Trump to ease restrictions on arms exports to non-NATO countries

Buy American Plan

The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new “Buy American” plan that calls for U.S. military attaches and diplomats around the world to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry. The US arms export will receive a massive boost in the sale of fighter jets, drones, artillery, warships, guns to non-NATO ally and partners in a move by the Trump Administration.


The Trump administration is also planning a controversial move to ease the 1976 arms export rule and realign the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulation. Once Trump administration formally announced the plan, there will be a 60-day public comment period, after which further details are to be unveiled by the administration.

Curving the trade deficits

During 2016 presidential election campaign, President Trump promised to create more jobs in the U.S. by increasing sales of goods and services abroad and bring down the U.S. trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion. The arms are not an ordinary commodity or consumer goods but to reduce U.S. trade deficit; the U.S. is willing to ask American embassy official around the world to act as sales advocates of American arms to the country where the embassy is located. The U.S. has the industrial might to produce and export arms to countries in mass scale. During the first international trip of President Trump, he announced a notional $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. President Trump is couching arms sales regarding jobs and the economy.

American Arms Exports

The Security Assistance Monitor data shows that the Trump administration oversaw a significant surge in arms exports in 2017 by at least $12.5 billion between the months of January and November comparing previous administration. Between those months, the U.S. had sold more than $62.5 billion in foreign military sales in 2017, compared with $50 billion in 2016, according to data from Security Assistance Monitor.

Stiff competitions

The US manufacturer is facing stiff challenges in Middle-East, South-East Asia and African arms market from the Russian Federation and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC).  The U.S. defence manufacturer has faced increasing pressure from competing defence contractors around the world, especially from China and Russia.

The recent example of a long-term American ally, Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s purchased of S-400 surface to air missile systems worth billions of dollar proved that defence manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are facing challenges from Russian manufacturer like Almaz-Antley and the Chinese China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) on the surface to air missile sector.

The Russian manufacturer, United Aircraft Corporation offered their top fighter jet, Su-35 Flanker-E to long-term American ally the United Arab Emirates. China also unsuccessfully bid for Turkey’s long-range surface to air missile RFP. In the Indian mega defence market, Lockheed Martin and Boeing are also challenged by United Aircraft Corporation of Russian Federation.

The Chinese Shenyang Aircraft Corporation accelerated the development of a fifth-generation fight jet Shenyang J-31 also known as the “Gyrfalcon” by some military enthusiasts and unveiled the J-31 fighter jet to the foreign buyer for $70 million per fighter jet. The  Shenyang J-31 is in direct competition with Lockheed Martin F-35 lightening II with an estimated cost over $100 million per fighter jet.

Although Shenyang J-31 is controversially known to be reversed engineered Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II through cyber espionage, the reduced cost of Shenyang J-31 means developing countries and non-NATO ally of American will have an opportunity to buy the fifth generation fighter jet J-31 at a cheaper cost than the Lockheed Martin F-35 lightening II.

The China Factor

The Chinese arms export is based simple three principles. First, that it is conducive to the recipient country’s justifiable self-defence needs. Second, it does not damage regional and global peace, security and stability. Third, it does not interfere in other countries internal affairs. These simple principles make easier for China to export arms to any country.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports that the Chinese volume of weapons exports between 2008 and 2012 rose to 162 percent compared with the previous five-year period.

The SIPRI data shows that China establishes itself as the third largest arms exporter and replaces Great Britain in the top five arms exporting countries between 2008 and 2012.

The Controversial Move

The controversial move to oversight human rights will allow export of arms to countries with poor human rights record and suppresses fundamental democratic values. The Trump administration already approved sale of $7 billion precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia in May to assist RSAF’s campaign against the Houthis rebel in Yemen, $3 billion sale of F-16s to Bahrain in September, and $593 million sale of Super Tucanos to Nigeria in August evident that the current administration will ease all restriction posed by the previous administration.

The powerful U.S. gun lobby backed Trump in the 2016 election campaign contributing more $30 million to Trump presidential campaign. The US State Department estimates that $4 billion worth of commercial firearms, exported last year, of which $3.2 billion would shift to Commerce under the Trump’s plan. In recent years, Canada, Australia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia have been among the top destination countries for U.S. non-military firearms exports, according to U.S. Census data.

Oversight of Human Rights Record

The strict compliance with human rights standards is the long-term US arms transfer policy. The current administration will weaken existing human rights oversight and vetting may just contribute to future human rights violations but could end up further destabilising regions just as the Middle East and fueling future conflict in South East Asian regions. There is a high possibility that the countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan will be leading recipients of the non-NATO foreign military sales.

Given the criticism of Saudi behaviour in the last December, there is an opportunity to signal to Riyadh and others that they must act responsibly and ensure that future U.S. arms transfers are not used to target civilians and violate human rights.

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