The value of FMS notifications this calendar year totals nearly $6.7 billion (note: $418 million of which was officially notified the day before Donald Trump took office). While many of these potential arms sales were already in the works, the pace of notifications suggest that the weapons trade will be a significant part of the president’s approach to foreign policy. Tellingly, nearly half ($3.1 billion) of the potential sales are to countries in the Middle East (Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) for pilot training, missiles, helicopters, naval guns, equipment for artillery and infantry troops, and other weapons and services. Other countries included so far in 2017 FMS notification are Australia, Canada, Greece, Kenya, NATO, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
At the hundred-day marker of Obama’s first term, FMS notifications only included Australia ($560 million) and Mexico ($93 million and $60 million) for helicopters and patrol boats. By the time his presidency ended, Obama had proposed approximately $430 billion in FMS, including a record-setting $103 billion in 2010 alone -- the vast majority of that going to Saudi Arabia.
Given the United States’ dominance of the global arms trade market and the Obama administration’s high level of sales, it might have been difficult to expect a Trump presidency to further expand U.S. arms transfers. But that now appears likely as this administration moves controversial deals to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that Obama had put on hold. While not yet publicly notified, they are making their way through Congress. Deals to those countries, especially without preconditions, would appear to only reward suppression of human rights (Bahrain) and reckless engagement in fighting that fails to protect civilians (Saudi Arabia). Unless Congress chooses to exercise its authority over arms agreements and deliveries, there appears to be no restraint in sight.
Jeff Abramson is a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association and coordinates the Forum on the Arms Trade.