This is the ninth and final blog post in a series looking at an array of issues in 2018 related to weapons use, the arms trade and security assistance, at times offering recommendations.
The NSS references conventional arms transfer-related issues in three specific instances: twice in discussion about renewed capabilities and once in discussion about approaches to regional security in Africa. The inclusion of conventional arms in the NSS, however, reflects larger themes of investing in U.S. industry, facilitating exports, and reducing restraints.
Indeed, references to conventional weapons in the NSS reflect the administration’s emphasis on augmenting U.S. military capabilities and bolstering the defense industry. In one instance, for example, the NSS highlights military modernization as a means to reinforce the United States comparative advantage in the global market for security and influence.
MODERNIZATION: Ensuring that the U.S. military can defeat our adversaries requires weapon systems that clearly overmatch theirs in lethality. Where possible, we must improve existing systems to maximize returns on prior investments. In other areas, we should seek new capabilities that create clear advantages for our military while posing costly dilemmas for our adversaries. We must eliminate bureaucratic impediments to innovation and embrace less expensive and time-intensive commercial off-the-shelf solutions. Departments and agencies must work with industry to experiment, prototype, and rapidly field new capabilities that can be easily upgraded as new technologies come online.
ENCOURAGE HOMELAND INVESTMENT: The United States will promote policies and incentives that return key national security industries to American shores. Where possible, the U.S. Government will work with industry partners to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in key technologies and manufacturing capabilities. In addition, we will reform regulations and processes to facilitate the export of U.S. military equipment.
MILITARY AND SECURITY: We will continue to work with partners to improve the ability of their security services to counter terrorism, human trafficking, and the illegal trade in arms and natural resources. We will work with partners to defeat terrorist organizations and others who threaten U.S. citizens and the homeland
Before the NSS’s release, the Trump administration had already demonstrated a willingness to ease restrictions on certain international arms sales. In June, for example, the Trump administration approved the transfer of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia despite concerns about civilian casualties. The weapons deliveries were originally blocked in December 2016 due to mounting concerns about the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, and the heavy toll that airstrikes placed (and continue to place) on civilians. In August, Trump reversed course on an earlier decision to halt the sale of attack aircraft to Nigeria due to known human rights abuses. And in September, the administration approved a multi-billion-dollar arms sale to Bahrain that had previously been conditioned on improvements in the country’s human rights record – improvements that arguably have not been met.
In the end, the Trump administration’s approach to conventional arms transfers may result in more weapons sales to a wider array of actors. While such an approach may support industry’s bottom line, it could also present a number of challenges to longer-term security and foreign policy considerations.
Shannon Dick is a research associate in the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center and a Forum-listed emerging expert