Pentagon's contract with Rosoboronexport should stop

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The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is headed to the floor of the House this week, and members should use the opportunity to pass legislation that will prohibit all new contracts and Department of Defense funding to companies enabling the Syrian government while it continues to carry out attacks on civilians. Specifically, Congress should act to end a $1 billion U.S. Army contract with Rosoboronexport, a Russian state arms company and the primary source of weapons for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The U.S. Government shouldn’t engage in business with any company enabling atrocities against the Syrian people. Yet, the Department of Defense is doing exactly that while fully acknowledging Rosoboronexport’s ties to the atrocities in Syria. The Pentagon has stated its intention to move forward with purchases of Mi-17 spare parts – worth several hundred million dollars – from Rosoboronexport, despite the availability of these parts on the commercial market. This is the same company that had been under sanction even before the current crisis in Syria erupted. Why those sanctions wouldn’t be re-instated is mind boggling. This week will be a critical opportunity for the House to address this and take action on Syria by stopping its enablers.

The Senate will get its chance to act later this month when the Senate Armed Services Committee introduces the NDAA for mark up. In March, a bipartisan group of 17 Senators, led by Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.), sent a letter in March to Secretary Panetta questioning why the United States continues to do business with a company that arms the Assad regime. DOD response leaves a lot to be desired, and the Senate will likely continue discussion of this issue.
The headlines out of Syria demand action from the United States. It’s time for Congress to make clear that the United States is not in the business of buying arms from those who enable atrocities.
 
Chen is a Pennoyer Fellow and senior associate with Human Rights First's Crimes Against Humanity Program.