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Tag: Middle East and North Africa

By Colby Goodman

This post first appeared in the March 2020 edition of The Export Practitioner

 

Sometimes good intentions are just good intentions. In the push for major changes to the U.S. arms export control system from 2010-13, the Obama administration often said the U.S. government was not effectively preventing harmful arms exports. One major culprit was “an overly broad definition of what should be subject to export classification and control,” according to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Placing “higher walls around fewer, more critical items” would solve the problem. Seven years later, however, there are serious questions about whether there are higher walls around military technologies important in modern warfare.

Push for Higher Walls

Gates’s concern about the overly broad definition of arms was based on his time as deputy director for intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency. In his April 20, 2010, speech, Gates said, “it soon became apparent that the length of the list of controlled technologies outstripped our finite intelligence monitoring capabilities and resources. It had the effect of undercutting our efforts to control the critical items.”

A few State officials also told me at the time that they had been requested to do investigations (post-export end-use checks) on U.S.-approved exports of items such as washers for certain weapons systems, which they thought was a waste of time.

The Obama administration in fact frequently stated that the U.S. arms export control system was harmful because “we devote[d] the same resources to protecting M1A1 tank brake pads as we do to protecting the M1A1 tank itself.”

According to Gates, “many parts and components of a major piece of defense equipment – such as a combat vehicle or aircraft – require their own export licenses. It makes little sense to use the same lengthy process to control the export of every latch, wire, and lug nut for a piece of equipment like the F-16, when we have already approved the export of the whole aircraft.” Instead, the U.S. government should focus on the five percent of cases that are riskier.

While the administration often exaggerated these points – M1A1 tanks had always received much more vetting than their brake pads – many parts and components did require a separate license. In 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also published a report that highlighted clear gaps in State post-export end-use checks for sensitive night vision goggles to countries in the Middle East.

In response, the Obama administration led an effort to move an estimated 30,000 munitions-related items from State’s more strictly controlled U.S. Munitions List (USML) to Commerce’s more loosely controlled Commerce Control List (CCL). This effort included up to 90 percent of the items controlled under the USML’s military vehicle category.

For the military aircraft category, “missile launchers, radar warning receivers, and laser/missile warning systems” would continue to be controlled under the USML. However, items such as F-16 wings, rudders, fuel tanks, and landing gear would move to the CCL. The administration would also move some items formerly classified as significant military equipment.

But, did the Obama administration simultaneously elevate reviews or checks on key U.S. military technologies that stayed on the USML? It certainly was not enough for the Obama administration to just move tens of thousands of munitions off the USML. There was also a risk that the move would likely result in a dip in State revenue and personnel for examining arms exports.

Gaps in Implementation

In a recently published report entitled Holes in the Net: U.S. Arms Export Control Gaps in Combatting Corruption, I argue that there are a number of gaps in State’s efforts to place higher walls around arms on the USML. These gaps are in State’s Directorate for Defense Trade Control’s (DDTC) basic review of arms export licenses and in their more detailed pre- and post-export end-use checks. The problems appear to have been widened under the Trump administration.

In July 2018, for instance, State’s Inspector General (IG) found several weaknesses in the way DDTC reviews arms export applications in an audit. Specifically, the IG found that DDTC had “approved 20 of the 21 applications (95 percent) [IG] reviewed despite lacking required information…” (see The Export Practitioner, March 2019, page 15).

In eight cases, the IG found inconsistencies within the application on the quantities, types of arms, or values, which are indicators of a possible diversion of U.S. weapons or bribery. The IG audit also found 17 cases in which DDTC should have notified Congress for additional scrutiny, but DDTC did not.

State is no longer increasing the number of its end-use checks in a year. In the department’s annual report on end-use checks for fiscal year (FY) 2016, DDTC said there was an increase in the percentage of end-use checks they initiated compared to the total export applications for the year from 1.3 percent in FY 2015 to 1.75 percent in FY 2016.

DDTC seemed to indicate that this increase showed it was beginning to elevate its reviews of more sensitive military items. However, the most recent end-use report for FY 2018 under the Trump administration shows a drop in the percentage of end-use checks to 1.3 percent, which is similar to percentage levels before the reform started.

There are also some key gaps in the way DDTC conducts its end-use checks. In 2016, State developed a new framework for reviewing arms sales, which recommend asking several key questions about corruption. These questions include whether or not the intended recipient of U.S. arms is “permitting illicit trafficking across borders, buying and selling positions or professional opportunities, stealing government assets and resources, engaging in bribery, or maintaining rolls of ghost personnel.” However, DDTC does not regularly look at the above defense sector corruption indicators when conducting its pre-export end-use checks.

It also appears there have been some challenges with DDTC’s post-export end-use checks. In the department IG’s audit of DDTC in 2018, they noted serious delays, from 77 to 300 days, in conducting post-export end-use checks. In FY 2018, DDTC had also only conducted around nine pre- or post-export end-use checks for all arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa despite the ongoing risks of diversion in the region.

What could be done to elevate State checks on key military technologies and weapons systems? DDTC has said one of the key reasons for some of the above gaps has been staff turnover and an overall staff reduction. DDTC told the department’s IG that its licensing office had a 28 percent reduction in staffing as of July 2018, and some licensing officers were finding it difficult to keep up with their workload. Staff turnover also made it difficult for DDTC to conduct end-use checks in the Middle East in FY 2018.

Fixing the Gaps

While DDTC has hired some staff to help address the gaps in end-use checks for the Middle East, they still have not been able to add enough staff to address all of the above concerns. The Trump administration’s hiring freeze and reductions in State funding have also impacted DDTC’s efforts to hire new staff. Congress, however, could address this gap by elevating funding for DDTC personnel, which would also help speed up DDTC’s review of arms export applications generally.

It also appears that the Trump administration’s focus on increasing the number of U.S. arms sales to key U.S. partners and allies around the world has impacted some State focus on enhancing risk assessments. There, however, are continuing efforts to enhance these risk assessments at State, including related to defense sector corruption indicators.

In some ways, Gates was right when he said there was a need to place higher walls around key U.S. military technologies and weapons systems to prevent them from reaching the wrong hands. If the United States does want to make good on one of its initial reasons for the reform, there are still opportunities to do so. Without these improvements, however, the United States will be back where it started at the beginning of the reform, not effectively preventing harmful arms exports.

 

(c) 2020 Gilston-Kalin Communications LLC. Reprinted with permission.

Western states contributing to military control in Egypt

Opaque and wealth driven military failing to provide security

23rd March 2017 – Western states and arms companies have contributed to the Egyptian military’s consolidation of political power by providing aid and security assistance with few strings attached, according to a new report “The Officers’ Republic” by Transparency International Defence & Security.

This report comes as Egyptians prepare to take to the polls in a widely discredited election, in which the military General, President el-Sisi, is expected to secure another four years of power. Meanwhile the intensity of state violence and human rights abuses continues to soar.

Whilst the Egyptian military has, since the protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak in 2011, cemented its political power and expanded its economic ambitions, it has remained a largely opaque and unaccountable institution. Its pursuit of economic and political interests have meanwhile left it struggling to confront the security challenges faced by the country, with a detrimental effect on both local and regional stability.

Details of Egypt’s defence budget, an estimated $4.4billion per year, are treated as a state secret. Egypt’s institutions provide little scrutiny of the military’s finances. Meanwhile the US provides approximately $1.3 billion a year to the government in foreign military assistance.

At the same time western defence companies – with approval from their governments – have continued to do business as usual with a military force riddled with corruption risk and lacking in any form of meaningful transparency. Egypt was the third largest arms importer in the world over the last five years. In March 2015 the US reinstated delivery of major weapons systems to Egypt, having halted them after the 2013 coup, despite little evidence of reform progress.

James Lynch, Deputy Director Transparency International Defence & Security, said:

“The Egyptian people have a military that does everything but keep the country secure. Its concern with building its economic and political power has hugely frustrated its efforts to deal with the security challenges it faces in the Sinai and other places. This is a military that may very well be the architect of its own security crisis.”

“Egypt’s armed forces have under President el-Sisi expanded their privileged position in the country’s economy, have grabbed full control over the political system and yet they are not under any meaningful scrutiny. Western states, who could do much to influence this situation, are meanwhile failing to demand serious reform and instead carrying on with business as usual, while mistakenly still considering Egypt a trusted partner for security in stability in the region.”

“As Egyptians take to the polls the outcome is highly unlikely to bring about any result other than the continued dominance of the military. The international community must understand that not only is it doing a major disservice to the people of Egypt by providing support to the armed forces with few strings attached, it is also contributing to the security crisis the country and region is facing.”

Transparency International Defence & Security recommends that the international community:

  • Promote better domestic oversight of the armed forces by asking harder questions on the military’s economic activity and accountability mechanisms
  • Make financial and security assistance dependent on achieving at least basic levels of transparency and accountability
  • Amplify domestic voices championing accountability and a better governed defence sector

***ENDS***

Notes:

Contact:

Dominic Kavakeb
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079 6456 0340
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