Trump’s Arms Deals Not Limited to Ukraine

September 27th, 2019 - by Marchus Weisgerber / Defense One

Trump Has Approved Arms to Lots of Problematic Regimes Besides Ukraine. Here’s The List

Marchus Weisgerber / Defense One

 (September 25, 2019)  —  “Corruption” was the first reason President Trump gave for delaying nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. But his administration has approved defense exports with nearly $3 billion to governments considered more corrupt than Kyiv’s.

That’s according to data published by the State Department, the US agency responsible for approving proposed export sales; and by Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit that annually ranks the world’s countries by public sector corruption.

On Monday, amid news reports that the US president had held up the funds to pressure his Ukranian counterpart into investigating the family of a potential 2020 rival, Trump told reporters that concerns about corruption led him to withhold congressionally approved funds for sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and communications equipment. 

“[W]e’re giving a lot of money away to Ukraine and other places,” he said in New York. “You want to see a country that’s going to be not corrupt.” (On Tuesday, he offered a different, nearly opposite explanation: that he withheld the money because he wanted more European nations to send money to Ukraine. The New York Times soon noted that European Union members had sent Ukraine a total of $16.4 billion since 2014, dwarfing the US total of under $2 billion between 2013 and 2017.)

Ukraine ranks as the world’s 60th-most corrupt nation, according to Transparency International’s 2018 ranking. Countries considered more corrupt include Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya and Iraq  —  all of which have received the Trump administration’s approval to import US-made weapons, including attack planes, armed helicopters and missiles. 

Deals to these countries include:

•  Mexico: MH-60R submarine-hunting helicopters, $1.2 billion.

•  Mexico: Harpoon missile and Mk-54 torpedo, $98.4 million.

•  Mexico: Evolved Seasparrow tactical missiles, $41 million.

•  Iraq: warplane logistics, $1 billion.

•  Iraq: machine guns, rifles and armored vehicles and other infantry equipment, $295.6 million.

•  Iraq: warship repairs, $150 million.

•  Iraq: armed Bell 407 helicopters, $82.5 million.

•  Nigeria: armed A-29 Super Tucano attack planes, $593 million.

•  Kenya: attack planes, $418 million.

•  Kenya: attack helicopters, $253 million.

The deals do not include smaller weapons deals and billions of dollars in US aid given to countries considered more corrupt than Ukraine.

Historically, there have always been concerns about the security of weapons flowing from Eastern Europe, especially following the Cold War, said Rachel Stohl, who directs the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. But she also noted that the United States has sold arms worth many billions of dollars to Middle Eastern nations with track records of human-rights abuses.

“There are many worse cases than Ukraine,” Stohl said. “I’m not opposed to holding up arms sales because we’re concerned about corruption, because we’re concerned about end use, [or because] we’re concerned about the potential for diversion. Those are all legitimate reasons to be cautious and figure out how you’re going to mitigate those risks before you transfer arms. I welcome that, in fact. What I don’t really welcome is a quid pro quo relationship: ‘You do this for me, I give you weapons’.”

Earlier this year, the Trump administration bypassed Congress to green-light arms sales to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Lawmakers opposed the deals amid reports of widespread civilian deaths from the US-assisted Saudi and UAE bombing campaign in Yemen against Iran-backed insurgents, and the Saudi regime’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Under this presidency we have had a much more open and wide ranging discussion on arms sales than we have in the past,” Stohl said. “I think primarily because some of these cases are so egregious.”

Trump Bypasses Congress to Sell Arms to Saudis, UAE

Marcus Weisgerber / Defense One

(May 24, 2019)  —  Trump administration officials told lawmakers they would bypass Congressional approval and invoke a rarely used provision in the Arms Export Control Act to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat said Friday.

The move would green-light 22 arms deals currently blocked by Congress. The weapons under scrutiny include helicopters and other aircraft, precision-guided munitions, and intelligence equipment , a US official said Friday afternoon. Those include RQ-21 Blackjack surveillance drones and Javelin anti-tank missiles, CNN reported.

Training for Saudi and UAE military personnel is also part of the 22 deals, the US official said. Collectively, the sales and training are worth about $8 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The administration told lawmakers that threats from Iran prompted it to use emergency measures to advance the stalled arms sales, said Sen, Robert Menendez, D-N.J., ranking member of committee.

Lawmakers have opposed the deals amid reports of widespread civilian deaths from the US-assisted Saudi and UAE bombing campaign in Yemen against Iran-backed insurgents, and the Saudi regime’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I have kept the Trump administration from selling tens of thousands of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates until they could prove that US assistance and arms sales were improving Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s respect for human rights in Yemen and were in line with US national security interests and values,” Menendez said.

The State Department, which approves the executive branch’s foreign military sales, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Since Trump took office, his administration has approved more than $20 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and nearly $5 billion to UAE. The State-approved sales include munitions, missile interceptors, surveillance aerostats, maintenance, spare parts and training.

This is not the first time the executive branch has sidestepped Congress’ attempt to block a foreign arms sale. The Carter administration used the provision in 1979 to sell arms to Yemen and the Reagan administration in 1984 sold Stinger missiles to Saudi Arabia, said Rachel Stohl, head of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. It’s difficult for lawmakers to block foreign arms sales, but often they can slow them, much like they’ve done with recent sales to Saudi and UAE.

“[Congress] might have the votes for a resolution of disapproval for the Saudi sale, [but] they probably would not for a UAE sale,” Stohl said.

Politically, the Trump administration going around lawmakers “is bigger than the arms sales,” she said, and represents the policy power struggle between the White House and Congress over two key Middle East allies.

“There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Friday. “This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”

Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.