On Friday April 23, 2021 two senior Democratic Senators Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the intelligence committee introduced legislation that would reassert Congress' oversight of international weapons deals. This is in response to the Biden administration's decision to go ahead with a $23 billion sale to the United Arab Emirates. This legislation is targeted directly and a few things.
Firstly, lawmakers are worried about the expanding power of the executive to make these kind of arms trade deals without significant Congressional approval. The Trump administration informed Congress in November of 2020 it had approved the U.S. sale to the UAE as a side deal to the Abraham Accords. This $23.37 billion package contained products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp. Negotiated by the Trump administration, the UAE and these companies directly the package included fifty F-35, eighteen MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and both air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. Senators and Congressmen believe that this type of deal being negotiated without Congressional oversight is dangerous.
Additionally, this legislation specifically targets sales to our allies in the Middle East. The legislation would "limit the sale of the sophisticated U.S. military technology to countries that are not NATO members or Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea or New Zealand". This is specifically in response to two things, the Yemeni civil war and the UAE's relationship with China. The United States has become increasingly concerned with the continued involvement of the Arab Gulf States in the Yemeni conflict. The creation of a humanitarian crisis due to war and war crimes accusations have prompted the U.S. to think about the sale of weapons to states directly engaged in conflict. On the other hand, "we must enact protections to ensure the incredibly sensitive technology of these aircraft is not compromised by powers hostile to the United States, including making sure the UAE pulls back from its burgeoning relationship with China and other U.S. competitors," Senator Menendez implores.
Overall, its clear that sophisticated U.S. military technology and especially F-35's have taken a front seat in U.S. diplomacy. F-35's are the new powerful bargaining chip in the 2020's, but who has control over them? This legislation brings up important questions that we must address about the power of the executive, ethics of arms sales and China's ever-present threat against the United States and the innovation of military technologies that accompany the situation.