The United States is the leader in global arms exports, responsible for 39% of deliveries from 2017-2021. This raises many questions about who exactly is receiving US weapons and how they are being used. The US certainly does not have a squeaky clean record when it comes to arms deals and has sold weapons to various violent regimes. Enormous arms sales were regularly at the center of attention during the Trump administration due to questionable recipients, but not much has seemed to change with the Biden administration.
During his presidency, Trump was very aggressive about promoting arms sales, emphasizing their impacts on US jobs, and consistently advocating to expand global US exports. This includes exports to countries like Saudi Arabia that have extensive records of human rights abuses. Under Trump’s leadership, US arms exports increased 23% between 2015-2019 compared to exports during the Obama Administration in 2010-2014. On several occasions, Trump vetoed attempts to block the sale of weapons to the Middle East, including billions of dollars in drones and F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In 2018, the Trump administration developed a revised Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy. The revisions highlighted the economic justifications regarding arms sales and pushed aside important human rights considerations. Additionally, in 2019, Trump “un-signed” the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT has over 100 signatories and is intended to regulate arms transfers to prevent human rights violations.
Unfortunately, it seems the Biden administration has failed to live up to its pre-election claims to avoid reckless sales and consider human rights when determining US weapons importers. The administration continues to supply Saudi Arabia with maintenance and spare parts integral in exacerbating the war in Yemen. Additionally, in March 2022, the administration proposed a sale of F-15 combat aircraft to Egypt. Earlier in his presidency, Biden also announced several controversial arms sales with Israel and the Philippines.
Despite several claims to place human rights at the center of its foreign policy, the Biden administration has continued to make arms sales with several repressive regimes. The administration still has not updated its arms transfer policy and has yet to rejoin the ATT, forcing many to question if human rights will ever be the main concern of future arms sales.