The Trump administration on Thursday officially unveiled its new policy aimed at upping foreign sales of military drones, with President Donald Trump hailing the plan as one that will allow weapons deals to be finalized more quickly.
The new policy will allow defense companies to negotiate contracts directly with foreign countries, likely paving the way for a significant rise in the number of American drones sold abroad—even as the U.S. is already behind 33 percent of global arms exports. Restrictions for specialized features on drones, such as lasers which transmit information to fighter jets regarding the location of a target, will also be eliminated under the new rules.
Trump suggested to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week that the new policy will be aimed at helping allies obtain weapons quickly, telling Abe at the White House, "We will get it taken care of, and they will get their equipment rapidly."
Human rights groups have denounced Trump's efforts to expedite U.S. arms sales including drone exports, as the lifting of restrictions could make it easier for the weapons to fuel ongoing violence in the Middle East.
With more countries potentially obtaining approval to purchase killer drones, "the risk is that countries may be more willing to use military force when they can do so without risking their own people," Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, told the New York Times.
The Trump and Obama administrations have already angered rights groups by initiating and finalizing a $100 billion deal with Saudi Arabia, supplying weapons to the country as it leads a coalition that's been bombing Yemen since 2015, killing thousands of civilians.
The nonpartisan Stimson Center noted that Trump's new policy appears far more focused on financially enriching the U.S. than taking any foreign relations concerns, much less human rights, into account.
"Overall, the approach here, and it's a notable one, is the prioritization of the economy," Rachel Stohl, an arms trade specialist at the Stimson Center, told the Washington Post. "It's all about our economic interests being as important or maybe even more important than our national security and foreign policy objectives...If you read between the lines, it could be a green light for the U.S. to sell more with less restraint."