Trump bypasses arms control pact to sell more large armed drones
President Trump this week signed a measure to allow U.S. defense contractors to bypass a 33-year-old arms treaty and sell more large armed drones to foreign militaries, a State Department official told reporters Friday.
The Trump administration has chosen to sidestep one part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — a 1987 agreement between 35 countries to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons — to allow U.S. firms to sell the drones to foreign governments previously barred from buying them.
The new policy will help U.S. allies and partners meet “urgent national security and commercial requirements,” according to Clarke Cooper, the State Department’s assistant secretary for political-military affairs.
The White House, meanwhile, claimed in a Friday statement that the pact is outdated and gives “an unfair advantage to countries outside of the MTCR and hurt United States industry.”
Currently, only England, France and Australia are allowed to buy larger, armed drones from U.S. manufacturers.
Under the new policy, drones that fly at speeds below 800 kilometers per hour are no longer subject to pact’s strict rules, opening up the international sale of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper and Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Critics of the change say the shift could cause a dangerous increase in ballistic missiles and prompt other countries, including Russia, to undermine agreements and pick and choose rules to their advantage.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the new policy was a “reckless decision” that “makes it more likely that we will export some of our most deadly weaponry to human rights abusers across the world.”
“To disregard this policy now is likely to undermine the credibility and influence of the MTCR generally, which also coordinates international controls on the sale and spread of dangerous ballistic missiles and technology around the world,” Menendez said in a statement.
U.S. defense companies, meanwhile, have pushed for the change, as it would allow them to offer their products in markets currently claimed by Chinese and Israeli contractors, whose governments do not participate in the MTCR.
Cooper pressed that the new rules will not allow “weapons of mass destruction delivery” as higher-speed systems including cruise missiles, hypersonic aerial vehicles and advanced unmanned combat aerial vehicles “are not affected by this revision.”
He also said that sales of U.S. drones would still be held to a high standard and sales “are all case-by-case determinations based on not only what the partner requirement may be but also how that aligns with U.S. interest.”
The move adds to the growing list of international treaties or deals that the United States has sidestepped or pulled out of during Trump’s tenure, including the arms control pact between Russia and the United States known as the Open Skies Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
The administration also has yet to agree with Russia to renew the New START treaty, which is set to expire in February.