Flip the Script and the National Security Powers Act
Last week, Senators Murphy, Lee, and Sanders introduced new legislation that represents a sweeping overhaul of Congress’ role in U.S. national security affairs. Among its key provisions, the legislation would require an affirmative vote to approve certain arms transfers, upending decades of practice in which arms transfers would proceed automatically unless otherwise blocked by Congress.
Colloquially known as “flip-the-script”, the provision aims to address the historical power imbalance between the legislative and executive branches in guiding arms transfer decisions. Under current statute, the Executive branch, which manages the foreign military sales process and licenses commercial sales, must generally provide a 30-day notification to Congress before a sale can proceed.
Blocking the sale requires the bicameral passage of a joint resolution of disapproval within the 30-day window, a tall order to begin with. That resolution can then be vetoed by the President, who, presumably, supports his or her own proposed arms sale. Congress must then muster a two-thirds majority in both houses to override the president, something that has occurred in less than 10 percent of all presidential vetoes and has never successfully been done with respect to arms sales.
The new legislation requires Congress to affirmatively authorize foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of the “most destructive and potentially destabilizing weapons that reach a certain monetary threshold.” The proposed parameters include:
Air to ground munitions of $14,000,000 or more
Tanks, armored vehicles, and related munitions of $14,000,000 or more
Firearms and ammunition of $1,000,000 or more
Fixed and rotary, manned, and unmanned aircraft of $14,000,000 or more
Services and training above a certain value of $14,000,000 or more
Allows sales to be packaged together to minimize individual votes, but allows controversial items to be removed from a proposed package.
The bill also seeks to reclaim Congressional authority in a wide array of national security matters, including in the authorization for the use of military force and the invocation of emergency authorities. To read Senator Murphy’s press release click here, for the full text of the Bill, click here, and for the Senator’s recent opinion piece on the new legislation, click here.
The Pentagon has announced that the US executed two airstrikes against Taliban positions in Afghanistan this week. The strikes specifically targeted “captured equipment,” including “US equipment transferred to the ANDSF that the Taliban then captured.” The US has executed at least six such strikes over the past month, mainly using drones.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has confirmed that 7 of the Colombians arrested in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had previously received US training. Kirby insisted that the delivery of such training to foreign individuals is “very common,” and that DoD has no plans to “reconsider or to change this very valuable, ethical leadership training” in light of the assassination.
Citing “a US official and two people familiar with the issue,” Politico reports that the US and Iraq will issue a joint statement on Monday that the U.S. will end its combat operations and shift to a “purely advisory role” in Iraq by the end of the year. Politico reports that, while the number of troops deployed to Iraq (currently 2,500) is unlikely to change, “the remaining combat forces will likely redeploy, replaced with personnel focused on the advisory mission, between now and the end of the year.”
Alexander Mikheev, CEO of Russia’s state intermediary for defense imports and exports, confirmed that Moscow is working with the ruling junta in Myanmar to provide security assistance and arms sales, including aircraft.
The United States, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania kicked off the “Three Swords 2021” joint military exercises on Monday. The training exercise, which will include 1,200+ military personnel and 200 combat vehicles, will last until July 30 and will, for the first time, take place partially in Ukraine.
The Biden administration’s FY2022 budget requests the same $1.3 billion sum for aid to Egypt without any conditions despite Egypt’s “worrying human rights situation.” Egypt has been the second-highest recipient of U.S. military aid at $1.3 billion annually for years, with Egyptian security forces purchasing U.S. weapons, equipment, and training.
A newly introduced bill, the National Security Powers Act of 2021, attempts to reassert Congressional war powers and augment the 1973 War Powers Resolution by “drastically reshap[ing] Congress’s role” in authorizing war, national emergencies, and arms sales. The bill’s sponsors, Senators Chris Murphy, Mike Lee, and Bernie Sanders, argue that the executive branch has acquired too much power in foreign policy decision making, validating concerns that the legislative branch should have a greater say over the country’s military activities.
“Instead of saber-rattling, the Biden-Harris administration and leaders across the political spectrum should be putting the pressure on Beijing to come to the table,” writes Louie Reckford. Cross-dialogue arms control talks between the two countries are especially important now given China’s buildup of silos that could house nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“What good have those disastrous, failed, still largely ongoing conflicts done for this country? Or for you? Or for me?” asks Andrea Mazzarino, referencing America’s so-called endless wars in the Middle East. When it comes to the two AUMF’s — largely controversial pieces of legislation — they provide “the thinnest of legal foundations” for U.S. military engagement in the region, she argues.
Charles Dunne writes that the United States should condition its security assistance to Egypt on improvements on human rights and that ending authoritarian oppression should not always play second fiddle to U.S. military objectives.
In a recent opinion piece, Paul D. Shinkman writes that a U.S. re-entry into Afghanistan would not be feasible like it was in Iraq given domestic realities and Sino-Russian efforts to keep the United States out.
“The Biden administration should live up to its human rights commitments” after recently selling arms to three human rights abusers — the Philippines, Egypt, and Israel — writes Elisa Epstein. “If it can’t or won’t, Congress should exercise greater oversight & oppose sales to abusive regimes.”