Great Responsibility: A Legislative Reform Agenda for U.S. Arms Transfers and Civilian Harm

A Legislative Reform Agenda for US Arms Transfers, Congress Wants to Know More About UAE-F-35 Deal, Taiwan to Receive New Arms & more



October 19, 2020

Great Responsibility: A Legislative Reform Agenda for U.S. Arms Transfers and Civilian Harm 

Center for Civilians in Conflict, October 2020

A new policy brief from the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) lays out a comprehensive set of recommendations for arms transfers reform aimed at reversing the steady decline in Congressional authority over American arms exports. 

When it comes to arms sales, the balance of power between the White House and Congress has come to list strongly towards the executive branch, which has allowed both democratic and republican administrations to prioritize the perceived short-term strategic and economic benefits of arms transfers to the detriment of more enduring national interests, foreign policy objectives, and fundamental U.S. values. 

As a result, U.S. arms have directly contributed to civilian harm and human rights abuses in a variety of volatile theatres, including attacks against civilians in Yemen; human rights abuses in Cameroon and Nigeria; and the spread of weapons to groups like the Islamic State and criminal gangs in Central America.

The policy brief lays out recommendations for reform in three key areas: 
  1. Clarifying additional requirements and responsibilities for the executive branch when negotiating and engaging in arms transfers, in order to mitigate against human rights violations and corruption risks;
  2. Strengthening Congressional oversight and responsibility for approving or disapproving arms transfers; and
  3. Increasing public transparency and awareness of both proposed and completed arms transfers.
To read the full brief, click here, or, to download a summary one-pager, click here

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

Pompeo: US committed to Saudi Arabia to deter Iran

The Hill, October 14

Secretary Pompeo stated that the U.S. is committed to a “robust” arms sales relationship with Saudi Arabia in order to counter Iranian regional influence while speaking with the Saudi Foreign Minister today. Pompeo praised the Kingdom as a “stabilizing force” in the region.

Will Trump sell F-35s to the UAE? Congress wants him to show his work.

Defense News, October 10

As a U.S. F-35 jet sale to the UAE moves at “breakneck speed,” some U.S. lawmakers accuse Trump of rushing the deal for political purposes & of ignoring U.S. security interests.

White House moves forward on three arms sales to Taiwan: sources

Reuters, October 12

The Trump administration plans to sell 3 more advanced weapons systems to Taiwan after reports to export 7 major weapons systems to Taiwan. Sources say that an informal notification was given to Congress in recent days. 

Putin proposes yearlong extension of nuclear pact with US

AP News, October 16

Following conflicting negotiations between Moscow and Washington on the START treaty expiring in February, Putin suggests to extend the existing treaty for another year. Previously, Moscow advocated for a 5 year extension.

Missile fired where Turkey cleared way for S-400 test

Reuters, October 16

A missile has been fired from the area where Turkey was expected to base the Russian S-400 missile system. If the missile launched was the S-400, tensions between Turkey and the US are expected to flare up given strong US condemnation of Russian weapon sales to NATO members.


Research, Analysis, and Opinion

The US Is Still the World’s Biggest Arms Dealer

The Nation, October 14

In his latest piece on U.S. arms sales, CIP’s William Hartung argues that regardless of the election outcome in November, the U.S. will still control half of the world’s weapons market as the largest arms supplier and continue to heavily supply the Middle East.

Biden’s tolerance of the UAE undermines his criticism of Saudi Arabia

TNT World, October 16 

Jonathan Fenton-Harvey highlights the contradiction of Biden’s tough rhetoric against Saudi Arabia’s policies of domestic repression and IHL violations, but his lack of the same treatment to the UAE for its similar policies.  

From the U.S. Government

Department of Defense

Data Fact of the Week:

Breakdown of 2019 Firearm Notification Recipients that Would Have Not Received Congressional Notification Under New Guidelines

The graphic above illustrates the breakdown of notification recipients in 2019 that would have avoided congressional notification under new firearm export regulations. 

Under new regulations, firearms and accessories that would have previously been handled by the State Department will now be under the purview of the Department of Commerce, meaning arms sales that would have previously been notified to congress will no longer receive any such congressional scrutiny. 

A new policy brief by CIVIC examines the erosion of congressional authority over U.S. arms transfers and the civilian protection risks associated with such trends. 

To see read SAM’s full Issue Brief on the subject, click here

Upcoming Congressional Hearings



No Relevant Hearings this Week

Upcoming Events (All Online)

10/19: The Future of US National Security, Atlantic Council
10/19: International Security in Cyberspace – New Models for Reducing Risks, hosted by CSIS
10/19: New START and the Future of US-Russia Arms Control, hosted by Wilson Center
10/19: Global China: Assessing Beijing’s Growing Influence in the International System, hosted by Brookings
10/20: Iran and North Korea: Proliferation and Regional Challenges for the Next Administration, hosted by Brookings
10/20: Improving Counterterrorism and Law Enforcement Cooperation Between the United States and the Arab Gulf, hosted by Atlantic Council
10/20: Women Transforming Peace, hosted by USIP
10/22: Arms Control and Strategic Stability: Chinese Perspectives, hosted by Brookings 
10/23: Tackling the Pandemic in Situations of Fragility, Conflict and Violence, hosted by CSIS
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