Trump Invokes ‘National Emergency’ So US Can Sell Weapons To Saudi Arabia
“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … 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.”
On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over tensions with Iran, paving the way for the U.S. to sell over $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and evading the traditional Congressional review for major weapons sales.
In recent months, the U.S. Congress has banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE due to their roles in the Yemen War and concern for human rights violations in Yemen.
Trump used a loophole in the Arms Control Export Act which allows the POTUS to bypass Congress by declaring a national emergency. Senator Chris Murphy claimed there is no such emergency.
“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … 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,” Murphy told Reuters.
It is not the first time that Trump and Congress have clashed over policies in the Middle East. Several months ago, both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, but Trump vetoed the resolution.
In addition to the planned arms export, Trump said he has deployed an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East, aimed at bolstering defense to contain an alleged Iranian threat.
Lawmakers From Both Parties Oppose Trump’s Plan
Both Democrat and Republican congress members raised concern that Trump’s move pushes the U.S. closer to war with Iran and worry it sets a precedent that strips Congress’ ability to provide oversight of the President and any future arms sales.
Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters the administration’s action was “unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.
“I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process,” McCaul said in a statement.
Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that he was disappointed but not surprised by the Trump administration’s move and vowed to fight it. He said in a statement that he was in talks with fellow Democrats and Republicans on ways to preserve congressional review of arms sales.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez said in the statement.
While Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state overseeing political-military affairs, defended the President in a phone call to Reuters by claiming the government was serving the needs of allies.
“This is about deterrence and it’s not about war,” he told Reuters.
US Arms Exports Benefit War Manufacturers
In a document sent to Congress, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed several products and services that would be offered to allies under the emergency declaration. Included was the Javelin anti-tank missile produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), General Electric engines for F-16 fighter jets, and “support for” Boeing Co F-15 aircraft.
“I intend for this determination to be a one-time event. This specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress,” wrote Pompeo in the document. Pompeo also claimed the same move had been used by “at least four” previous administrations.”
Trump’s move is also likely to be good news for foreign weapons manufacturers like Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Europe’s Airbus, who work in conjunction with U.S. companies.
Long Term Consequences of ‘Emergency Declaration’
Menendez warned that the defense industry may ultimately regret Trump’s emergency declaration as arms manufacturers will lose their ability to export arms responsibly.
“With this move, the President is destroying the productive and decades-long working relationship on arms sales between the Congress and the Executive Branch. The possible consequences of this decision will ultimately threaten the ability of the U.S. defense industry to export arms in a manner that is both expeditious and responsible,” Menendez explained in a statement.
The New Jersey-based politician also told Defense News that exporting arms through the emergency provision procedure violates the Export Control Act.
“Any attempt to export under [the emergency] provision would be a violation of the Export Control Act. And so, [does industry] want to subject themselves to the liability of that? They understand that, and why have the industry break the protocol for something that’s really not of value to the industry?” Menendez said.
Defense analysts disagree as to whether ultimately the defense industry can be held responsible for doing something the government says is legal but could later be reversed.
Brittany Benowitz, a lawyer and former adviser to a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Defense News that White House clearance for arms that have been used to target civilians in Yemen may harm American companies.
“It’s possible they could face civil liability or criminal liability for proceeding with the sale of weapons that have been previously used in violations of international law, including PGMs. Whether or not they would be entitled to any immunity would depend on if they knew their weapons had been misused. The mere fact they got a license would not necessarily immunize them from liability,” Benowitz told Defense News.
Boosting Arms Sales, Withdrawing From Global Arms Trade Treaty
Trump’s emergency declaration move fits the administration’s overall agenda of increasing arms sales and withdrawing from peace treaties.
Last April, Trump “unsigned” the U.S from the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which regulates the international trade of conventional weapons, ranging from firearms to tanks and fighter jets. Over 100 countries ratified or abide by the ATT. Washington signed the pact in 2013 under Barack Obama and had been in effect since 2014, but the treaty had never been ratified by the U.S. Congress.
In a statement, the White House claimed the U.S. already has export controls that “have long been considered the gold standard for engaging in responsible arms trading.”
“The ATT is simply not needed for the United States to engage in responsible arms trade,” the White House statement read. “America will continue to abide by United States laws that ensure our arms sales are implemented after careful legal and policy reviews.”
The White House also said the ATT “will only constrain responsible countries while allowing the irresponsible arms trade to continue,” noting that major arms exporters such as Russia and China are not part of the deal.
“We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy,” Trump said in the White House statement.