Report: “U.S. Arms Sales Trends: 2020 And Beyond From Trump To Biden”

Weekly Monitor: Report: “U.S. Arms Sales Trends: 2020 And Beyond From Trump To Biden”



April 12, 2021

Report: “U.S. Arms Sales Trends: 2020 And Beyond From Trump To Biden.”

Security Assistance Monitor, April 2021

This past week, the Security Assistance Monitor published its fourth annual report on trends in U.S. arms sales looking at developments in American arms exports in 2020, along with an accompanying Issue Brief.
The report – U.S. Arms Sales Trends: 2020 and Beyond, from Trump to Biden – examines 2020’s surge in Foreign Military Sales (FMS) as well as early arms-sales pronouncements made by the Biden administration. It finds that U.S. foreign military sales (FMS) rose to $110.9 billion in calendar year 2020, a significant spike in arms offers. FMS sales averaged $63 billion per year in the first three years of the Trump administration, versus $61.5 billion per year under Obama, measured in 2019 dollars. The comparable inflation-adjusted figure for 2020 is $109.4 billion, nearly 75% more than the average figures for the Obama administration and the first three years of the Trump administration. 

The report also finds significant changes in the distribution and values of regional U.S. arms offers from 2019 to 2020.  The Middle East and North Africa jumped 55.6% in dollar value from $25.5 billion in 2019 to $39.7 billion in 2020, thereby superseding East Asia and The Pacific as the top recipient of arms offers. The dollar value of the U.S. FMS offers to nations in East Asia and the Pacific increased by 41%, from $27.2 billion in 2019 to $38.4 billion in 2020. U.S. FMS offers to Europe and Eurasia more than double in 2020, increasing to  $27.9 billion from $11.9 billion in the year prior.  

There were also changes in the top recipients of U.S. arms sales offers. The top five recipients of U.S. arms sales offers in 2020 by dollar value were the United Arab Emirates ($24.1 billion), Japan ($23.2 billion), Finland ($12.5 billion), Switzerland ($8.8 billion), and Taiwan ($5.9 billion). 

The report also raises concerns about decreasing transparency in reporting on U.S. arms sales over the past several years.  Among the areas where transparency has declined are in reporting on the value and content of Direct Commercial Sales (DCS); the value of deliveries under the Foreign Military Sales program; and reporting to Congress of firearms offers of $1 million or more. Moreover, the Biden administration has yet to reverse the transfer of jurisdiction of many U.S. firearms exports from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce. The change raised concerns around increasing the risk that U.S.-supplied firearms could end up in the hands of human rights abusers.

Additionally, contrary to claims made by the Trump administration, this report notes that arms sales are a poor creator of U.S. jobs. Overall, arms transfers account for less than one-tenth of one percent of U.S. employment.  

The full report can be found here.  For a condensed read, see the accompanying Issue Brief.

Center for International Policy Capital Campaign

To accompany the release of our latest report, U.S. Arms Sales Trends, 2020 and Beyond: From Trump to Biden, CIP is launching a new time-sensitive campaign, Toward a More Responsible U.S. Arms Sales Policy

As the Biden administration formulates and articulates new foreign policy decisions, we find ourselves at a critical moment, and we need your help more than ever. With your support, we can sustain and expand our efforts to ensure the Biden administration takes into account human rights, international humanitarian law, and long-term strategic and foreign policy interests in deciding which nations to supply with U.S. arms. This campaign is motivated by our desire to see a more responsible U.S. arms sales policy.  

Please consider supporting our efforts by making a one-time donation to this campaign. 



Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts


Advocates await Biden’s course change on arms sales

Defense News, April 7

As activists await action from the Biden administration on US arms sales policy, Bill Hartung of CIP says “the Trump administration’s arms sales policy prioritized narrow economic concerns over human rights and long-term U.S. strategic interests” while “the Biden administration has launched a review of U.S. arms exports to determine which offers align with U.S. foreign policy interests ― a promising sign that a more balanced approach may be in the offing.” In reference to Biden’s reluctance to reinstate Obama-era restrictions on the use of certain antipersonnel landmines, SAM’s Elias Yousif says the deliberation “undermines the spirit of the commitment that was made during the [Biden] campaign about elevating human rights and considerations about aligning U.S. arms transfers with American values, and doing so quickly.”

Pentagon may send warships to Black Sea in support of Ukraine

The Hill, April 8

The Department of Defense is considering sending Navy warships into the Black Sea as a show of support for Ukraine as Russia continues to amass troops and equipment along their border with Ukraine. The Pentagon will also continue to fly reconnaissance missions in international airspace over the Black Sea to monitor Russian troops movements in Crimea. 

U.S. and Iraq conclude talks on troop presence

Washington Post, April 7

After concluding the latest round of strategic talks between Washington and Baghdad, the US and Iraq issued a joint statement saying the mission of US and coalition forces in Iraq has now transitioned to training and advising Iraqi troops for the fight against ISIS. The statement added that current conditions allow for the redeployment of US combat troops out of Iraq on a timeline to be discussed at additional technical talks. 

CNN, April 8

The Taliban targeted a classified US military installation in eastern Afghanistan twice last month, wounding seven civilians, and launched rockets that landed near a NATO air base this week. These attacks significantly add to concerns about the potential increased violence if the US does not withdraw troops by the May 1 deadline.

The Hill, April 6

Over two dozen House Democrats, led by Rep. Hank Johnson, are urging President Biden to pass an executive order to ban the transfer of military-grade weapons to local police departments. The letter asks Biden to issue an executive order similar to a bill previously introduced by Rep. Johnson that would place restrictions on the 1033 program, which allows the Department of Defense to provide excess military equipment to local police departments.

Foreign Policy, April 7

Senior Philippine officials have told US diplomats that the government in Manila does not want to renegotiate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows for the presence of US troops in the country, despite President Duterte’s threats to end the deal. A former defense official has said the most likely outcome of talks is another extension of the VFA.

Middle East Eye, April 2

A report from the Wall Street Journal shows that the US has started to “reconfigure its military capabilities in the Gulf” by removing at least three missile defense systems from the region. US officials confirmed that at least one Patriot anti-missile battery was removed from Saudi Arabia.

Al Jazeera, April 3

Advocates outside the US see Biden’s review of arms exports to Saudi Arabia as an opportunity for their governments to take similar action. One Oxfam policy advisor says, “When the Biden review finishes, if there’s a clear definition of offensive weapons, then that could easily affect UK exports, whether the UK wants it to or not.”

Middle East Eye, April 5

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that “all foreign fighters and troops must leave” Libya in order to rebuild a sovereign, stable, and prosperous country. He added that the European Union supports national reconciliation efforts and the newly-formed unity government. 


Research, Analysis, and Opinion  


Biden Mum on Yemen Action as War Rages

Antiwar, April 5

Assistant Editor at Dave DeCamp outlines the Biden administration’s reluctance to disclose what type of military aid it continues to provide Saudi Arabia despite February’s pledge to end offensive assistance to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. DeCamp also points to the ongoing blockade that has worsened humanitarian conditions in Yemen and the Saudi ceasefire proposal, saying “until President Biden pressures Riyadh into making real concessions, the fighting in Yemen and the embargo will continue, and civilians will continue to starve to death.”


Biden should use his executive power to recall billions in military hardware from police

Security Policy Reform Institute, April 6 

A new publication from the Security Policy Reform Institute details the Pentagon’s 1033 program and the $1.7 billion worth of military equipment transferred from the Defense Department to local police departments under the program. The report calls on Congress to pressure President Biden to issue an executive order recalling this equipment immediately. “At least 336,863 military-grade items have been transferred to American police agencies through the 1033 program since it began in fiscal year 1997… President Biden could order the Department of Defense to recall this material by executive order at any time, but has so far elected not to.” 

Mexican Police Who Massacred Guatemalan Migrants Get Their Guns from the U.S.

NACLA, April 1

A piece by John Lindsay-Poland illustrates how guns exported from the U.S. to Mexico end up in the hands of state security forces who commit human rights atrocities. He argues that existing mechanisms for monitoring and controlling the trade are ineffective.

Tracking U.S. Engagement in Undeclared Warfare

Cipher Brief, March 30

“U.S. military forces are fighting enemies around the world via cyber and with traditional weaponry, but most details are secret and it’s all being done below the level of declared armed warfare,” says national security journalist Walter Pincus. “The so-called 127 Echo program has funded classified programs that provide foreign forces, along with irregular forces, groups, or individuals who help overseas military counterterrorism operations by U.S. Special Operations Forces. The program began with a $10 million fund in the years after 9/11, but grew to about $100 million per fiscal year more than a decade later.”


Data Fact of the Week:

Share of the Global Arms Trade

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 the latest 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. 

Upcoming Events (All Online)

4/13: A Conversation on the UK Integrated Review: Strategic Challenges and Opportunities for Defense and Diplomacy, hosted by CSIS
4/14: The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons and Shortcomings of International Law, hosted by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic  
4/14: Difficult choices: Taiwan’s quest for security and the good life, hosted by Brookings
4/14: Old Bullies, New Toys: Confronting Iran and North Korea, hosted by the Heritage Foundation
4/15: Press Briefing: Prime Minister Suga’s Visit to Washington, hosted by CSIS
4/15: Promoting Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy, hosted by Georgetown University
4/16: Book Launch: “Institution-Building in Weak States”– Implications for Afghanistan, hosted by the Stimson Center
4/16: Great Power Challenges to the Transatlantic Alliance: Reinventing Leadership for a Stable Future, hosted by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
4/16: U.S.-Taiwan Partnership in the Pacific Islands, hosted by the Heritage Foundation
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