New U.S. Arms Sales Policy Wants it All


A new U.S. conventional arms transfers policy governing direct commercial and Foreign Military Sales signed by president Barack Obama this year is supposed to allow Washington officials to make ad hoc decisions about military exports, including industrial competitiveness, an official said last week.

To be sure, the Presidential Policy Directive 27 on Conventional Arms Transfers signed by Obama in January is supposed to further entrench human rights and arms proliferation considerations as part of the exports approval process, according to an April 23 speech by Gregory Kausner, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. The latest directive is an update of a policy enshrined during the Clinton administration.

“While the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms and human rights hasn’t changed, it needed to be more prominently reflected in the policy,” he told the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington.

But U.S. national security interests remain paramount, and perhaps more than before, industrial concerns also could play a more explicit role, according to his comments. “If we hope to retain our technological edge in a time of fiscal austerity, we must continue to invest in research and development,” he said. “By contributing to economies of scale, foreign sales can help maintain U.S. investment in the defense sector. While we do not approve transfers strictly based on the health of the U.S. industrial base, we would be foolish not to consider its impact.”

In fact, officials will mull whether a recipient country could procure arms from another international source, Kausner said. “The arms industry is a competitive market. Just because another exporter is willing to sell to a potential recipient, however, does not mean we should. But the influence that comes with an arms sale should not be underestimated, and we should be careful not to cede such influence to others.”

Nevertheless, Kausner cautioned against expecting a formulaic process out of Washington, in turn describing the new policy as a “decision-making framework” to be applied on a “case-by-case” basis. “We cannot plug in complex variables and hope for a perfect policy prescription,” Kausner said. And he asserted rejections can and do occur regularly.

Said Kausner, “We often hear the question – do you ever reject an arms transfer? Although we do not advertise such decisions, we reject sales all the time.”

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