Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure

Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the sale of large armed drones to all nations other than close U.S. allies.

The legislation was crafted in response to the Trump administration’s move last month to circumvent a 33-year-old arms treaty and sell more large armed drones to foreign militaries. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE signed a measure to allow U.S. defense contractors to sidestep one part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a 1987 agreement between 35 countries, to allow U.S. firms to sell the drones to foreign governments previously banned from purchasing such products.  

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Countries that may now purchase the advanced drones include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have used U.S.-produced weapons in Yemen’s deadly civil war.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle criticized Trump’s decision, worried that the shift could cause a dangerous increase in ballistic missiles and give rise to other countries choosing to undermine agreements. 

“If we allow Trump to start selling drones, we set a dangerous precedent that allows and encourages other countries to sell missile technology and advanced drones to our adversaries,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senator calls for 'more flexible' medical supply chain to counter pandemics The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon GOP chairman to release interim report on Biden probe 'in about a week' MORE (D-Conn.), a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

“In addition, the president’s action will only further enable the Saudis to continue killing more innocent civilians in Yemen by supplying them with advanced US-made drones.” 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package MORE (R-Utah), another sponsor, argued for the end of U.S. participation in Yemen’s war.  

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“I am concerned that making it easier for the United States to export weapon-capable UAS systems to Saudi Arabia and the UAE further entrenches the U.S. role in the war in Yemen and perpetuates an incentive structure for keeping rather than drawing down U.S. presence in the Middle East,” Lee said in a statement.

Other sponsors of the bill include Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Sanders tells Maher 'there will be a number of plans' to remove Trump if he loses Sirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters MORE (I-Vt.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRon Paul hospitalized in Texas The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Rand Paul says he can't judge 'guilt or innocence' in Breonna Taylor case MORE (R-Ky.), and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTwo Judiciary Democrats say they will not meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Trump's push for win with Sudan amps up pressure on Congress  MORE (D-Del.).

The new bill would work by making some of the limits of the MTCR legally binding through amending the Arms Export Control Act. 

Under the legislation, drones that can carry more than 1,100 pounds of weapons over roughly 186 miles – including the General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper and the Northrop Grumman-made RQ-4 Global Hawk – would be once again subject to pact’s strict rules.

The bill’s exceptions to the sales ban would include NATO members in addition to Australia, Israel., Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.