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White House Revises Policy on Export of Arms, Unmanned Aerial Systems

President Trump issued on 19 April updated policies on exports of conventional arms and unmanned aerial systems. Press sources generally describe these changes as an effort to boost foreign sales of defence items, including by accelerating the approval process, giving more weight to economic security and involving more senior government officials in negotiating deals. Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said making it easier for U.S. allies and partners to more easily obtain U.S. defence articles and services will improve U.S. national security and “reduce their reliance not just on Chinese knockoffs, but also on Russian systems.”

The revised arms export policy will focus on a number of factors, including increasing trade opportunities for U.S. companies by providing advocacy and trade promotion activities and simplifying the U.S. regulatory environment. The policy also aims to maintain the U.S. military’s technological advantages, including by ensuring that there are appropriate protections on the transfer of U.S. military technologies, and strengthen the manufacturing and defence industrial base. Other factors include strengthening relationships, enhancing military interoperability and preventing proliferation, including by continuing participation in multi-lateral export control regimes and helping other countries develop effective export control mechanisms.

In addition, arms export decisions will reflect a number of considerations, including U.S. national security (e.g., recipient’s ability to prevent the diversion of sensitive technology to unauthorised end-users) and economic security (e.g., effect on the defence industrial base and recipient’s ability to obtain comparable systems from competing foreign suppliers). Other factors will include how the export would affect relationships with allies and partners (e.g., likelihood of the export reducing dependence on U.S. adversaries) and non-proliferation. The memo notes that human rights and international humanitarian law will remain an important consideration, as there will be no export authorisations when the United States has actual knowledge that the arms will be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity or certain other crimes.

The updated policy on exports of unmanned aerial systems applies to all U.S.-origin UAS transfers, whether under the authority of the U.S. Munitions List or the Commerce Control List. There are five primary objectives of this policy, including increasing trade opportunities for U.S. companies by removing unwarranted self-imposed restrictions, facilitating international partners’ access to U.S. UAS when it will enhance their security and strengthening bi-lateral relationships. The policy outlines export conditions for armed UAS, unarmed UAS and civil UAS and establishes provisions to guard against proliferation and improper use of military UAS.

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