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

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

U.S. Arms Policy & Sales

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

October 2018

Updated: October 2018

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of March 2018, the United States possesses 4,000 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,550 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total of 6,550 nuclear warheads. On Feb. 2, 2018, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, detailing the size and role of U.S. nuclear forces for this administration. 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
  • Nuclear Doctrine
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

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

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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.

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of February 2018, the United States possesses 4,000 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,550 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total arsenal of 6,550 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 until February 2021 when the treaty expires. According to the September 2018 New START data exchange, the United States deploys 1,398 strategic nuclear warheads on 659 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. However, these numbers may be artificially low due to a temporary fluctuation in deployed and non-deployed weapons at the time of the exchange. 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 has conducted 1,030 total nuclear tests, far more than any other nuclear-armed state. 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 February 2018, 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, which is intended to replace the Minuteman III between 2028 and 2035.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Ohio-class 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.

Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile

  • 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 strategic missile remaining in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Bombers

  • As of February 2018, the Air Force deploys 36 nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers and 13 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 980 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.

Nuclear Doctrine

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released on Feb. 2, 2018, details the Trump administration’s approach to the size and role of U.S. nuclear forces. 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 document 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.” It caveats its 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.

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), 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.

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Biological Weapons

  • In the early 1970s, the United States destroyed its entire stockpile of biological weapons, which had been developed between 1943 and 1969.
  • 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.”

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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.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities  

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.

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.

Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement
In July 2005, the United States signed a controversial agreement with India to repeal most U.S. and multilateral civilian nuclear trade restrictions on India. In 2006, Congress amended its own domestic legislation to allow nuclear trade with India to proceed. The two governments later concluded a “123 Agreement,” which was approved by Congress and signed into law in October 2008. In September 2008, India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The United States has pushed for India to become a member of the NSG, but in January 2017, China and other countries blocked India's membership bid on the grounds that India has not yet signed the NPT.

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.

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. 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.)

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, financial and oil sanctions on Iran were lifted along with the release of $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets after international inspectors confirmed that Iran had rolled back large sections of its nuclear program. In an effort to preserve the deal before leaving office, the Obama administration worked to fend off additional sanctions and encouraged American companies to conduct business in Iran.

On May 8, President Trump violated the JCPOA by committing to re-impose sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the agreement. After President Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the deal, the other parties to the agreement decided to continue to implement their obligations.

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.

 

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Country Profiles

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: October 9, 2018

Trump Favors Arms Industry in Effort to Loosen Export Controls

Sections:

Description: 

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

Body: 


Volume 10, Issue 6, June 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding in Transparency and Enabling Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Value of Congressional Oversight

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

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

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

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

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

The Administration’s Faulty “Economic Security” Excuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: June 7, 2018

New Policies Promote Arms, Drone Exports

Trump administration emphasizes economic benefits of U.S. weapons sales abroad.


May 2018
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration has revised policies guiding conventional arm transfers and drone exports, controversially placing greater emphasis on U.S. economic interests. A plan for implementing the policies is due in two months.

The April 19 national security presidential memorandum replaces a January 2014 presidential policy directive that, like the 1995 iteration from the Clinton administration, included an unweighted list of criteria to guide decisions on U.S. conventional arms transfers. Common to these policies are goals to improve the security of the United States and its allies, prevent proliferation, and support relevant multilateral agreements. New to the Trump approach is an explicit inclusion of “economic security” as a factor in considering whether to approve arms exports.

President Donald Trump makes a point about the U.S. economic benefits from arms sales during an Oval Office meeting March 20 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.  (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)


The new policy on conventional arms transfers begins with an assertion that the defense industrial base employs more than 1.7 million people and that “the executive branch will advocate strongly” on behalf of U.S. companies and “maximize the ability” of U.S. industry “to grow and support allies and partners.”

The new policy on the export of unmanned aerial systems, full details of which remain classified, lists increasing trade opportunities for U.S. companies as one of five primary objectives. It replaces an “overly restrictive policy established in 2015 that hindered American companies,” according to a short White House statement. That statement places the new policies within the president’s “commitment to peace through strength” in part by “expanding opportunities for American industry [and] creating American jobs.”

The added focus on jobs and the economy was expected from the president, who has touted arms sales and called for speeding the process for arms deliveries. Exactly how that will be done remains to be determined. The policy says that the secretary of state is to deliver a proposed action plan within 60 days, a process that is expected to include consultation with industry and civil society groups.

In a news conference shortly before the new policies were released, Tina S. Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, provided insights into how the policy changes for unmanned aerial systems, commonly referred to as drones, may speed delivery of certain items by allowing their sale to be directly negotiated by companies.

Under the new policy, so-called strike enabling technology, such as laser target designators that are not themselves armed, will no longer be required to go through the government-to-government process for negotiating foreign military sales, she said. Instead, the new policy allows companies to negotiate directly with foreign government buyers through the direct commercial sales process. Such an approach involves “fewer barriers and less confusion,” which can “potentially allow for faster procurement,” she said. The policy also allows for armed unmanned aerial systems to be transferred via either procurement process.

Citing increased competition from China, Peter Navarro, assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing policy, said the administration’s policy
on unmanned aerial systems “will level the playing field by enabling firms to increase their direct sales to authorized allies and partners.”

The policy also calls for the United States to seek changes to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as it applies to unmanned aerial systems, most likely to ease some presumptive restrictions given that drones fly more slowly than missiles. The MTCR, which has 35 member-states, works to restrict exports of missiles and related technologies capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers, which applies to some
drone systems.

Both foreign military and direct commercial sales require that Congress be notified of certain potential arms sales. Congress can block the conclusion of an arms agreement within 30 days or act anytime until delivery. Kaidanow said that nothing in the new presidential memorandum “changes either the existing legal or regulatory requirements, and we are very respectful of Congress’ role in all of this.”

Although many worried that the new policies would jettison any mention of human rights, they do retain many of the same provisions as the Obama-era conventional arms transfer policy, although consolidating their reference to a single section rather than reiterating them throughout. The new policy also contains a commitment to “facilitate” ally and partner efforts “to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm.”

Nonetheless, the administration’s approach did draw criticism. The policies “present a clear political objective by the Trump administration—to demonstrate its ‘America First’ approach and promote U.S. industry,” said Rachel Stohl, deputy director of the Stimson Center in Washington and a board member of the Arms Control Association. “The policies focus on the benefits, rather than the risks, of arms exports and take a short-term view without fully incorporating potential long-term consequences,” she added.

Posted: May 1, 2018

Trump Touts Saudi Arms Sales

Senate measure on Yemen war falls short.


April 2018
By Jeff Abramson

As U.S. senators questioned military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, President Donald Trump extolled U.S. arms sales in a high-profile meeting with the Saudi crown prince.

In public remarks at the White House by the president and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 20, Trump held up posters with pictures of U.S. military equipment sold to Saudi Arabia and boasted, “We make the best military product in the world, whether it’s missiles or planes or anything else.”

President Donald Trump holds up a chart highlighting U.S. military hardware sales to Saudi Arabia as he meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office on March 20.  (Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)These sales “really [mean] many, many jobs. We’re talking about over 40,000 jobs in the United States,” Trump said. No basis for that number was provided, nor was a time frame because many of the arms sales cited cover a number of years.

Two days after the Oval Office meeting, the administration notified Congress of potential arms sales valued at more than $1 billion, including more than 6,500 anti-tank missiles, as well as services and parts for Abrams tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters, and other military equipment.

Just before the visit, a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) again found the United States to be the world’s largest arms exporter in a growing international market, with Riyadh remaining by far the largest importer of U.S. weapons. (See ACT, March 2017.)

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been controversial, most recently as the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has attacked civilian targets and contributed to humanitarian suffering in the country. Last year, 47 senators voted unsuccessfully to stop a sale of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

On the same day as the White House meeting, the Senate narrowly failed to pass a measure that sought to end U.S. military support to the Saudi war in Yemen, specifically referencing aerial refueling, intelligence sharing, and targeting assistance to Saudi-led forces. Saying that Congress had not approved U.S. military engagement and invoking the war powers resolution, 44 senators voted to bring the measure to the full Senate, where presumably it would have passed should a majority have agreed to its full consideration.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who was among a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, said afterward, “Every day that America keeps helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen, we are less safe as a nation.” The vote “is a signal that the U.S. Senate is not going to stand idly by and let this fatal foreign policy mistake continue unabated,” he said.

SIPRI’s annual report on trends in international transfers of major weapons systems confirmed a central place for Saudi Arabia among the 98 countries to which the United States exported weapons from 2013 to 2017. Riyadh, whose total imports more than quintupled in that period, accounted for 18 percent of Washington’s exports, more than twice that of the next largest U.S. weapons importer, the United Arab Emirates.

As conflicts affected nearly all the countries in the Middle East, arms imports into the region more than doubled, with Saudi Arabia importing hundreds of combat aircraft and helicopters, tanks, and armored vehicles. The report drew extra attention to the transfer of missiles for use against ground targets by Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE from China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The United States alone accounted for 34 percent of global exports during 2013-2017, up from 30 percent during the previous five-year period, and a significantly larger share than Russia, the second-largest exporter at 22 percent. Although the total volume of international arms trade rose by 10 percent during the period, Russia’s share declined in part due to reduced deliveries to Algeria, China, and Venezuela. Russia remains the largest supplier to the world’s top arms importer, India; but the United States is now New Delhi’s second-largest arms supplier, with U.S. exports to the country up 557 percent.

The Trump administration’s approach to arms sales appears to differ from that of the Obama administration in its emphasis on economic considerations over human rights, according to a report released last month by the Security Assistance Monitor. The Security Assistance Monitor report also challenges the Trump administration’s promotion of arms sales for their economic and jobs benefits, noting that many proposed sales include provisions for foreign manufacturing.

Further, some U.S. lawmakers are calling into question the economic logic of waivers to Saudi Arabia that would reduce the price it pays for the $15 billion Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system notified in October 2017, the single-largest notification of the year. Bloomberg reported on March 21 that the Saudis received what amounts to a $3.5 billion price cut through waivers from a U.S. law requiring foreign purchasers of U.S. weapons to pay part of the Defense Department’s costs in developing them.

Such waivers are now relatively commonplace, according to a Government Accountability Office report in January 2018; but Bloomberg quoted House Armed Services Committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) saying, “American taxpayers are footing the bill for billions of dollars for researching and developing the weapons we sell to foreign governments.”

Posted: April 1, 2018

U.S. May Ease Arms Export Rules

The Trump administration is expected to unveil changes to U.S. conventional arms transfer policies and rules that could speed arms exports.


March 2018
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration is expected to unveil changes to U.S. conventional arms transfer policies and rules that could speed arms exports.

In January, Reuters reported that the administration is working on a “Buy American” plan that would include a push to sell U.S. weapons abroad and steps to amend export controls. Nothing has been publicly presented by the administration, but revisions to presidentially declared conventional arms transfer policies, as well as rules on the exports of firearms and ammunition, are likely to be among the first changes proposed.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation on January 10 to prevent the Trump administration from changing export rules on firearms, close-assault weapons, and certain other weapons and ordnance. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)President Barack Obama last updated U.S. conventional arms transfer policies in January 2014 when he issued Presidential Policy Directive 27. (See ACT, March 2014.) The directive set out 10 goals to be considered and a process and set of criteria for making arms transfer decisions. Although the directive does not weigh one goal against another, it does explicitly identify the concept of supporting arms transfer “restraint” as central and refers many times to avoiding transfers to those who would commit or facilitate human rights abuses.

Whether restraint and human rights factors are adequately maintained in a new presidential directive will be closely examined given Trump’s enthusiastic support for arms sales as job generators and his willingness to conclude deals that the Obama administration had withheld due to human rights concerns involving Bahrain, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. (See ACT, October 2017.)

The changes may also include revisions to how the United States treats firearms and ammunition exports. An export control reform process during the Obama administration proposed or enacted changes to 18 of the 21 categories of major weapons and technology controlled under the United States Munitions List, administered by the State Department, moving many items to the arguably less-restrictive Commerce Control List, administered by the Commerce Department. A core rationale for this effort was “building higher fences around fewer items,” and those fewer items were ones that tended to be technologically advanced and give the United States a unique military advantage.

Changes to the first three categories, covering firearms, close assault weapons and combat shotguns, and guns and armaments and their ordnance were drafted but never made public. Concerns exist that Commerce Department control could lead to more U.S. weapons ending up in the hands of unintended users, loss of the ability to prosecute arms smugglers, decreased transparency, and lessened congressional oversight of the arms trade. It is anticipated that those changes would soon be published for review.

In September 2017, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote a cautionary letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Combat firearms and ammunition are uniquely lethal; they are easily spread and easily modified, and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world,” they wrote. “As such, they should be subject to more—not less—rigorous export control and oversight.”

On Jan. 10, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution that would maintain the existing categorizations. “Our priority should be to make sure that firearms do not end up in the wrong hands,” Torres said, adding that “the responsibility of the Department of Commerce is to promote job creation and economic growth, not assess national security threats.”

Posted: March 1, 2018

Congress Should Not Cede Oversight on Small Arms Exports

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

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Volume 9, Issue 8, October 5, 2017

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Faulty Logic Leads to Dangerous Risks

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

Posted: October 5, 2017

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

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

Updated: September 2016

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

Terms of the Convention

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Conventional Arms Issues

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: September 7, 2017

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale


July/August 2017
By Jeff Abramson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: July 10, 2017

Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

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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.

Posted: June 13, 2017

Fight Brewing on Saudi Arms Sales

Fight Brewing on Saudi Arms Sales

Yemenis wrap in shrouds the bodies of members of the same family during their funeral on October 8, 2016, a day after they were killed in a reported airstrike by Saudi-led coalition airplanes that hit their house in Bajil. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)As Donald Trump began his first international trip as president, the State Department notified Congress of its intent to sell more than $500 million in precision-guided munition components and related services to Saudi Arabia. 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 be placed off-limits. Legal analysis provided to the American Bar Association and shared with senators May 19 indicated that such a sale should not occur “until Saudi Arabia had ceased violating international law.”

Many of the same members of Congress who opposed a controversial tank deal with Riyadh in September 2016 are now leading efforts to block the sale. (See ACT, October 2016.) At least one vote is expected this month on a resolution against the sale as Congress considers exercising its ability to prohibit the administration from concluding an official agreement during the first 30 days after notification. In co-sponsoring a resolution of disapproval on May 25 with Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said, “Given Saudi Arabia’s past support of terror, poor human rights record, and questionable tactics in its war in Yemen, Congress must carefully consider and thoroughly debate if selling them billions of dollars of arms is in our best national security interest at this time.” The deal promises to be the first test of Trump’s ability to deliver on a broader $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia announced May 20. Writing in the Huffington Post on May 20, Murphy called the arms sale “a terrible idea.”—JEFF ABRAMSON

Posted: May 31, 2017

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