President Trump's proposal to allow increased firearms exports is threatening to make the world even more violent.
Arms-control, human-rights and firearms-safety groups are among those who have weighed in against the plan, according to The Hill. William D. Hartung, who heads the Center for International Policy's Arms and Security Project, wrote in an op-ed for the news site that “the new rule may be good news for the firearms industry, but it is bad news for anyone who is concerned about human rights and global security.”
Five Democratic members of the House of Representatives (Sander Levin of Michigan, Eliot Engel of New York, James McGovern of Massachusetts, Norma Torres of California and Jamie Raskin of Maryland) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. They warned that shifting oversight of weapons sales from the State Department to Commerce, as Trump has requested, would increase the chances of firearms “end(ing) up in the hands of traffickers, terrorists, and cartels.”
Hartung pointed out that a “major flaw” in the president's proposal is that the administration would no longer be required to inform Congress about weapons sales of more than $1 million. Because the transactions have been a matter of public record, the Security Assistance Monitor was able to learn that the State Department approved $662 million in firearms exports to 15 nations last year.
The customers included Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, countries with governments or illegal gangs that murder civilians.
The guns the United States peddles abroad, like assault rifles that have been the weapons of choice in many mass shootings, are the same as those the military uses. Putting them in the hands of foreign entities could endanger not only residents of those nations, but also U.S. troops deployed there.
Under the new rule that Trump is seeking, corporate military contractors would no longer need licenses to train troops in other countries; and arms manufacturers would not have to register with the State Department. That might open the door to illegal sales “to security forces or non-state groups that will ... do grievous harm to civilians,” Hartung predicted.
In addition, the president's proposal would make it easier to post online instructional information about the 3-D printing of untraceable and unregistered guns.
Companies that sell weapons abroad would not have to tell the government about their political donations to foreign officials. “This would seriously hinder U.S. law-enforcement agencies’ ability to root out corruption and illegal transfers, which have long plagued the global trade in small arms and light weapons,” Hartung wrote.
He concluded: “Implementing these rules as written would lead to additional unnecessary deaths, bolster repressive regimes, and make it easier for terrorists and criminal gangs to inflict violence on innocent individuals. For all of these reasons, the new rule should be rejected.”
Trump has defended his controversial trade tariffs as actions designed to bolster “national security.” He does not seem to be concerned about the threats to Americans, abroad and possibly at home, that could result from the expanded proliferation of lethal weapons.
During the past five years, almost 50 percent of the firearms sold by the United States have been shipped to the volatile Middle East. One of the top recipients, Saudi Arabia, has used 78 airplanes, 72 helicopters and 328 tanks obtained from the Pentagon to kill hundreds of civilians in Yemen. The most recent victims were children who died when an airstrike destroyed their school bus.
“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region, and supplied over 98 percent of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”
Even without relaxing the rules, U.S. firearms transactions have been on the rise. According to the institute, the sales increased 10 percent from 2013-17. No country exports more guns than the United States, which amped up its sales 25 percent from the previous five-year period by sending weapons to nearly 98 nations. American firearms deals make up more than one-third of the world total.
The second-largest exporter, Russia, had a 7.1 percent decline in sales from 2013-17, compared with 2008-12. The Kremlin exported 58 percent fewer weapons, in monetary terms, than the United States. Next on the list of the biggest providers of guns and related equipment were France, Germany, China and the United Kingdom.
“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, U.S. arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” the institute's Aude Fleurant noted. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”