initial U.S. reaction was lukewarm. Bruce Turner, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, said that Russia’s ongoing challenge to the core tenets of European security “make contemplation of a new arms control agreement in Europe difficult” in remarks in October at an OSCE conference in Vienna.

Instead, the United States “believes that it makes more sense to work to preserve, strengthen, and modernize our existing agreements, and begin a dialogue on our security concerns” in the OSCE, said Turner, who handles European security, technology, and implementation in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. Turner cited as a key U.S. goal modernizing the Vienna Document, a set of politically binding confidence- and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted by OSCE members.

Russia has taken a wait-and-see approach. In a speech at the United Nations in October, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the nonproliferation and arms control department in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Steinmeier’s proposal “merits thorough analysis.”

“We will see how Germany’s NATO allies will respond to this initiative,” he added. 

In a Dec. 24 email to Arms Control Today, Ulrich Kühn, a fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the future of the 15-nation initiative is uncertain, citing the transition to a new administration in the United States, Austria’s assumption of the OSCE chairmanship, and the fact that Steinmeier soon will be leaving his foreign minister post.

At the OSCE ministerial meeting in Hamburg on Dec. 8-9, the 57 participating states issued a statement declaring that they “will work towards creating an environment conducive to reinvigorating conventional arms control” and confidence- and security-building measures in Europe.

Germany’s foreign minister cites the risk of a “new arms race” in Europe.

Conventional Weapons: Obama’s Missed Opportunities

December 2016

By Rachel Stohl

When Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was elected president in 2008, he had already demonstrated leadership in trying to curtail conventional arms proliferation. 

As a senator, he had sought to treat the dangers of conventional arms in a similar vein as nuclear weapons by joining Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in authoring the Cooperative Proliferation Detection, Interdiction Assistance, and Conventional Threat Reduction Act. The bill, signed into law in January 2007, provided funding to prevent the proliferation of conventional weapons and to help U.S. allies detect and interdict proliferated weapons.

The U.S. granted a waiver to allow arms sales to the government in South Sudan, where the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates 16,000 children have been recruited by armed groups, including the national army, since civil war began in December 2013. On February 10, 2015, a group of child soldiers participated in a disarmament and reintegration event supported by UNICEF. (Photo credit: Charles Lomodong/AFP/Getty Images)While the Lugar-Obama initiative represented an uncommon and important emphasis on reducing the risks posed by conventional arms, Obama’s presidency has been marked by a limited focus on conventional weapons issues. Certainly, there have been some noteworthy and beneficial steps. For example, during Obama’s two terms, the United States signed the landmark Arms Trade Treaty, released a new conventional arms transfer policy for the first time in 20 years, developed a new unmanned aerial vehicle export policy, and moved closer to joining the Mine Ban Treaty. 

Yet, the Obama administration’s overall record on conventional weapons issues is disappointing in a number of respects. The administration has a troubling record with regard to arms sales to countries with significant history of human rights abuses, including the use of child soldiers; with regard to transparency and accountability for the U.S. drone program; and as it pertains to the U.S. status in the community of nations banning indiscriminate and deadly anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. 

Indeed, the eight years of the Obama administration saw the highest value of foreign military sales agreements since World War II. From 2009 to 2015, these agreements totaled approximately $245 billion, compared to an estimated $127 billion from 2001 to 2008 under President George W. Bush. The quantity of weapons sold is less concerning, however, than the recipients of these weapons. Throughout the Obama administration, the United States has provided arms to countries with controversial human rights records, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and more recently the Philippines. The Obama administration has approved arms sales to the most violent offenders—think Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen or President Rodrigo Duterte’s most recent crackdown in the Philippines—stopping only when Congress has interceded or raised uncomfortable questions. In short, the Obama administration’s legacy on arms sales reflects a strong emphasis on sweeping national security concerns, such as counterterrorism priorities, at the expense of broader foreign policy values and interests, such as promoting human rights and supporting democratization and good governance.

One of Obama’s more disappointing legacies has been his record on stopping military assistance and arms sales to governments using or recruiting child soldiers. The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which took effect in 2010, aims to leverage coveted U.S. military assistance to pressure governments to stop using children in combat. The law prohibits U.S. military assistance or arms sales to governments that use children in their national militaries or government-supported armed groups, although the restrictions can be waived if the president finds it is in the “national interest” to do so. In the last six years, the administration used these waivers to allow more than $1.2 billion in military assistance and arms sales, while withholding approximately $60 million, or less than 5 percent of assistance otherwise subject to the law. For six years, the Obama administration has sent the wrong message to governments that recruit and use child soldiers that there are no consequences for their continued recruitment and use of children in combat.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signs the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which establishes common standards for international trade in conventional weapons, on September 25, 2013. The legally binding accord, which currently has 87 states-parties, entered into force December 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Win Khine/UN)The administration will also leave with an unfulfilled legacy on issues surrounding the transfer and use of cluster munitions and landmines. The United States still has not joined the vast majority of its allies and partners in signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions or the Mine Ban Treaty. Moreover, the United States continues to facilitate the use of cluster munitions, particularly in countries such as Yemen, where there have been numerous cases of U.S.-made cluster munitions hitting civilian targets. The United States has committed to phasing out by 2018 those cluster munitions with a failure rate exceeding 1 percent, which is an effort to mitigate the harm to civilians, and to prohibit nations buying U.S. cluster munitions from using them in civilian areas. Yet, progress has been slow and enforcement weak.

The United States is one of only 35 countries that remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty, the 1997 accord also known as the Ottawa Convention. The Obama administration, in a policy shift two years ago, pledged essentially to comply with key treaty provisions, which bar the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, everywhere except for the Korean peninsula due to the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea from a potential invasion from the North across the mined demilitarized zone. Numerous officials, however, have called this exception into question for more than a decade, noting that technological advances in other systems could offset the utility of landmines. Although the administration initiated a study to examine alternatives, the results of its study have yet to be released.

On drones, the Obama administration has taken some steps toward establishing a transparent, accountable, and responsible policy for lethal use. In February 2015, the administration released an updated drone export policy, which includes potential requirements for enhanced end-use monitoring of military drones, additional security conditions, and requirements for only transferring sensitive systems through government-to-government military sales. Importantly, commercial U.S.-made drones are also subject to “stringent” restrictions under the new guidelines. The policy also requires recipients to agree to “principles for proper use” before an export can be approved. 

Additionally, in July the administration released the first official data regarding U.S. drone strike casualties. At the same time, the administration released an executive order on measures to address civilian casualties, which requires, among other steps, relevant agencies to develop, acquire, and field intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems that contribute to the protection of civilians and reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties. In August, the administration released a redacted version of the presidential policy guidance, which outlines the procedures for approving direct action against terrorist targets located outside the United States and areas of active hostilities.

Although these are positive steps, U.S. drone policy overall continues to resemble a patchwork of half-measures to address concerns rather than a comprehensive and complete examination of how drone proliferation and use fit within larger strategic objectives. For example, although the civilian casualty data provides insight on combatant and noncombatant casualties in areas outside active hostilities, the release lacks substantive information to allow for objective analysis and more informed debate on the program’s overall effectiveness and risks to civilians. 

Ultimately, Obama’s record on conventional arms issues leaves much to be desired. After eight years in the White House, the administration missed its chance to better address the security, development, economic, and human impacts of the proliferation and use of conventional arms around the world. Although there were some commendable developments, Obama failed to make the most of opportunities to match U.S. global leadership in arms exports with performance as a global leader in setting appropriate standards for arms transfers and use.


Rachel Stohl is a senior associate with the Stimson Center’s Managing Across Boundaries initiative and directs the center’s Conventional Defense program.

Obama’s presidency has been marked by a limited focus on conventional weapons issues.

Much more needed from top presidential candidates on arms issues

This guest post is written by Jeff Abramson, organizer for the Forum on Arms Trade and nonresident senior fellow with the Arms Control Association. The assessments here are not endorsed by other experts, the Arms Control Association, the Forum on the Arms Trade, nor the candidates. The next U.S. president will need to make many decisions that are fundamental to how the United States provides weapons and training to other parties, supports (or disregards) agreements to responsibly trade arms and in some cases ban those the international community has deemed unacceptable , as well as how it...

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