President Donald Trump ordered his administration to make it easier for American companies to sell drones and other military equipment to foreign countries Thursday.
In a memo to relevant defense, law enforcement and budget agencies, the White House laid out a policy objective to deliver on Trump’s promise to approve military sales to foreign countries in “a matter of days,” and urged the departments to side with private contractors when considering approval of military sales.
“America is safer when our partners have access to the American-built systems they need to defend themselves and our shared interests, and when American industry competes on a level playing field,” the White House said in a statement.
The new Conventional Arms Transfer policy gives agencies 60 days to develop new work plans aimed at speeding up the foreign sales approvals process and present them to the White House.
Trump’s new policy outline for foreign sales emphasizes national security, and directs the agency heads to look toward an action plan for the short and long terms that will allow the U.S. to “maintain a technological edge over potential adversaries” while strengthening alliances and also enhancing “the ability of the defense industrial base to create jobs.”
“Partners who acquire American weapons are more capable of fighting alongside us and ultimately more capable of defending themselves with fewer American boots on the ground,” White House trade policy director Peter Navarro told reporters in a call
The White House also wants to increase sales of drones to U.S. allies. “Although the U.S. leads the way in [unmanned aerial systems] technology, overly restricted policies enacted by the previous administration” made drone exports difficult, and opened up the global nearly $50 billion market for competitors like China, Navarro said.
During a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has hungered for U.S.-made weapons over the past several years, Trump stressed the importance of delivering foreign military equipment promptly.
“When they order military equipment from us, we will get it taken care of and they will get their equipment rapidly,” Trump told said during a joint news conference Abe in Florida Wednesday. “It would be, in some cases, years before orders would take place because of bureaucracy with Department of Defense, State Department. We are short-circuiting that. It’s now going to be a matter of days. If they’re our allies, we are going to help them get this very important, great military equipment. And nobody, nobody, makes it like the United States. It’s the best in the world by far.”
Foreign military sales in 2017 during most of Trump’s first year in office were $42 billion, compared to $31 billion the year before under President Barack Obama, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) which oversees the approval process for foreign weapons transactions.
Retired Navy Vice Admiral Joe Rixey, the former head of DSCA under Obama, called for improving the approval process to decrease the years-long delays in 2016. The system at that time was “not broken but it’s certainly burdened,” Rixey said. “We’ve got to make sure that we get better,” he said, but added that sometimes delays mean the process is working.
“Anything that is in foreign policy review is actually part of the deliberate conversation,” Rixey said. “When we get stalled there, the system is not broken, but actually acting as intended. We’re having a debate about foreign policy.”
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