At 100 Days, Grading Biden’s Progress Toward a More Responsible US Arms Trade Policy
Just Security, April 2021
A new piece by leading arms, security, and human rights experts assesses the Biden Administration’ss progress towards a more responsible arms trade policy in its first 100 days. While noting some of the promising signs at the start of Biden’s tenure, the experts note that progress has seemingly stalled, and urge the Administration to recommit to addressing systemic issues in America’s arms trade policies.
Despite the fanfare surrounding the pause in arms sales and support in offensive operations to Saudi Arabia, the authors note that the administration has either missed easy opportunities for swift changes to U.S. arms transfers policies or taken steps that directly undercut Administration’s promises to improve arms transfers practices.
These have included decisions to proceed with controversial sales, including to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as reports that the U.S. continues to provide technical assistance to the Saudi Air force.
The Administration has also foregone opportunities to re-enter the Arms Trade Treaty, reverse the relaxing of drone export policies, and has sent mixed signals on the use of landmines and cluster munitions.
The authors urge the Administration to revisit its policies, citing the recommendations they made just before Biden took office. To read the full piece, click here.
The U.S. military and NATO have both formally begun their troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. About 650 ground forces, mostly U.S. Army Rangers, will be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming days to protect troops from potential Taliban attacks as they withdraw. U.S. contractors and government officials are also expected to leave Afghanistan by the September 11 deadline.
Three lawmakers have written a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin inquiring if “the US government or US-licensed companies have provided intelligence, advice or maintenance support for Riyadh’s military operations” since Biden halted US support for offensive operations in Yemen.
During a virtual meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari urged the U.S. to move U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) headquarters “from Stuttgart in Germany to Africa, and near the theater of operations” due to “the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel.”
The State Department has ordered a “significant number” of its remaining U.S. embassy staff in Kabul to leave Afghanistan as the military formally begins its troop withdrawal from the country. The order specified that all personnel whose jobs do not require them to be physically present in Afghanistan should depart from the country.
Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he does not believe there will be an “imminent collapse” of the Afghan government once U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, adding that he thinks “the choice that the Afghans face is between a negotiated political settlement or a long war.”
Following the head of CENTCOM General Kenneth F. McKenzie’s comment that the U.S. has no plans to withdraw troops from Iraq in the foreseeable future, Iraqi army spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said “Iraq does not need any US or foreign soldier to fight beside the Iraqi forces,” adding that “Iraq has trained forces capable of defending the country and the people.”
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey has introduced a bill that would prohibit arms sales to countries committing genocide, war crimes, or violations of international humanitarian law. The Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports Act would also apply Leahy vetting to arms sales, strengthen end-use monitoring of arms sales to guard against human rights abuses, and require the use of the Foreign Military Sales system for the export of certain highly-lethal weapons systems.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gathered in the situation room with a group of progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ro Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders, to discuss the conflict in Yemen as legislators question the Biden administration on the type of military aid it continues to provide to Saudi Arabia.
SAM Deputy Director Elias Yousif argues the international community must discuss the future of Afghanistan’s security sector, the role external actors will play in supporting it, and what negotiated peace with the Taliban means for Afghanistan’s security enterprise. “The war in Afghanistan was America’s making. Exiting responsibly, with consideration for the massive security architecture it leaves for Afghans to shoulder, should be America’s obligation,” writes Yousif.
A new report authored by the Stimson Center’s Rachel Stohl and Shannon Dick reflects on the challenges and consequences of the U.S. drone program and the use of lethal force in counterterrorism operations worldwide. “This report serves as the fourth installment of [the Stimson Center’s] analyses on the U.S. drone program and seeks to emphasize the need for a thorough review and reconfiguration of the United States’ approach to the use of lethal force in order to ensure U.S. policies and activities are responsible and accountable in the short, medium, and long term.”
Alex Ward explains his journalistic inquiry into the end of America’s “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The U.S. is still providing “defensive” support, which includes greenlighting the servicing of Saudi aircraft. “Through a US government process, the Saudi government pays commercial contractors to maintain and service their aircraft, and those contractors keep Saudi warplanes in the air. What the Saudis do with those fighter jets, however, is up to them… The US could cancel those contracts at any time, thus effectively grounding the Saudi Air Force, but doing so would risk losing Riyadh as a key regional partner.”
Jason Dempsey, PhD, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, writes
that the U.S. must learn from its mistakes. “We must, at long last, acknowledge that building a national army requiring the kind of technological and logistical support to which western militaries are accustomed was not only a massive waste of American blood and treasure, but actually counterproductive to the fight. Jettisoning our delusional vision for the Afghan military will be painful in the short run, but necessary for Afghan stability in the long run. It is well-past time to shift our thinking from how many millions of dollars we need to keep airframes operational, to making sure that those assets that are actually sustainable and useful for Afghan forces are in place as foreign forces withdraw.”
Gibbons-Neff, Najim Rahim and C. J. Chivers discuss challenges faced by the Afghan military and police officers and militia commanders. “As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, it leaves behind broken and battered Afghan security forces to defend the country from the Taliban and other threats.” Of the challenges are low morale, small wages, poor medical treatment, and an inadequate number of security forces.
Data Fact of the Week:
Annual Foreign Military Sales Since 2012
The graphic above illustrates the surge in U.S. foreign military sales in the final year of the Trump administration.
The image and data come from a recent SAM publication, the fourth installment of its arms sales trends report.
Click here to read the full report or here to for a quick issue brief laying out the repot’s findings.