Toward A More Responsible US Arms Trade Policy: Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration

Recommendations for Reforming U.S. Arms Transfer Policies, UAE Signs Deal for F-35s, Ending U.S. Support for Yemen War and more



January 25, 2021

Toward A More Responsible US Arms Trade Policy: Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration

Just Security, January 2021

With a new Administration taking office, a group of leading foreign policy, defense, and security experts have laid out key recommendations for reshaping America’s arms trade policy with an eye towards greater responsibility, oversight, and accountability. 

Since 2017, the Trump Administration has made arms sales a cornerstone of its global engagement, including exports to controversial customers in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia while sidestepping opposition and concerns from lawmakers and the public. But while sales to countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Philippines, and others have generated serious concerns from peace and human rights defenders, the backlash has also sparked renewed interest in reform. 

The experts, from groups including POMED, the Stimson Center, the Arms Control Association, the Center for Civilians in Conflict, the American Bar Association, Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Center for International Policy, note the damage the Trump Administration’s arms transfer policies have had on international peace, human rights, and civilian protection, and suggest a series of urgently needed reforms for Biden-Harris administration to pursue. They include: 
  • Immediately pause and review all notified arms transfers ahead of delivery. 
  • Recommit to the Arms Trade Treaty. 
  • Develop and release a new Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. 
  • Apply the Leahy laws to arms sales and include human rights in terms of sale. 
  • Require a risk assessment of all planned transfers. 
  • Strengthen end-use monitoring to include human rights, corruption, and civilian harm. 
  • Restore State Department authority and human rights safeguards over firearms licensing. 
  • Revise drone export policies. 
  • Ban the use, production, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions. 
  • Work with Congress to reform the Arms Export Control Act. 

Though many of these recommendations will require long-term engagement from the White House, early tests of the Biden Administration’s commitment to promised reforms are already before the President, including recently proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

For the full article, including details on all recommendations, click here

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

America Is Complicit in Yemen Atrocities. Biden Says That Ends Now.

New York Magazine, January 20

During his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Secretary of State-designate Anthony Blinken said President Joe Biden’s administration would end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen, including an end to logistical support and arms sales. 

UAE signs deal with U.S. to buy 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 drones: sources

Reuters, January 20

The UAE signed a last-minute arms deal with the outgoing Trump administration to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones. President Biden has indicated that he will review the arms deal that was reportedly signed “about an hour” before he took office.

Biden administration to seek five-year extension on key nuclear arms treaty in first foray with Russia

Washington Post, January 21

Days before the New START pact with Russia is set to expire, President Biden will pursue its extension for five additional years. The agreement is “the only remaining treaty” limiting the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US. 

Approval of Australian military exports to Saudi Arabia and UAE condemned by human rights groups

The Guardian, January 18

Australia has approved military exports to Saudi Arabia & the United Arab Emirates, despite their involvement in the Yemen humanitarian crisis. The move has prompted calls for transparency as well as condemnation from human rights groups. 

French ex-PM Balladur goes on trial over ‘Karachi affair’ kickback allegations

France 24, January 20

Former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur will be tried for allegedly using kickbacks generated from arms sales to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to fund his failed presidential campaign in the 1990s.

Rouhani calls on Biden administration to return to Iran nuclear deal: ‘The ball is in the US court now’

The Hill, January 20

President Hassan Rouhani urged the Biden administration to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal as he signaled Iran’s willingness to comply with the agreement’s components. President Biden has “expressed an openness” to return to the deal if Iran follows its restrictions. 

Research, Analysis, and Opinion

How to revive the Iran nuclear deal

The Hill, January 21

Chuck Hagel and Catherine Ashton outline the internal disagreements in both Iran and the US about how to resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal and how these debates can be resolved.

Weapons for peace?  What to expect in 2021 from the EU’s new ‘peace facility’

January 11, Forum On The Arms Trade 

The Council of the European Union agreed on the setup of the European Peace Facility (EPF), designed to finance “external action having military or defence implications”. The Council describes the EPF as “a fundamental investment in peace and stability that will allow the EU and its partners to effectively and flexibly address international crises”. However, Roy Isbister and Frank Slijper argue that the EPF has fundamental conceptual failings and operational shortcomings. Moreover, providing weapons and ammunition to security forces in fragile states may be more likely to exacerbate than solve local and regional conflicts. 

Plan Colombia: How It Worked

January 22, The Borgen Project

A comprehensive overview of one of the most consequential U.S. foreign policy initiatives with Latin America, this piece looks to extract some lessons learned from Plan Colombia, an effort that included hundreds of millions in U.S. security assistance to Bogota. 


Data Fact of the Week:

Regional Breakdown of Foreign Military Sales in 2020

The graphic above illustrates the regional breakdown of U.S. foreign military sales in 2020. 

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