Arms control experts are raising concerns about a possible loophole in the Trump administration’s new arms export policy, arguing that it gives the administration further cover to sell weapons to some of the world’s worst human rights violators.
When it was issued in April, the Trump administration’s Conventional Arms Transfer policy was widely panned by critics for prioritizing the profits of weapons companies ahead of transparency and human rights concerns. The White House was blunt about its intentions, promising that the executive branch would “advocate strongly on behalf of United States companies.”
But one change in particular may make it easier for American companies to sell weapons to governments that routinely kill civilians in conflicts by discounting killings that the governments claim are unintentional. The change could have a significant impact on sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the top two U.S. weapons clients — both of which are engaged in a destructive bombing campaign in Yemen.
The loophole hinges on the insertion of one word in a section that is otherwise identical to the Obama administration’s conventional arms policy, which was issued in 2014. While the previous policy prohibited arms transfers to countries that perpetrate “attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians,” the Trump administration policy bars such transfers to countries that commit “attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians” (emphasis added).